Thursday, 26 April 2007

The Inquest Begins

The club will begin their defence of charges that they acted improperly and withheld vital documentation in the transfers of Carlos Tévez and Javier Mascherano when an FA Premier League inquiry begins today. If West Ham are found guilty, they could be handed a fine and points deduction when the hearing ends tomorrow. As Martin Smith in the Telegraph observes, if the independent disciplinary commission do their worst then the coach transporting the team might as well sail past Wigan's JJB Stadium on Saturday and keep going until it reaches Scunthorpe, Burnley or some other Championship destination. The strides the club have made on the pitch in the last five weeks could turn out to be like ascending a downward escalator: they could effectively be relegated by kick-off this weekend.

The Premier League has two main grievances. The first is they are unhappy that the agreement with Kia Joorabchian allowed for the possibility that he could affect club policy and team performance, something which is strongly contested by West Ham. The Premier League rule U18 states "no club shall enter into a contract which enables any other party to that contract to acquire the ability materially to influence its policies and/or the performance of its team". The club will argue that Joorabchian did not influence whether the players were selected to play. More serious, perhaps, is that the club told the Premier League that they had provided all the relevant documentation when the signings took place on the final day of the transfer window in August. This claim turned out not to be true. The Premier League has appointed a three-man panel to investigate. It will be chaired by Simon Bourne-Arton, QC, and consists of Lord Herman Ouseley, the chairman of Let’s Kick Racism Out of Football and a former executive chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, and David Dent, a former secretary of the Football League. West Ham have appointed Jim Sturman, QC, who specialises in criminal and sports law, to argue their case.

West Ham have already indicated that they will appeal if found guilty and are deducted points, claiming that the rules had been broken by the previous owners. In any appeal, Eggert Magnússon would highlight a previous case in 1994, when Tottenham Hotspur were deducted points for making illegal payments to their players. Sir Alan Sugar, the chairman at White Hart Lane at the time, successfully challenged the FA ruling by stating that the board could not be held responsible for the actions of a previous administration. According to the Mail, a fine in the region of £300,000 is still the likeliest outcome. If this is upheld the club will try to recover the money from former chairman Terry Brown, who negotiated the transfer details.

The same newspaper also has a story about Carlos Tevez's outburst on Argentinian television last night. The article picks up on the quotes aimed at critics who have attributed the arrival of the two South Americans as a major factor in United's demise this season. Tevez said: "The people who have blamed me and Mascherano for everything do not understand football. These problems have never been caused by us either because of the transfer or the problems on the pitch. Javier and I are not to blame. Anyone who says that is wrong. I care for this club and have only ever done everything I can as a player and as a person to help West Ham this season." Naturally, the article neglects the additional quotes that are of more direct interest to the club's fans. In response to a question about his immediate future, Tevez replied: "It is impossible to speak about it now as it all depends on the club and the table. But if West Ham stay in the Premier League, I want to stay."

In other news, the Mirror claim Watford have targeted reserve keeper Jimmy Walker as their first-choice replacement for Manchester United-bound Ben Foster. England international Foster will return to Old Trafford once his season-long loan expires and Aidy Boothroyd wants the experienced shot-stopper as his replacement. Of course, any deal will clearly depend on where Robert Green sees his future in the event of relegation and whether Roy Carroll can see anything clearly at all.

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