Friday, 27 April 2007

The Inquest Verdict

West Ham have been fined a record £5.5m after pleading guilty to breaching Premier League transfer rules when signing Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano. But, perhaps crucially for the Hammers' Premiership survival prospects, they have escaped a points deduction. The decision, made by an independent Premier League commission in London today, concerned a breach of Premier League rules U18 and B13. The former forbids clubs from signing players who are contracted to third parties that could "materially influence its policies or the performances of its teams"; while the latter stipulates that all clubs must act with "the utmost good faith" towards the Premier League.

When West Ham signed the Argentinian internationals from Brazilian club Corinthians last summer, the players were contracted to four offshore companies - a fact that, according to the commission, Hammers bosses deliberately concealed from league authorities. "[West Ham] knew that the only means by which they could acquire [the players] would be by entering into the third party contracts," said the commission. "Equally, they were aware that the FAPL, at the very least, may not - and in all probability would not - have approved of such contracts. They determined to keep their existence from the FAPL."

It is believed the contracts only came to light when Mascherano subsequently left West Ham to join Liverpool on loan last January. West Ham has itself changed hands in that time, of course, and it is probable that the punishment would have been more severe if the people responsible for the signings were still at the helm - the new owners cooperated fully with the inquiry and pleaded guilty to the charges.

The hearing report also warned West Ham that "the registration of Tevez can be terminated." Accordingly, Tevez would not be allowed to play again for the club until it was proven that a new, legitimate arrangement has been made that prohibits any influence by third parties. That issue has at least been resolved. An official response on the West Ham website confirms that the Argentine striker is available for selection for the rest of the season, including tomorrow's game against Wigan Athletic. It reads: "The actual registration of Carlos Tevez has not been called into question and he remains a West Ham United player approved by the Premier League.

A statement from West Ham said the club had received a fair hearing. "The club regrets the fact that they fell foul of the FA Premier League regulations, but the new owners now want to focus on matters on the pitch and remaining in the Premiership," it read. "The threat of a points deduction has now been removed and the club's fate remains in its own hands. The club believes that promotion and relegation issues should be decided on the pitch and we are pleased that the commission agree with that view. The club will reflect on the financial penalty that has been imposed and will take advice before commenting on the possibility of an appeal or any further steps that might be taken."

Today's fine was the heaviest ever imposed by the Premeir League, far exceeding the £300,000 Chelsea were charged for tapping up Ashley Cole while he was still an Arsenal player. In fact, the monetary penalty is the biggest handed out in English football history, dwarfing the £1.5m fine Tottenham Hotspur received for financial irregularities in 1994.

Gordon Taylor, the PFA chief executive, said that West Ham escaped a points deduction because of their precarius position at the bottom of the Premiership: "If West Ham were in a comfortable mid-table position I think there would have been points deducted as a deterrent for the future. But I think with a relegation battle blowing up it's fair justice and something West Ham will be relieved about - particularly if they stay up. Fans of other clubs may not be happy with the verdict but if you need to stay in a division because another club has been deducted points it's not the sporting ethos you would want."

A personal statement from Eggert Magnusson reads: "I would first like to express my relief that this matter is now over. This has been a difficult time for West Ham United but we can now look forward and focus entirely on the remainder of our season. I am delighted that our destiny will be decided on the football pitch, which I believe is only right. We can now look forward to the final three matches of the season without this cloud hanging over us, and I am sure that will be a positive factor as Alan Curbishley and the players prepare for a vital match against Wigan Athletic tomorrow. I would once again like to thank our supporters for their loyal support during this difficult time, and I can assure them that everyone here is fully committed to the aim of retaining our Premiership status in the coming weeks."

Further reading: The Premier League Hearing (in full); Timeline: How the Tevez/Mascherano signing ended in tears

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