Monday, 23 March 2009

Blackburn Rovers 1 West Ham United 1

West Ham Undone By Samba Beating by Gary Jacob
Some things in the game come and go — such as Liverpool’s majestic dominance — but others will stay uncomfortably the same. Just as for all their new-found wealth, City will for ever be known as the second team in Manchester, so Sam Allardyce’s sides will revert to familiar, harrowing type. The Blackburn Rovers manager had changed to a more pleasing style with some reward, but when needs must in the face of a relegation battle, he can ask for an aerial assault to match the best... Times
Zola Hails West Ham Spirit After Dogged Point by Graham Chase
Many more performances like this and West Ham will gain themselves a reputation after a display of real grit saw them come through a second-half barrage to hold on for a point at Ewood Park. Having taken the lead through Mark Noble, the game's only moment of real quality, West Ham, whose front three of David Di Michele, Luis Boa Morte and Diego Tristan were dreadful, conceded to Keith Andrews five minutes after the break but managed to withstand incredible pressure to cling on... Telegraph
Neill Puts Body On Line To Leave Rovers Frustrated by Joe Bernstein
Predictably, Sam Allardyce left Ewood Park snarling about referee Chris Foy after Blackburn failed to lift themselves away from relegation trouble. Big Sam and his pal at Hull City, Phil Brown, seem to take it in turn to berate match officials and yesterday Allardyce was fuming at West Ham's 35th-minute opener through Mark Noble. Never mind that the goal was created with a classic series of one-touch passes, completed when Noble tucked away Diego Tristan's pass with the outside of his boot, the Rovers boss was angry that nobody had spotted Luis Boa Morte marginally offside earlier in the move... Mail
Allardyce Uses Praise To Bury Blackburn's Deficiencies by Guy Hodgson
If the last resort of the scoundrel is patriotism, you know a football manager is running out of straws when the praise is out of proportion to the achievement. Sam Allardyce has reached that point. Faced with another victory turned into a draw by panicky finishing and a deficit of imagination, the Blackburn Rovers manager abandoned laments about missed opportunities and went on a determined pursuit of the positive... Independent
Allardyce Sees Way To Safety In Samba's Transferable Talents by Ian Whittell
When Blackburn's manager, Sam Allardyce, emerged from the January transfer window having fought off the attentions of Manchester City for his star forward, Roque Santa Cruz, he probably did not expect that his team's Premier League survival might depend on the attacking threat of a 6ft 5in centre-half... Guardian

Friday, 20 March 2009

Cottagers Enter The Ring

In what is described as an extraordinary twist on the Carlos Tevez saga, Fulham have apparently submitted a claim for £700,000 in compensation from West Ham United because they finished below the Hammers in the season that the Argentine striker played at Upton Park. This morning's Independent reports that the cash relates to the loss of so-called "merit money" that Fulham believe they missed out on because the 2006-07 campaign ended with them in 16th place, two points behind 15th-placed West Ham. They claim that, because of Tevez, they finished in a false position.

Fulham received £20.26million in merit money – the cash divided between the clubs from the television and broadcast deals brokered by the Premier League – with West Ham receiving £20.71million. The difference amounts to £450,000 – the extra cash they would have received in 2007 – but, confusingly, Fulham are understood to have submitted a claim for £700,000 which is the amount they would be due if the places were reversed this season. Jason Burt states the action was launched on Tuesday, the day after West Ham, who will fight it and have reacted with incredulity to the claim, announced they had reached an out-of-court settlement with Sheffield United of £20million, spread over the next five seasons, to end the Blades' long-running dispute over Tevez.

In a statement on Tuesday, in the wake of the attempts by players, former Blades' manager Neil Warnock and Leeds United chairman Ken Bates to claim compensation, West Ham said they would "strongly resist any attempts to prolong this matter through the courts, both to protect our interests and those of the wider game". While Fulham have now lodged a formal legal claim, Wigan Athletic, who finished 17th that season, three points behind West Ham, have made it clear that their interest in the matter is closed. In a statement yesterday, Wigan said: "We have not sought any further legal advice and will not be pursuing the matter any further. Reports that the club are seeking compensation for false league position payments are totally incorrect. As far as Wigan Athletic Football Club is concerned, the matter is being dealt with by the appropriate authorities - and the club does not wish to comment further."

The crucial piece of the ruling that opportunistic Fulham have seized on is Griffiths' panel's judgment that they had "no doubt" that West Ham would have acquired "at least three fewer points" without Tevez. The panel claimed that in the last two games of that season Tevez "more likely than not" helped West Ham to achieve the three extra points that ensured they avoided relegation at the expense of the Blades. If Fulham pursue their claim it may also require the establishment of yet another arbitration hearing as the case involving Sheffield United was a private arbitration and was also settled before Lord Griffiths was able to decide on compensation. The likelihood of yet another arbitration case, reports the Guardian, could further drag out an already tortuous regulatory process.

Still, if the Cottagers are successful then the ramifications may be endless. For example, asks Jasaon Burt, could West Ham now sue the authorities for appointing referee Stuart Attwell who then sent off Carlton Cole, harshly, in the recent match away to Wigan? It meant the striker missed last Monday's match against West Brom, which ended in a goalless draw with West Ham dropping two points, affecting their chances of qualifying for Europe?

In another example, of course, Sheffield United may themselves be affected should Barnsley be relegated and link their demotion from the Championship to the elbow thrown by Chris Morgan into the face of the Barnsley striker – and record signing – Iain Hume which left him with a fractured skull and unable to play for the rest of the season. As for the claims being pursued by Warnock, who is waiting for legal advice from the League Managers Association, and the players, West Ham are confident that they can successfully defend any action. Bates, who believes Leeds are entitled to windfall payments through three players he sold to the Sheffield club that season, is likely to pursue the Blades for the £500,000 in compensation he wants.

The Guardian understands that the lawyer representing the group of players and backroom staff, Chris Farnell of IPS Law, is expecting to hear back from West Ham within the next week. Despite an earlier insistence by West Ham that they had not received any "formal legal claims", the paper believes Farnell has been in correspondence with the club for more than six months. It is thought that if neither West Ham or Sheffield United come up with a satisfactory settlement, the most likely outcome is that the case will be taken to another arbitration under the FA's rule K5. To that end, an FA spokesman yesterday confirmed that the players would be within their rights to pursue the case through its regulatory framework.

So, will there still be cases going through the legal process in five years' time? That is the question posed by Tony Cascarino in his Times column. It may all be great news for smart-arsed lawyers who know how to exploit the possibilities via the courts but it's terrible for the game, he states. It's an unhelpful sideshow, something else that dents football’s image, and of course it’s all about football’s greatest obsession, money. It’s like a never-ending feeding frenzy now that West Ham have opened the floodgates by agreeing to pay up. Where will it all lead to in the compensation culture we live in these days? Players suing their clubs for the mental stress of relegation, because maybe if the club had spent more money on better players it could have been avoided?

Cascarino is perplexed by stories suggesting Neil Warnock (perhaps he needs a new tractor?) and the Sheffield United players are consulting lawyers. "As a player", he writes, "I wouldn’t have wanted to get involved in the legal battles. I would have preferred to draw a line under the whole incident and move on. It’s not like the Sheffield United squad who went down in 2007 are unemployed and on the dole. They’re professionals on very good salaries. And it’s not like Tevez relegated Warnock’s side single-handedly. He was one player in a team game, and he didn’t even play well for most of the season. Sheffield United had their fate in their own hands going into the last game of the campaign and they slipped up at home to Wigan Athletic. It wasn’t Tevez who sent Sheffield United into the Coca-Cola Championship, it was their own failure to get enough points."

On that note, the Mail reveals Michael Tonge is another among those considering a bid for compensation over the Carlos Tevez saga, according to comments attributed to the Stoke midfielder. The 25-year-old was relegated from the Premier League with Sheffield United two years ago when West Ham stayed up, and then subsequently moved to Stoke earlier this season. He told "I'm just waiting to see what comes of it. I'm not taking it upon myself to make a claim, but might consider joining one."

According to the Guardian, the true cost to West Ham of the deal negotiated with Sheffield United over the Carlos Tevez affair is greater than first thought. Owen Gibson cites a source directly involved in the negotiations who insists West Ham could end up paying a total of £26.5million in compensation. They put the much-disputed total value of the deal at £21.5million, payable in staggered instalments until 2013. If the club is sold for more than £95million, which seems inevitable, then West Ham will have to pay a further £5million. Gibson reveals the first payment of £1.5million is due in May and subsequent instalments are staggered to coincide with West Ham's major income streams, such as the now much publicised merit payments and share of TV rights money from the Premier League.

West Ham's Icelandic owner, Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson, had hoped to negotiate a sale of the club by the summer, having recently had the bankruptcy protection afforded to his parent company Hansa extended until June by a Reykjavik court. He paid £85m, and assumed debts of around £22m, when he bought the club in 2006. Despite the substantial liability on any future owner, West Ham will claim the deal gives them certainty about their future obligations and, crucially, allows them to spread the payments over several years.

Although the exact terms of the deal remained ­confidential under the agreement signed between the two clubs, it’s been variously reported that the figure West Ham will pay to Sheffield United is between £15-25million. It’s hard to know if that is fair, thinks Cascarino, but if it suits both parties, then it’s the right amount. "West Ham broke the rules, they should take their punishment," he opines. "But that should put a lid on the whole affair. The bottom line is that the failure of the Premier League to deal adequately with the problem at the time has created a monster. If the League had acted properly and quickly when the issue came to light, had nipped it in the bud, then it wouldn’t have snowballed. They should have relegated West Ham, but surprise, surprise, the bigger club stayed up. Hopefully the League will learn from this unhappy experience. The rest of us are learning that football, lawyers and lust for money don’t make an attractive mix."

Finally the joint Premier League and FA inquiry into Lord Griffiths' verdict on the behaviour of West Ham in the wake of the original decision to fine the club £5.5million for breaking rules on third party ­ownership rumbles on. Although, according to the Independent, it is not expected to mete out any further punishment.

52 Logical Positivism Avenue

Apparently the answer to Life, the Universe, and European football is 52. That is how many points Gianfranco Zola believes could be enough for his West Ham United team to hitch a ride into next season's UEFA Europa League. The team currently sit in a tenuous looking seventh position in the Premier League table going into Saturday's trip to Blackburn Rovers. The team has mustered 40 points from the 29 league games this season and the manager believes garnering 12 points from the back nine should be enough to dust off the passports for next season.

With home games against Sunderland, Chelsea, Liverpool and Middlesbrough and trips to Tottenham Hotspur, Aston Villa, Stoke City and Everton to follow this weekend's visit to Ewood Park, Zola is positive his squad has the physical and mental strength to qualify for next season's UEFA Europa League. "The supporters can be optimistic as long as we manage to get all the players back from injury. Obviously we have had big problems and in the next few weeks we are looking forward to getting a few players back. When we have all of them available again then we really have a good chance because the team is looking well.

"The team has shown me that it is a strong team and also mentally they are strong because we lost a few games. We lost to Manchester United and at Bolton and the FA Cup game at Middlesbrough but we had a very difficult game against Manchester City and on that occasion they performed very, very well. It was a very good indication to me about how strong they are mentally. First of all we need consistency. It is a very, very important thing. They need to perform all the time. That is the main thing. We have achieved the first target which was to get to at least 40 points. Now they need to push even more because we want to reach 52 points. I believe that will be the quota we need to achieve if we want to go into Europe, so they need to push themselves even harder. At this point of the season we have less players because we have a few injuries and people are starting to get tired so they really need to be demanding of themselves."

The Italian has lost the services of some key players of late but sees that as an opportunity to gain greater understanding of the talent he could have at his disposal for years to come. Already this season, six Academy graduates - namely Mark Noble, James Tomkins, Jack Collison, Kyel Reid, Junior Stanislas and Freddie Sears - have played under Zola, while goalkeeper Marek Stech, defender Bondz N'Gala and versatile Josh Payne have all made it to the bench. Add to that Zavon Hines, the 20-year-old forward who made a goalscoring debut in the League Cup last August, and the likes of 19-year-old Savio, the 22-year-old Jonathan Spector and even Valon Behrami and Walter Lopez, who are both still only 23, and the future looks bright for the manager.

"The young players are an important part of the project we are taking forward but we need to use them at the right time and at the right moment," he said. "We have got a clear idea of what we are going to do. I have seen a few new players so I can have a better idea of what they can give me and also where they need to improve. I am going to be working on that and it is important for me for the future."

The star shing brightest at the moment is perhaps Tomkins, with the 19-year-old centre-back having more than played his part in the clean sheets the Hammers have kept in their last three Premier League fixtures. The England Under-19 defender has slotted in at the heart of the back-four following an injury to James Collins and has hardly put a foot wrong, greatly impressing his manager. Zola added: "He has been doing very well James. He is young but he is at the same time very mature. He looks very composed and I am very pleased with his performance. He is improving very much."

While some Premier League clubs have fielded weakened teams in the UEFA Cup this season, the manager also dismissed suggestions that European football would prove be an unwanted distraction for him and his players next term should the Hammers secure their qualification. "For me, it is very much worth qualifying. We haven't been in Europe for a while [the 2006/07 season]. I played in Europe for many years as a player and I know very much how good it is to play in that kind of competition not only for the silverware you can get but also for the opportunity it gives players to improve. If you play abroad you always improve so I wish that we can achieve that."

Which is not to say he is completely satisfied with the format of UEFA competitions in their present guise. Next season's Europa League will be a revamped version of the UEFA Cup and although there is a new name and schedule, there will still be plenty of games in group stages before the knockout rounds start. "Years ago, this competition was more attractive and that is something that maybe should be thought about for the future," said Zola. "For me it is nonsense. But I have the same idea about the Champions League really. For me, It does not have the same attractiveness as it had. Before it was a proper Champions League. To participate, you had to come first. It had a different value and it was the same for the UEFA Cup. It was much more attractive. A knockout competition already makes it more interesting."

Meanwhile, West Ham United’s mild-mannered manager came close to losing his patience when asked repeatedly about the Carlos Tévez affair. Expressing his hope that the dispute with Sheffield United about the eligibility of Tévez is over after the clubs agreed a compensation deal, he stated: "I hope it is the end of the matter. I hope from now on, we can be left in peace and plan our future. Since I have been here, we have been talking about this. And now it is settled, we are still talking about it. I wish we could get on with it and focus on our future because this club needs to plan its future. This club has been through so any problems this year. We will handle it properly. I just don’t want to hear about it any more, really, I have had enough. It is becoming just a little bit annoying!"

Elsewhere, Spanish futbol crackerjack Guillem Balague offers the following post in praise of the Sardinian maestro...

With all of the negative press and uncertainty surrounding West Ham at the moment, I feel it is only fitting that we take a moment to recognise the optimism and promise on show from an individual who is emerging as a fine coach in what must be severely testing circumstances.

I have a great deal of respect for Gianfranco Zola as a person, he is a lovely guy – in fact, if anything, he could probably do with a bit more venom when it comes to management. I think he deserves tremendous credit for the work he is doing at West Ham, particularly when you consider that he is essentially learning on the job. I have no doubt whatsoever that he will improve.

The fact that a number of other very large clubs are starting to take notice of his work after he has been in the role for only a few months, is testament to his talents as a coach. It seems that everyone recognises that there is room for improvement and, despite that fact – even by his own admission – he occasionally makes mistakes in reading the game, it is becoming increasingly obvious that he has the right ideas, a keen footballing brain and an infectious enthusiasm. It is noteworthy that while there have been a number of damaging off field issues overshadowing events on the pitch at Upton Park, with Zola around, there remains a sense of optimism at the East London club.

His role working under, or rather, alongside the West Ham technical director Gianluca Nani is particularly interesting and fundamental to how things work: Zola is a coach who spends a great deal of time leading the training; out on the training ground and enjoying a close, practical working relationship with the players. He is extremely hard working, putting in incredibly long shifts, fine tuning his methods and working out the small details one to one with his players. Alongside Steve Clarke, he is on top of day to day coaching a great deal more than many of his Premier League contemporaries.

In other words, Zola is a coach, not a manager: with the ball at his feet rather than a chequebook in his hand and a mobile phone in the other. The job of scouting and identifying players, negotiating contacts and networking falls to Nani, and in spite of the fact that the job title of technical director has become something of a dirty word to many in British football: it clearly works for Zola.

The little Italian enjoys being a coach and is comfortable working within that structure, while Nani, who operated similarly at Brescia, is a specialist in his clearly defined duties and, harboring no secret ambition to become a manager himself, does not encroach upon the coach`s role. And it works. Zola does not have the final say over player recruitment, and may even find that he ends up with a player that he initially needed convincing over, but the coach trusts that his technical director is highly adept at identifying talent and, as is the case with Savio, is grateful for it.

The relationship with Gianluca Nani is also pivotal to Zola`s long term future, because while perhaps an offer from Stamford Bridge could tempt the former Chelsea star to move on, the technical director will do his utmost to ensure that Zola remains at West Ham United for a very long time to come.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Ignorance And The Legal Handcart

A few years ago, recalls Lawrence Donegan, an anonymous American prankster with time on his hands and a grudge against the legal profession produced a list of frivolous lawsuits, the purpose of which was to illustrate the cravenness of the general public and the greed of the ambulance-chasing lawyers who persuaded them into court. We now know that the characters pressing their spurious claims before gullible juries were in fact fictional creations, but that does not seem to matter, not when there are very real lawsuits of accordant silliness to be found in equal abundance to support the case we're all going to hell in a legal handcart.

Which point brings us neatly to former Sheffield United manager Neil Warnock, 20 Sheffield United players and the ubiquitous Ken Bates, the chairman of Leeds, all considering legal action based on their belief that the decision to allow Carlos Tevez to play for West Ham during the 2006-07 season cost them money. Squadrons of lawyers will no doubt spend endless, expensive hours arguing the cases. Now, says Donegan, let us dispense with the detail and imagine for a moment that a court finds in favour Warnock and his former players. This is not an outlandish scenario – at least not to anyone with a cursory knowledge of the Griffiths tribunal, which was established by the Football Association to rule on the Tevez affair, and duly concluded the Argentinian's performances had saved West Ham from relegation and, by extension, cost Sheffield United their place in the Premier League.

By any standard other than those applied to fairground fortune tellers, Griffiths' ruling was absurd, although no doubt the good lord and his supporters will view the out-of-court settlement reached by West Ham and Sheffield United – the London club will pay a reported £25million in compensation – as some form of vindication of their verdict. The truth is it merely escalated the problems created by its verdict. If Sheffield United are entitled to compensation, then surely Warnock, who lost his job after the club was relegated, and his players, who lost out when their wage structure was changed to reflect their new Championship status, are also entitled. The same could be said of Bates, whose club would have received £500,000 had Sheffield United remained in the Premier League and been required to honour contingency payments written into the contracts of players transferred between the clubs.

If we accept that Warnock, the players and Bates all have a case, then how can we then condemn their cases as frivolous or silly? Here's how: by asking, where does it all end? The answer, thinks Doengan, logically is nowhere – or at least not until every last person and organisation with at least a tangential relationship with, or the most tendentious gripe about, the Tevez affair has had their day in court. If that isn't silly or a frivolous waste of time, money and public goodwill, then nothing is.

More serious, however, is the question of how to bring an end to the silliness. Here the answer lies with those who believe they have lost out, most immediately Warnock and Bates. For a variety of reasons, both men would feature in any list of "10 least popular people in English football". Whether or not they deserve to be viewed as such is arguable, but what is beyond dispute is if they were to place the interests of the game above their own, if they abandoned all thoughts of legal action and released English football once and for all from the silliness of the Griffiths tribunal, then their reputations would be enhanced immeasurably. As compensation goes, suggests Donegan, this has to be worth something.

Enter stage left the Daily Mail, this morning reporting that Sunderland, West Bromwich Albion and Preston North End are the latest parties understood to have taken legal advice about launching a compensation claim against Sheffield United as the ramifications of the Carlos Tevez affair rumble on. It follows the news yesterday that Leeds United chairman Ken Bates is considering staking a claim for a £500,000 slice of the £25million West Ham have agreed to pay Sheffield United in compensation for their relegation two years ago. Bates believes that he is entitled a windfall because three players he sold to the Sheffield club during the 2006-07 season - midfielder Matthew Kilgallon, striker Rob Hulse and Ian Bennett - had clauses written into their contracts entitling Leeds to bonus payments should their Yorkshire rivals have stayed in the top flight.

Using the same criteria, Sunderland West Bromwich and Preston are now considering following suit as the 'legal anarchy' predicted by West Ham chief executive Scott Duxbury appears to be gathering pace. The Mail reveals Preston sold defenders Chris Lucketti and Claude Davis to the Yorkshire club in the summer of 2006, while West Bromwich transferred Geoff Horsfield and Sunderland striker Jon Stead moved to Bramall Lane in the January transfer window.

Now those that portended all manner of claims arising out of the decision of the Football Association tribunal to award damages to Sheffield United will be feeling rather smug about the news that Warnock, Bates, the 'Sheffield 20' and sundry others are considering taking action against the Hammers for alleged personal losses. Yet, such oracles misunderstood the legal process first time round and will probably do so again, writes Brian Moore in his Telegraph column.

All legal tribunals have to decide matters on the balance of probabilities; they are not required to and could never achieve certainty. Furthermore, whatever claims arise from their decisions are not within their control and should not be a factor in judging the instant case. Any claims as those above will be decided on another simple legal principle - remoteness. Not every consequence of a breach of contract, trust or duty gives a right to damages.

In this way the relatives of Hillsborough victims were deemed insufficiently proximate to recover damages for distress, whereas the police officers at the scene were so deemed. You may not agree with the decisions made by a judicial body, but it is misguided to condemn its function as a result; more so if condemnation comes from ignorance of the principles by which all such bodies operate.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Sham 46

Once more with feeling. Like a half forgotten film franchise that gets even more repetitive with each new release, muses Owen Gibson in today's Guardian, the backstory to the Mysterious Case of Carlos Tevez becomes more convoluted with each new development. Few can recall quite how it started and, increasingly, many of those outside the clubs concerned care little for how it ends. But for West Ham, in particular, it is a shadow that stubbornly refuses to shift from Upton Park and continues to cloud its future.

When Carlos Tevez inspired West Ham to victory at Old Trafford on the last day of the season in 2007, little did we realise he was lighting the fuse on a tortuously slow burning saga that could yet blow up in the east London club's face. By then, states the Guardian, the Premier League had already ruled against West Ham for fielding two players who broke its rules on third party influence, fining the club £5.5million but deciding against docking points. One independent tribunal that dramatically tilted the scales in Sheffield United's favour, one failed attempt to take the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, one negotiated settlement and one ongoing FA/Premier League investigation later and the loose ends are still very far from being tied up. Looking back on the case's history is an object lesson in how seemingly inconsequential decisions taken in haste can spiral out of control.

All attempts by both clubs to challenge those decisions in the courts have failed, and the League and West Ham are convinced that the process is legally robust. The club are adamant they will resist any attempts by Sheffield United players or Neil Warnock to seek compensation for their relegation from the Premier League in 2007. On Monday West Ham agreed to pay Sheffield United compensation of £15 million, and yesterday Neil Warnock, who was Sheffield United manager at the time of their relegation, claimed that he could also take legal action. "I just feel very bitter that I'm not a Premiership manager still," Warnock said. "If you only knew how hard work it was in the seven years to get the team into the Premiership, you'd realise the bitter disappointment, knowing Tevez shouldn't have been in the [West Ham] team the last few weeks. I don't think anything can compensate you for losing your Premiership status; everybody knows it was my dream job. I think we could have been an established Premiership side."

Around 20 members of the relegated Sheffield United squad have also threatened legal action, but West Ham yesterday made it plain that they will fight any such move – if it ever materialises – in order to prevent ‘legal anarchy’. Indeed, Sheffield United have agreed as part of their deal with West Ham not to support any action brought by players, and the Upton Park club are yet to receive any writs.

"Despite the extensive media coverage, West Ham United have received no formal legal claims from Sheffield United players or their previous manager relating to the so-called Tevez affair," a statement on the West Ham official website read. "The club have settled the matter of compensation, as ruled upon by Lord Griffiths, with Sheffield United and can see no basis for claims being brought outside of the arbitration process, established by the Football Association, which has now been brought to a close.

"However, it is now becoming clear that the ruling by Lord Griffiths has encouraged a potentially endless legal chain of claims and counter claims, which can only be damaging to English football. As a club we will strongly resist any attempts to prolong this matter through the courts both to protect our interests and those of the wider game. There is a lot more at stake than the finances of West Ham United and we will do all we can to stop this matter ending in a form of legal anarchy."

Perhaps wary of the money pot running dry before his own litigation is resolved, Alan Curbishley has blasted the Premier League's investigation into the Carlos Tevez affair and says the whole operation is 'fundamentally flawed'. The former United boss, who led the Hammers to safety in 2007 after guiding his side to seven victories from their final nine league games, reckons claims that Tevez saved the club on his own are ludicrous. "It's fundamentally flawed, I think, the argument that Carlos Tevez kept West Ham up," he said. "When you think about what goes on in a whole season for the judgment to say that Tevez kept us up, or was the main reason we stayed up, is wrong. Cast your mind back, Tevez didn't score for 20 games. In the run in in the last nine games we used 13 players which we never had the opportunity to do before because of injuries. People forget we scored a winning goal at Blackburn that didn't cross the line - so are they going to sue the linesman and the referee?

We kept a lot of clean sheets. I don't think any West Ham fans will ever forget the game at Arsenal when Rob Green made about a dozen saves. Bobby Zamora scored two winning goals at home to Everton and away to Arsenal. Bobby Zamora had been out injured and came in for the run-in and was nice and fresh. James Collins came in and was nice and fresh. We brought Mark Noble in and suddenly we had a different team. We managed to keep it together in terms of consistent team selection. It was a fantastic run-in and I always felt the side were good enough to stay up. It was a great escape and it wasn't down to just one person."

Over at the Times, European Football Correspondent Gabriele Marcotti is of a similar mind. Hey, here’s an idea, he states... Sheffield United are getting – depending who you believe – between £15 million and £25 million in compensation from West Ham because the Hammers fielded Carlos Tevez and his presence on the pitch supposedly caused the Blades to be relegated. Fine. So why don’t a bunch of clubs take legal action against Derby County? Back in 1999-2000, the Rams featured a striker named Esteban Fuertes. He only played in eight Premier League games (scoring one goal), but surely his presence somehow impacted the league, no? And surely the fact that he was working here thanks to a dodgy passport (Derby kicked him out when the truth emerged six months after his arrival) makes him an ineligible player, right?

Derby finished sixteenth that year, five points clear of relegation. But they did tally eleven points in the eight games in which Fuertes played, surely he was responsible for some of them? Heck, if Fuertes hadn’t been around maybe Wimbledon, who finished eighteenth, wouldn’t have been relegated. And maybe Roman Abramovich would have bought them instead of Chelsea. Or, if that sounds far-fetched, maybe they would have had enough cash in the bank to avoid turning into MK Dons.

I’m not joking, insists Marcotti. Fuertes is the obvious case, but it’s well known he wasn’t the only one getting around EU employment law thanks to a dubious passport. There are at least half a dozen cases; you can do your own research on them, the web is a great thing. As everyone supposedly jumps on the lawsuit bandwagon to make a few bob out of West Ham, it might be wise to ask why the East London club are paying for their supposed sins, but so many others got away scot free. It may be even wiser to leave the lawyers to crawl back under their rocks and leave civil justice to deal with non-sporting issues.

Speaking in the Telegraph, Professional Footballers' Association chief executive Gordon Taylor claimed that Sheffield United players do have a right to expect compensation, but indicated it should come from Sheffield rather than West Ham: "I think the very fact that you've had a judge, in arbitration, make it clear that West Ham did breach the rules and, as such, have a duty to a club that got relegated. And from that point of view that's been quantified. And in a similar way we'd expect the players to be similarly compensated. My expectation would have been was that should have been included in the sum that Sheffield have already got." It is understood that any claims made by players or Warnock will have to be carried out independently. "We've raised it with Sheffield and they said they were advised not to include the players," added Taylor. "I find that quite astonishing really because it can now lead to a claim from the players against their own club or, in some cases, the former club."

Watching Sky Sports News today, it has become difficult to tell the difference between the adverts punctuating the outbursts from Warnock and PFA chief Taylor. Had an accident at work? Found yourself in the bottom three after a string of inspirational performances by a diminutive Argentine? Call our team of friendly lawyers on a no win, no fee basis. There is undoubtedly a degree of ambulance chasing in the ongoing attempts by the Sheffield United players to win compensation, thinks Gibson. Yet on the face of it, they would appear to have a point. As Taylor says, the Sheffield United players had their salaries cut when they were relegated. Their club has now been compensated for its loss. Ergo, they should be too.

Unsurprisingly, he didn't ruminate on the likely public reaction of a bunch of millionaire footballers going after extra cash when the fans who pay their wages are facing plummeting house prices and the threat of redundancy. Nor did he ask where it might end. Can the hotdog seller outside Bramall Lane claim for reduced takings? What about the publicans serving fewer pints in the Sheffield area now that the team are on television less often? Will season ticket holders bring a claim for the emotional distress of relegation? The lawyer acting for the players maintains they have a strong case. Legal sources say they have a good negotiating position but that, legally, there has been no admission of culpability from West Ham. So far, the entire process has been handled within FA and Premier League regulatory processes and was settled before Lord Griffiths's tribunal was able to rule, with no legal precedent yet established. Partly, their claim for upwards of £3million looks like an exercise in establishing a negotiating position. They may be hoping that with West Ham desperate to move on so that they can concentrate on a sale of the club. But West Ham insiders insist the club will "not give an an inch".

Not even in the case of Scott Duxbury, the West Ham chief executive who was criticised by Lord Griffiths for providing a series of "oral cuddles" to the ultimate owners of Tevez and his team-mate Javier Mascherano, yet has consistently maintained his innocence, who is still in post. His opponents claim he would have walked long ago in any other industry, thus lancing the boil and allowing all to move on. Yet his reputation has been rehabilitated since by the job he's done in steering the club through the choppy waters of the January transfer window, installing Gianfranco Zola and Steve Clarke and getting the club to a position where it looks to end the season in good enough shape to prove attractive to prospective new owners.

And amid it all, there is the fascinating psychological side show of watching Sheffield United's former manager comprehensively fail to achieve closure. Neil Warnock has clearly failed to move on and holds one man in particular responsible, says Gibson. It's not Tevez, it's not Duxbury and it's not Kia Joorabchian. "I think [Premier League chief executive Richard] Scudamore is an absolute disgrace. I'd love to get him in a room on my own for an hour, no holds barred," he said. Now that would be one twist to this sorry saga that would be worth watching.

Especially for Oliver Holt, who insists the Carlos Tevez farce should be the end of Richard Scudamore. Now that West Ham have agreed to pay Sheffield United £15million and effectively admitted they cheated them out of a place in the Premier League, he declares, I don't blame Neil Warnock for at least thinking about pursuing the six-figure bonus he'd been promised for keeping Sheffield up that season. And why should Richard Scudamore who mishandled the affair from start to finish, now retain even a shred of credibility as Premier League chief executive?

Meanwhile that sulphurous reek presages Ken Bates's intervention into the Carlos Tévez affair last night, which is indicative of how the dispute has reached absurd lengths. The Leeds United chairman has reportedly sought legal advice about a claim for a loss in payments that his club would have received from Sheffield United. The money, which is thought to total about £500,000, is based on contingency payments written into the contracts of three players that Leeds had sold to their Yorkshire rivals. They are not the only ones reveals the Express. Other clubs who sold players to the Blades in that spell include Crystal Palace, Everton, Brighton and Sunderland and there could be more from past seasons.

The clauses would have been invoked had Sheffield United avoided relegation from the Premier League in 2007. Bates believes that Sheffield United could now be liable to pay the money after they reached an out-of-court settlement with West Ham United worth about £25million to end the wrangle over the eligibility of the Argentina forward to play for the East London club during the 2006-07 season. Any potential legal action would not be directed at West Ham.

Leeds's case is based on the sales to Sheffield United of Rob Hulse for £2.2million, Matthew Kilgallon for £1.75million and Ian Bennett's free transfer. "We sold a number of players to Sheffield United with contingencies," Bates said. "When they got relegated on the last day of the season we missed out on a substantial sum. That's what we lost and if they are being compensated for their loss, we believe we should be compensated for our loss. There are other clubs in the same boat who have similar claims. Ours is the biggest claim and it would be nice to collect that and strengthen our squad. We are currently taking advice on it and won't be commenting further at this time."

If you are still reading then you should probably adopt the brace position about now; Martin Samuel is about to explode...

'Ultimately, however, we have not found it necessary to come to a conclusion whether the cause of Sheffield United's relegation was (a) the number of points achieved by West Ham with Mr Tevez's assistance or (b) Sheffield United's poor performance. At most Sheffield United's poor performance was an equally effective cause. This is insufficient to displace the causation of another effective cause. The law is summarised in Chitty on Contracts (29th ed), Vol 1, paragraph 26-038 under the heading 'Two Causes': 'If a breach of contract is one of two causes, both co-operating and both of equal efficacy in causing loss to the claimant, the party responsible for the breach is liable to the claimant for the loss. The contract breaker is liable so long as his breach was "an" effective cause of his loss; the court need not choose which cause was more effective.'

Got that? Because you will be hearing a lot of it in the future. It is the reason the Carlos Tevez saga is not over and the Iain Hume saga may only just be beginning. It explains the emergence of hideous opportunists Relegation Lawyers 4U and may ultimately infest every facet of sporting competition, from the lowest Sunday league to the top of the Premier League. It may not stop at football, either.

Page 46 of the Lord Griffiths ruling, if you are interested. Except nobody was. Mostly, people were so busy bellowing about justice when the Football Association tribunal produced a decision out of left field - much like the original Premier League commission that did not deduct points from West Ham United because it was late in the season - that they did not examine the finer details, the precedents and principles on which the case had been won.

For here, on the penultimate page of his summary, using contractual law from a completely different area of commerce, Lord Griffiths, 85, brilliantly establishes that your league position is nothing to do with you. It is the work of that lot, them, whoever they are. All the other teams. And if one of them has acted in bad faith and you can link their action to your misfortune, then it is bonanza time. All the events, all the games that were within your control, cease to matter.

Now we can look at this two ways. We can continue the celebrations or examine the wider ramifications, because even if you think Sheffield United were gypped, this is dangerous territory.

Indeed, Sheffield United may be the first club to discover the extent of the legal minefield that has been planted if Barnsley are relegated and their directors chose to link their fall into League One to the elbow thrown by Chris Morgan, the Sheffield United captain, into the face of Hume, Barnsley's incapacitated striker and record signing.

More of that later. To begin with, Chitty on Contracts (29th ed), Vol 1, paragraph 26-038 under the heading 'Two Causes', the precedent cited by Lord Griffiths to pin the responsibility for Sheffield United's league position to a rival club. In other forms of industry, this is how it works. Say you and I are in business and I act in bad faith and break our contract. Your company then goes bust and we end up in court.

'Ah,' I say, 'but this firm was going to the wall anyway. The staff were useless, the management incompetent, it was a matter of time before it went toes up.'

According to Chitty on Contracts, this does not matter. You do not have to prove the viability of your business, only that by my actions I placed it in jeopardy. This is what Lord Griffiths applied in the Tevez case, except he used it with reference to a league table for which 20 clubs play 380 matches, which is not the same as a one-to-one arrangement.

Were Sheffield United and West Ham in a two-team league, yes, the principle would apply; but how could West Ham be responsible for what happened on April 17, 2007, for instance, when Neil Warnock, then the Sheffield United manager, chose to field a weakened team at Manchester United and lost 2-0? How can a single player at another club be responsible for Sheffield United having the worst away record in the Premier League that season? Who can quantify individual factors within so many variables? There were 19 other teams in the Premier League that season and Sheffield United lost to 16 of them.

On November 8, 2008, Barnsley striker Hume suffered brain damage as a result of a challenge from Sheffield United defender Morgan. The replays of this incident look horrendous. A yellow card was issued but no further action was taken by the FA.

Hume has not played since. It is sad but, under normal circumstances, there the matter would end. At most, there could be a personal claim by Hume against Morgan, which may still happen.

Yet what has changed as a result of the Lord Griffiths ruling is the dynamic between the clubs. Barnsley were 17th and safe when that incident occurred and, at the weekend, dropped into the relegation zone. Is that now the work of a Sheffield United employee? Would Hume have made the difference? Nobody knows, and before the Lord Griffiths ruling this uncertainty would have been enough to preclude legal action. Now it is not.

Warnock, who must hold a world record for games lost in which it was somebody else's fault, and his former Sheffield United players are preparing for legal action, because Tevez cut short their Premier League careers.

Yes, it was Carlos Tevez, then a West Ham striker, who caused Warnock's team to lose to Tottenham Hotspur and Fulham before he had even joined West Ham, plus Reading (twice), Everton, Birmingham (in the Carling Cup), Chelsea (twice), Manchester United (twice), West Ham (Tevez did not score and stormed away from Upton Park after being substituted on 66 minutes), Portsmouth, Manchester City, Middlesbrough, Swansea (in the FA Cup), Blackburn, Liverpool, Bolton, Newcastle, Aston Villa and Wigan that season.

Stands to reason, doesn't it? Says right here on page 46.
And the last word goes to Hammers goalkeeper Robert Green, who last night issued a blunt message to Blades players claiming his side had not deserved their survival. Stating he is relishing the prospect of them winning promotion, so the two clubs can settle their dispute on the pitch, Green said: "Their players can do what they like. But what I’ll remember is the staying up – and that is what our fans will remember."

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

The Can And the Worm

West Ham United were dealt a blow last night when it emerged that the Carlos Tevez affair is far from over despite their settlement with Sheffield United. Like all good pantomimes, suggests the Telegraph, for every person telling us it is over, there are a group of kids at the back shouting: “Oh no it isn’t.” Well, a bunch of kids and their troublesome curmudgeon of a former teacher, the malcontent’s malcontent, Neil Warnock. Sheffield United’s players and staff, past and present have seen the club get paid and, predictably, want some of the action themselves. And so it begins again...

Warnock was the Sheffield United manager when the club was relegated in 2007 after Tevez's goals helped to keep West Ham up, despite the club having earlier been fined by the Premier League for breaking rules on third-party player ownership. The 60-year-old, who is currently in charge of Crystal Palace, has not had a top-flight job since he left Bramall Lane by mutual consent three days after the demotion and is believed to be considering suing for lost earnings and the effect on his career. Writing in today's Independent, he states:

It was a bittersweet moment when my old chairman at Sheffield United, Kevin McCabe, told me the club had agreed a deal with West Ham United for compensation over the Tevez scandal. I felt fully vindicated. I was just very disappointed I have relegation on my CV when it should not be there.

We worked our butts off to get Sheffield United into the Premier League and I was convinced we would stay. This is final confirmation that we would have but for illegal means. On a level playing field we would have stayed up.

Am I bitter? What do you think? These should have been the best years of my life. There is no way I would have left the club if we had stayed up. It was my dream job, my hometown club, a club I supported, and I was managing them in the best league in the world. It's an ill wind, as they say, and I'm enjoying the challenge of managing Crystal Palace and the experience of living in London, but that feeling can never be replicated whatever else I achieve in the game. Personally, I feel I suffered more than anybody, and not just financially.

I am bitter that Richard Scudamore, who as chief executive is the overseer of the Premier League, can remain in his job. It was obvious from the word go that the Premier League just wanted to brush it under the carpet with an attitude of "it's only Sheffield United". That is a disgrace.

So, I'm feeling a mixture of emotions right now. One thing I do know, now the case between the clubs has been settled, I'll be taking legal advice myself.

Warnock has also reiterated his stance in the Mail and remains adamant that Premier League chief executive should have lost his job over the circumstances in which West Ham remained in the top flight. "I think Scudamore is an absolute disgrace. I'd love to get him in a room on my own for an hour, no holds barred," he bristled. "If it was any other club, Scudamore would have made sure the facts came out. I find it amazing that he has kept his job. If it had been a big club, the truth would have come out earlier and it would have been sorted." Of Monday's compensation announcement, Warnock said: "It justifies what we've said all along. We've had a lot of people criticise us for taking it this far - but that's what justice is all about. But this still doesn't make it right for me or the United fans - or anyone else involved. I just wanted to see the club's case out of the way first," he said. "As far as I'm concerned I should still be a Premier League manager. I'll be looking into this now and I think the players have a case, too."

In an unprecedented move in the English game, several of the squad who played for the Yorkshire club at the time of their relegation two years ago are thought to be seeking compensation of between £4 million and £5 million in total. What is more, Sheffield United's hierarchy are understood to have no intention of attempting to dissuade their players from pursuing their own legal fight. A lawyer for about 20 members of the relegated Blades squad confirmed that they were continuing to pursue what they believe to be lost earnings and bonuses. "We understand, but have not been informed officially, that the club’s dispute with West Ham has been settled," said Chris Farnell of IPS Law in Manchester, which has taken up the case. "The players' claim will continue independently and we made correspondence with West Ham's lawyers as recently as the end of last week."

Phil Jagielka and Matthew Kilgallon are believed to be among the players to have contacted Farnell. Both are players who could not keep Sheffield United in the Barclays Premier League two years ago and now supposedly want a bonus for it. Jagielka, for example, might have suffered no loss in wages because he moved to Everton soon after relegation, but the England defender would expect to have been paid a bonus for helping Sheffield United to stay up. A Barclays Premier League player could expect a bonus of about £100,000 to £150,000 for helping his team to avoid relegation. Kilgallon, in contrast, remained at the club and would probably have had his wage cut by half — the rule of thumb for many contracts. Players in the top flight usually earn in excess of £20,000 a week whereas they might expect up to £12,000 a week in the Coca-Cola Championship.

However, in the case of Jagielka who was sold for £4million as a result of his relegation, it is normal practice for the player to profit from the sale process. In addition, his wages at a bigger club with better prospects would usually increase significantly. As the Hatchet Man in the Mail observes, at Everton, his good form has been noticed by England's new management regime, which it may not have at unfashionable Sheffield United, and that too will have had lucrative spin-offs either in bonuses or commercial endorsements - or both. Apparently after two years with Everton, Jagielka is also in line for a pay hike taking his weekly wage from £25,000 to £40,000. So it is a little difficult to see how exactly the 26-year-old lost out financially from Sheffield United's relegation. Maybe West Ham should counter-sue him for not sharing in the significant upturn in fortunes he has enjoyed since West Ham United helped send his old club down. After all, they should be able to take the smooth with the rough.

For their part, West Ham, who had thought the Tevez affair was effectively over, said as of yet they had not been contacted by anyone representing Sheffield United players past or present and, in any case, they are confident of fighting off any actions. Which is just as well. For the dispute could escalate even farther, insists the Times. They believe Wigan Athletic and Fulham have both pledged to continue their fight for compensation after missing out on prize money that they would have received had West Ham finished below them. To that end, Wigan are expected to raise the matter at the Premier League’s quarterly meeting in three weeks’ time.

There also remains the slim possibility that a joint Premier League and FA investigation could see West Ham docked points next season, thinks the Mail. The governing bodies are considering whether the club breached rules in assurances made to ensure that Tévez could play in the final three matches of the 2006-07 season. At the very least the club could be given further financial sanctions on top of the £5.5million they were forced to pay for breaking rules regarding the third-party ownership of Tevez and his fellow Argentine Javier Mascherano. One thing is for sure, namely the renewed uncertainty will have an impact on potential buyers for West Ham, who are £47 million in debt, because of concerns about the unknowable accumulative liabilities.

Interestingly, sources close to the ongoing joint Premier League and FA investigation have also revealed that Premier League officials are claiming the Tevez camp duo of lawyer Graham Shear and football wheeler-dealer Kia Joorabchian are not as yet co-operating with their inquiries. The Mail alleges that Shear, who acts for Joorabchian, who in turn represents Tevez, have not agreed to release documents or set a date to be interviewed. The claims are said to have infuriated Shear. His evidence to the Griffiths arbitration tribunal about verbal third-party ownership assurances from West Ham chief executive Scott Duxbury - ‘oral cuddles’ - after Duxbury had told the Premier League the unsanctioned agreement had been terminated is central to the PL/FA probe.

Shear insists he is still part of an ongoing process with the football authorities, while Joorabchian says he has received only one letter from the Premier League’s lawyers, to which he replied that he was too busy to agree a meeting but would gladly help out in any way they wanted at a future date, as is still the case. Meanwhile, says the article, there is understandable angst on the Tevez side about the Premier League running an investigation into a saga in which the they played such a pivotal role themselves.

Ultimately, concludes the Hatchet Man in the Mail, West Ham's deceitful third party ownership rule-breaking in the Carlos Tevez saga has left them vulnerable to such action and maybe they deserve everything they get (the amazingly resilient chief executive 'Teflon' Scott Duxbury, a key player in the mess, certainly does). Still, this morning's headlines serve only to confirm that one side is no better than the other and expediency not morality rules. No one at this stage seems to care about what happened or why, their cases are not about right or wrong but what they think will be easy money.

West Ham United 0 West Bromwich Albion 0

Upson Injury Muddies The Waters For Fabio Capello by Gary Jacob
The cuts and bruises will last longer than the memories after a scrappy encounter of precious little action that nevertheless left plenty to reflect upon. Both teams will consider the most slapdash of goalless draws last night as a missed opportunity, but West Bromwich Albion will be especially disappointed not to have converted some excellent chances and cut the gap farther at the bottom of the Barclays Premier League... Times
Upson Hurt On Frustrating Night For West Ham by John Ley
If there was relief at Upton Park following closure over the Carlos Tevez affair yesterday, what followed last night was hardly a celebration, or a statement of intent for the future. Gianfranco Zola admitted the decision to settle out of court with Sheffield United allows him to plan ahead, but, in the short-term the manager was left to contemplate the lack of depth in his depleted squad... Telegraph
Green In The Wars As Hammers Draw Blank by Neil Ashton
Tony Mowbray's team have been easy on the eye all season, winning admirers
nationwide with their pretty passing and yet losing the fight for survival in the Barclays Premier League. Last night they finally showed a nasty streak, baring their teeth when Jonas Olsson’s brutal 52nd-minute challenge left a dent in Robert Green’s jaw. West Bromwich’s central defender escaped censure by Mark Halsey, the man who is officially the country’s most lenient match official according to statistics compiled by the Premier League... Mail
Albion Miss The Chance To Close Gap by Glenn Moore
In the context of West Bromwich Albion's season a goalless draw away from home must be regarded as a triumph. In the context of their opponents' performance last night it was a wasted opportunity. Albion had conceded 22 goals in eight games since last keeping a clean sheet but Scott Carson was never in any danger of being beaten last night. Rob Green had a tougher match, not least because a stray elbow from Jonas Olsson – who may be summoned to the Football Association when they see the video – laid him out at a corner. Without Green being able to intervene Shelton Martis headed against the bar. It was the closest either side came to scoring... Independent

West Brom Draw A Blank As Olsson's Arm Makes Big Hit by Dominic Fifield
Tony Mowbray was loth to admit it but his Baggies may belatedly have stumbled on a mean streak in the top flight. The Football Association could today be moved to scrutinise Jonas Olsson's aerial challenge on the West Ham goalkeeper Rob Green, some seven minutes into the second half last night, which left the England squad goalkeeper dazed and prone on the turf. The possibility of retrospective action remains... Guardian
Upson Adds To Zola Woe by Matt Law
West Ham seem to have faced compensation claims from here, there and everywhere, so the Upton Park faithful may contemplate asking for their money back after last night’s blank. Up against a West Brom team that had failed to keep a clean sheet in their previous eight games, the Hammers were confident of boosting their hopes of qualifying for Europe... Express

Monday, 16 March 2009

Ripping Off The Plaster

West Ham United and Sheffield United today vowed to build a "positive ongoing relationship" as they attempted to draw a line under the fractious Carlos Tevez affair with a settlement that could be worth up to £20million to the Yorkshire club. The much rumoured out of court settlement was officially confirmed on the day that Lord Griffiths, whose criticism of West Ham's conduct swung the pendulum in Sheffield United's favour in its fight for compensation, was due to reconvene his independent tribunal. That will now be disbanded, states the Guardian, after the clubs negotiated their own deal, and the agreement concludes a legal tussle that has been ongoing since Sheffield United were relegated in 2007 after Tevez's goals contributed to keeping the Hammers up.

In a joint statement, Scott Duxbury, the West Ham chief executive officer, and Kevin McCabe, the Sheffield United chairman, said: "Both clubs are pleased to announce that a satisfactory settlement for compensation has been reached which brings the dispute between Sheffield United and West Ham United to an end. The tribunal will not be resuming."

Duxbury said: "For everyone concerned, the time was right to draw a line under this whole episode. We have had very positive discussions over a number of days with Sheffield United and acknowledge their willingness to resolve this in the best interests of both clubs. This now allows us to concentrate on our immediate ambitions, which include a strong finish to the Premier League season and possible European qualification, without any negative impact on our long-term project. We wish Sheffield United well in their bid to secure promotion from the Championship."

McCabe said: "We are happy and satisfied with the settlement with West Ham. Throughout the finalisation of the terms for the agreement, the discussions were friendly, co-operative and in the best of spirit with both the Blades and Hammers advisory teams. We are two clubs with a fantastic footballing history who now want to move on and focus on the business of playing football - hopefully for us against the Hammers in the Premier League next season. We look forward to a positive ongoing relationship with West Ham at all levels."

As expected, the heavyweights of the football writing fraternity have been lining up to add their thoughts on this latest development. In the Times, Patrick Barclay states that at last a line can be drawn under the Carlos Tévez affair...

There was never going to be justice because of the time that elapsed before Premier League officials realised they had been hoodwinked — it was too late to restore Sheffield United at the expense of West Ham United, whom the dubiously registered Argentinian had saved from relegation with his skill and spirit towards the end of the season before last — but at least the £25 million with which West Ham are to compensate the victims over five years should discourage all clubs from cheating.

Because the punishment is not as severe as Sheffield United’s £45 million claim suggested, it should assist Björgólfur Gudmundsson, West Ham’s Icelandic owner, to sell sooner rather than later, letting Gianfranco Zola get on with the job of providing suitably attractive football at Upton Park. Much more important, though, is an assurance from the league that Tévez will be the last player to perform in it while under third-party ownership (in other words, ownership by a company, agent or other individual rather than a club).

Tévez, now at Manchester United, has yet to be transferred from companies in which Kia Joorabchian has an interest. But he will be, we are promised, whether he stays at Old Trafford or moves to another Barclays Premier League club.

Thank goodness. Third-party ownership is, like betting, a road to corruption and, whatever may happen in other countries, England’s hands must be clean. The idea of syndicates owning players as they own racehorses is not only abominable in itself, but opens the way to match-fixing.

Although Joorabchian appears perfectly honourable, there is no saying who might have taken up his idea and formed a sort of stable of players whose loyalties would be to the company as much as the club to whom they were leased. To hypothesise: in a relegation decider such as West Ham’s visit to Old Trafford in 2007, a future Tévez might have been asked to go easy, or even develop a pre-match groin strain, to save clients at a Sheffield United from relegation.

So the Premier League should be commended on learning from experience. But the only people who come out of the affair with true credit are the directors of Sheffield United, who, by virtue of the doggedness with which they pursued their claim, have done English football a service. May they return to enjoy the hospitality of its elite boardrooms one day."
As in all things pertaining to this saga, the last word is afforded to Martin Samuel in today's Mail...
It does not matter whether the final settlement is £10million or £25m, at the moment the emphasis in the Carlos Tevez dispute shifted beyond the reinstatement of Sheffield United to the Premier League, it became a row over money between two groups of very rich men and since then the ethical issues have been increasingly lost. The lasting significance is in the precedents that have been set by misguided arbiters such as Lord Griffiths who, in finding against West Ham United in a compensation case, established that a game can be played hypothetically, individual contributions surmised and presented as fact and also that a club is not responsible for its league position. Many will feel justice has been done over Tevez but Sheffield United's victory may prove hollow if the rumours circulating about the direction the Iain Hume case is about to take are correct. Hume is the Barnsley striker and record signing left fighting for his life after a challenge by Chris Morgan, the Sheffield United defender. Barnsley were 17th when Hume got injured but this weekend fell into the bottom three. It might be advisable not to spend all of that compensation money at once.
Although Sheffield United originally claimed compensation of up to £45million in lost television revenues, sponsorship, merchandising and ticket sales, the Guardian reveals that West Ham have agreed to pay the Blades £15million over five years, with an extra bond of £5million payable in the event of the club being sold within a certain time period. With West Ham's owner Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson under increasing pressure to sell the club as a result of the collapse of his businesses in Iceland, it is almost certain that the clause will be invoked. The club will hope that the removal of the uncertainty surrounding the club's potential liability, together with a court ruling last week that protected Gudmundsson's holding company Hansa from bankruptcy for another three months, will give the sale process fresh impetus.

On that front, at least five potential buyers have signed non-disclosure agreements with Standard Bank of Standard Africa, which is leading the process. Yesterday's Observer disclosed a definite interest from an English-led group planning to spend around £100million on the club. It is reported the group intends to provide manager Gianfranco Zola with a "serious" ­transfer fund of £30million, while rolling over club debts now approaching £50million. However, with the cost of paying off ­Sheffield United set to take up a quarter of the total investment, sources close to the potential buyers are not confident they will complete the deal.

For their part West Ham officials ­recognise that the club's future will not be determined by its titular owner Gudmundsson, but they do not expect the club to change hands until the summer. Instead, the five banks holding West Ham's debt will decide who to sell to, with Standard Bank principal among them. Any proceeds from the sale will be put towards settling Gudmundsson's ­financial liabilities. Duxbury, who flew to Reykjavik over the weekend for talks with Gudmundsson about the club's future, will face further scrutiny as a result of an ongoing joint FA and Premier League review into the affair. But, muses the Guardian, there must now be a serious question marks over whether that review, currently in the process of re-interviewing the main players, will result in further action or even see the light of day.

Regardless, the next few weeks will go a long way towards determining West Ham United’s future and victory over West Bromwich Albion this evening would only add to the positive vibes coming from Upton Park. Gary Jacobs in the Times writes that the prospective sale of the club is gathering pace as fast as their ascent in the table and bid for a European place next season. Although one serious bidder has hit a stumbling block in his attempt to buy the club, a second takeover in less than three years is very much expected. Meanwhile, the dominance of the domestic trophies by the “big four” is likely to ensure that seventh place will earn a spot in the Uefa Cup, to be rebranded as the Europa League next season.

Looking ahead to the prospect of European qualification, Gianfranco Zola said: "If we do achieve that then we will need to strengthen the team because there will be very competitive teams in Europe but also there will be more games to play so we will need a strong team. The squad has to be strengthened." In the meantime, the Italian is understandably keen for the club’s future to be settled as soon as possible so that he can look towards the future with some certainty. "I have to focus on the work out on the pitch," he said. "This is why the club employed me and if I can make things work on the pitch I can help the club in the process. Hopefully the Carlos Tevez situation will be resolved soon and that will be a good because then we can sit down and plan for the future knowing exactly what we are dealing with. I am told the club will pay the money to Sheffield United over a period of years and it will not affect our spending. If we want to strengthen the team in the summer I will be able to do that."

When Zola joined West Ham, his immediate ambition was to improve upon last season’s 10th-place finish. "There was a time we were two points from the bottom but even then the team believed in what we were doing and stayed together," he said. "The aim this season was to finish ninth. So far we are doing better and now we have another opportunity. When you achieve your objective you have to reassess things." Which is why Zola is now aiming higher. Despite a recent crop of injuries and a two-match suspension for main striker Carlton Cole, the manager believes a UEFA Cup place beckons at the end of the season and from there, perhaps even the Champions League further down the line.

"I hope that one day I will be competing with those big teams in the Champions League and I hope it will be soon," he said. "We will see how well I do my job and how well the team does the job. That is one of the targets we have. It might be possible that seventh is enough for Europe this season and that would be great for this club. Not just for the club to be in Europe, but for the players to play internationally makes them better. I played many times as a player in European competition and I know how it can make a player better to play those kind of games. Besides, if I didn’t stick to what I believe then I would not do this job. I would rather do something else. I’m not manager here because I need the money. I’m here because I like it and because I want to follow my philosophy."

While new owners should bring fresh transfer funds for Zola, for now the Italian must make do with a patched-up and depleted squad. Valon Behrami and Jack Collison will miss all or most of the rest of the season because of injury and Cole is suspended for the first of two matches tonight. It could give Diego Tristán, signed in October until the end of the season, an opportunity to start for the first time. The former Spain forward, 33, has scored once in eight appearances this season, far removed from the potent player he was at Deportivo de La Coruña, although his fading fortunes are perhaps reflected by spells at Mallorca and Livorno.

"Zola keeps encouraging me and saying that I have plenty more goals left in me," Tristán said. "I may be 33, but there is a lot of football left in me. My head tells me to do everything I used to and, while the legs do not always follow, I feel strong and still have my speed. Cole has been doing very well, but this is a chance to show what I can do. I have recovered my desire to play. It was not so much that I had lost the desire, but my last few months with Deportivo were not good, nor my time with Real Mallorca, either."

Saturday, 14 March 2009

The Bitterest Pill

You look the picture of contented new wealth
But from the on-looking fool who believed your lies
I wish this grave would open up and swallow me alive
For the bitterest pill is hard to swallow
The love I gave hangs in sad coloured, mocking shadows
Having swallowed the bitter pill of a compensation agreement with Sheffield United over the Carlos Tevez affair, now comes the acid reflux realisation that the repercussions could be considerably harsher than first advertised. The Daily Mail are reporting that the Hammers will actually pay the Yorkshire club approximately £25million in the form of a bond over the next four or five years in a bid to end the clubs’ wrangle over the eligibility of the Argentina forward to play in East London during the 2006-07 season. The Times are in agreement over the sum, but they think it involves £10million up front.

Whatever the details, the news will come as a shock to West Ham supporters who no doubt thought their club had escaped potential disaster, states the Mail, given Sheffield United’s original claim of £45million for their relegation from the Barclays Premier League in May 2007. In reality, West Ham were in no real position to negotiate a far less expensive deal when an independent FA arbitration panel, chaired by Lord Griffiths, were so supportive of Sheffield United in their claim. Not only did the panel find that West Ham were guilty of a serious breach of Premier League regulations, but they also concluded that, in scoring vital goals towards the end of the season for the Hammers, Tevez had indeed had a decisive effect on Sheffield United’s fate. West Ham received legal advice about the merits of their case and were forced to settle for a higher sum that previously hoped for.

Kevin McCabe, the Sheffield United plc chairman, met Premier League officials at their office in London this week to discuss the deal, which still had not been signed off last night by West Ham’s five controlling banks. The agreement comes a few days before Lord Griffiths and the panel were due to meet to discuss the compensation and West Ham see this as concluding the saga even though the joint FA and Premier League inquiry into the comments of Lord Griffiths has not yet finished. The club could still face further charges and the possibility of a points deduction from the investigation, thinks the Times, although the Premier League will hope that the clubs’ agreement will bring the matter to a close.

The same paper insists that agreeing the hefty compensation will help to smooth the possible sale of West Ham United, because the amount of a significant liability is now known. On that front, one serious bidder is thought to be edging closer to a deal, the resolution of which is likely to lead to the departure of Scott Duxbury as chief executive of the club. Duxbury was the director responsible for the club’s legal affairs when Tevez joined, and was therefore a key player in the venture that has enveloped English football for two years and proved to be such a costly and contentious experience. The Mail suggests United’s debt already stood somewhere between £45million and £50million, and the £25million bond will now have to be taken into consideration by any buyer, although McCabe would be willing to settle for smaller compensation, if the sum were to be paid immediately by a new owner of West Ham. Yesterday the price for buying the club was thought to be in the region of £100million, almost half the amount owner Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson has indicated he would want.

Meanwhile, Fulham and Wigan Athletic have been looking into whether they are entitled to claim the additional prize- money that they would have received had West Ham not finished above them at the end of the 2006-07 campaign. In Fulham’s case, the figure would amount to about £500,000. Sheffield United’s players have also sought legal advice about a claim against West Ham, while Alan Curbishley has claimed for about £3 million in compensation after resigning as manager in September insisting there had been interference in his transfer dealings. West Ham insist their former manager is entitled to nothing and remain adamant they will vigorously defend any claim and, indeed, are considering a counter-claim according to the Independent. A hearing is scheduled for the end of this month, (or the summer depending on which paper you choose to believe).

The people over at the Guardian say that it was suggested other Premier League clubs who saw their league position affected by the form of Tevez and West Ham in the latter part of the season might also examine whether they had grounds for a claim. However, Bolton Wanderers chairman Phil Gartside said yesterday that his original suggestion had been "tongue in cheek" and confirmed that his club would not pursue the case further. They also quote a spokesman for Wigan Athletic confirming they would not be pursuing the matter. In addition, the Hammers may also end their relationship with Kia Joorabchian, who is used on transfers, because of the League’s unhappiness with the businessman.

One of the complications involved in the sale of West Ham was removed yesterday when Björgólfur Gudmundsson, the West Ham owner, was given three months’ breathing space to complete the sale of the assets relating to his businesses. Gudmundsson won his battle to stop a creditor, who is owed £4 million, freezing his assets. None of this would have been imagined by Gudmundsson when he bought the club for £85 million, taking on a debt of about £22 million, 2½ years ago. The collapse last year of XL, the airline that was West Ham’s shirt sponsor, was also costly for the club.

On a more positive note, the Independent claims West Ham United are planning to sugar the medicine by offering Gianfranco Zola an improved new contract at the end of the season. It will reward the Italian for a highly promising start to his managerial career and is designed to fend off any prospective interest in the 42-year-old, and his assistant Steve Clarke, after they succeeded Curbishley last September. Jason Burt states the new deal will reflect the central importance the pair will play in West Ham's future, with Zola having embraced the idea of developing young talent at the club and making it more self-sufficient along the lines drawn up by chief executive Scott Duxbury.

Zola is currently on a one-year rolling deal and given this is his first job in management, having been recruited from his role coaching the Italian under-21 side, he is not believed to be among the Premier League's highest paid managers. The former Chelsea striker has reassured West Ham he wants to stay and has privately indicated he would like to discuss a new contract and is grateful for the opportunity he has been given. That said, given the current circumstances, no talks will take place until the summer.

West Ham, who face West Bromwich Albion in the league on Monday, are in seventh place and may well qualify for next season's Europa League – which replaces the Uefa Cup – after a strong second half to the season, during which Zola has improved the style of play as well as results. In addition to offering a new deal to Zola, West Ham plan to negotiate new contracts with a host of first-team players including Lucas Neill, Matthew Upson and Robert Green. Several others – including Scott Parker and Carlton Cole – have already signed long-term deals this season.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Postponing The Inevitable

There was once a king named Shahryar, who ruled much of what is today India and Southeast Asia. To his chagrin he discovered his wife in the kitchen, enthusiastically pounding the cook's flatbread. The king ordered his vizier to put the queen to death, and *swhup*, *clunk*, *wobble* went her head. King Shahryar then commiserated with his brother, who was also a king (of what is today Uzbekistan) and who had also recently killed an unfaithful wife. A little disillusioned, the two of them rashly decided to go on holiday by mistake.

Ambling on the seashore, King Shahryar and his brother Shahzaman beheld a giant demon coming toward them, cleaving the ocean like a sword, and they scurried up a tree to hide. The demon unlocked a chest and out popped a beautiful woman. The demon laid his head on this woman’s lap to sleep. But the woman slipped out, and, seeing two kings in a tree, demanded they both come down and have sex with her right then and there, or else she would wake the demon. They complied, and the woman afterward confiscated each man’s ring, adding them— lovers numbers ninety-nine and one hundred— to her collection. Then she let them go.

Strangely, the kings felt better. "Here is a great demon," they reasoned, "who has been cuckolded not once but a hundred times! We are not so bad off as we thought." And with that cheery notion they returned to their respective kingdoms, bitterly convinced that all women everywhere were no better than the most cunning femme fatale.

King Shahryar, on his return, ordered his vizier to bring him a virgin. He deflowered the girl, and, as she would surely someday betray him, ordered the vizier to kill her in the morning. That evening another virgin was presented, bedded, and beheaded at sunrise. This went on until the vizier could find no more virgins in the land. The old man despaired, knowing his head was next if the king’s id went unsated.

The vizier’s eldest daughter, Scheherazade, learned of her father’s predicament and resolved both to save him and gain amnesty for the thousands of virgins who had fled for their lives across foreign borders. She offered herself to the king, and after sleeping with him told him a story. At dawn the story wasn’t finished, and King Shahryar was so enrapt that he put off slaughtering her till the next morning. But the next night’s after-sex story seamlessly ran into another story that, amazingly, was at a most suspenseful juncture when the sun rose.

After a thousand and one nights, Scheherazade had borne King Shahryar three princes and told him the most marvelous tales (all true, of course) that anyone had ever heard: terrors greater than he and his brother had experienced with the demon; sweetness and ecstasy that their wives had known before their executions; and wisdom, heroism, love, and piety that Shahryar had never imagined and could dream of now only because of his nights with Scheherazade. The king repented and married Scheherazade; all the virgins journeyed home from exile; and the land was fertile and fruitful once again and ever after.

So, did I mention Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson successfully won an extension of the moratorium that prevents banks from seizing his assets and forcing the sale of West Ham United before the end of the season? Miraculously postponing the inevitable with riotous tales of mysterious Middle Eastern consortia, auspicious out of court settlements, of covetous eyes and imminent buy-outs, the Icelandic court ruled that the extension for Hansa, the club’s holding company, will last until June 8.

Sigrun Njalsdottir, a spokeswoman for the court, said that creditors can appeal in the next 14 days but given MP Bank, the only dissenting creditor, has already given their tacit agreement to the extension, any such move seems unlikely. West Ham Vice Chairman Asgeir Fridgeirsson said today that Hansa persist in the process of finding bids for the club. "We just continue the process we’ve been working on the last four months," he stated. "We’re engaged in conversation with 5 and 10 parties. We still don’t have any binding offers. There is a growing interest."

The Uneasy Truce

The long-running dispute between West Ham United and Sheffield United over Carlos Tevez could finally be drawing to a diffident conclusion after the Hammers reluctantly acceded to pay compensation to settle the matter. It would bring to an end the legal battle that began with the Yorkshire club arguing that Tevez's participation in key matches in breach of the Premier League's third-party agreement rules had played a material role in helping West Ham to remain in the top league while Sheffield were relegated. Writing in this morning's Independent, Jason Burt reveals an announcement could be made as early as today, although the finer details were still being discussed last night.

It is thought West Ham will pay a sum in excess of £10million in exchange for Sheffield United withdrawing all complaints against them. Although the exact terms of the agreement are likely to remain confidential, it is understood that the key for facilitating the deal is that the payments will be staggered over the next five years rather than met as a lump sum. In this way, it significantly eases the short-term financial burden on the club and could expediate any future sale with prospective interested buyers. While it is understood Sheffield United have accepted substantially less than the figure they originally sought, the payments probably still amount to more than the sum West Ham had previously hoped to be liable for. However, precisely because they are staggered, West Ham will be able to absorb the hit more easily into their budget.

The Blades have been seeking damages ever since they were relegated from the Premier League at the end of the 2006-07 season. They lodged an initial demand for £30million, later revised up to £60million and then back down to £45million. West Ham firmly repudiated the claim but an independent FA arbitration panel chaired by Lord Griffiths found in Sheffield United's favour, ruling that Tevez had had a decisive effect on the Blade's fate. A formal damages hearing had been due to commence on Monday to hear arguments over the size of compensation, but following the settlement agreed yesterday the hearing has now been cancelled.

Even up to the last minute West Ham United were steadfastly preparing to reject Sheffield United's arguments next week having calculated that the real cost of relegation from the Premier League was far lower than the exorbitant sum claimed. It was their strong contention that a forensic examination of the south Yorkshire club's accounts, which included an analysis of the costs of player recruitment – transfer and signing-on fees – and wages, would erode the assertion that they are liable for all the Premier League television money the Blades missed out on by being relegated. Ultimately, pragmatism led the club to concede defeat rather than risk another adverse finding and it is a decision that will likely bring solace and anger to West Ham supporters in equal measure- relief that the case has been settled but resentment that the club is paying compensation. Burt insists the club remains convinced by its case, but is simply not in a position to risk having to pay compensation as a "one-off" hit because of the financial problems of their Icelandic owner and chairman, Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson.

There is also the real concern about what Lord Griffiths might have deem as sufficient damages. He chaired the independent panel which made the controversial, and much-debated, ruling last year in favour of the Blades. Given the nature of his ruling, in which he effectively said that Tevez saved West Ham from relegation and condemned United to the drop, it was thought too great a risk to allow the hearing to go ahead. If, for example, Griffiths had ordered West Ham to pay £7million, which would arguably have represented a victory for the Hammers, the cash is not available. With West Ham's parent company facing acute financial difficulty in Iceland it would have raised the spectre of the club having to sell a key player in the summer to meet any immediate demand for payment. By paying in instalments they have now removed that threat, though Sheffield United are understood to have extracted a higher price in exchange for the five-year payment schedule.

If Gudmundsson's wealth had not been decimated by the global financial meltdown, it is unlikely a deal would have been agreed at this stage. The Independent claims the compensation agreement was thrashed out during a series of meetings in Brussels between the Sheffield United chairman, Kevin McCabe, who lives in the Belgian capital, and West Ham's chief executive, Scott Duxbury. Although West Ham have long been resigned to the fact that they will have to pay damages, they also believe they are making a hard-headed business decision for the future of the club and to remove a degree of uncertainty at a time when Gudmundsson has been facing pressure to sell up.

The settlement brings to an end a corrosive saga that began in April 2007, when West Ham were fined by an independent Premier League inquiry for breaching rules governing third-party ownership. No points were deducted and controversially Tevez was permitted to play in the final three games of the season after West Ham claimed they had unilaterally terminated their third-party agreement with the players' advisors, a consortium headed by Kia Joorabchian. Tevez was seen as instrumental in helping the Hammers survive, scoring the winner against Manchester United in the last game of the season at Old Trafford; a goal that is often (*but erroneously) directly attributed to ensuring West Ham United's continued presence in the top division.

The Blades had argued that they were relegated as a direct result of West Ham's admitted breach of Premier League rules in the transfer of Tevez from the Brazilian club Corinthians at the start of 2006-07. The case opened up the thorny issue of player ownership and so-called third-party agreements. West Ham ended the season three points ahead of Sheffield United in the table and instead of receiving a points deduction were fined £5.5million for fielding Tevez, who subsequently moved to Manchester United that summer, by the original independent commission which sat on behalf of the Premier League. Sheffield United lost a High Court challenge to the Premier League panel's decision and then persuaded the FA that it should convene an arbitration panel to rule on the decision. Lord Griffiths's ruling was hugely controversial but ultimately decisive, and West Ham's concession yesterday finally brings the dispute between the two clubs to an uneasy close.

That said, the Premier League has since instigated a new inquiry, together with the Football Association, into the affair, because of the comments from Griffiths, that Duxbury had given so-called "oral cuddles" to Graham Shear, the solicitor for Tevez's adviser, Kia Joorabchian. Their lawyers have written to those involved asking them for written statements and arranging face-to-face interviews. Shear claimed Duxbury had provided an assurance that the third-party agreement, which West Ham had ripped up, was still in place. West Ham firmly reject this and point to the legal action taken by Joorabchian to recover money from the club as an indication that they acted as they had promised. "We have acted in good faith throughout the inquiries and investigations into this matter and fulfilled the undertakings given to the Premier League following the initial penalty," said the club at the time. "We have nothing to hide and will ensure that this is once again reflected in our evidence to the FA and Premier League." It nevertheless raises the possibility, notes the Guardian, that West Ham could still face the prospect of a further fine or a points deduction.

Tevez tears: How signing turned sour for Hammers (courtesy of the Independent)

31 Aug 2006 West Ham sign Media Sports Investment-owned striker Carlos Tevez for £12m.

2 Mar 2007 Premier League charge West Ham for breaches of transfer rules.

27 April West Ham are fined £5.5m but receive no points deduction.

13 *May Tevez's goal at Manchester United keeps West Ham in the top flight. Sheffield United lose at home to Wigan and are relegated.

3 July Sheffield United's legal challenge against relegation is dismissed by an arbitration panel.

3 Aug Tevez allowed to join Manchester United after Hammers agree deal with MSI.

23 Sept 2008 Panel chaired by Lord Griffiths rules for Sheffield United in compensation claim.

12 Mar 2009 Sheffield United agree '£10m' settlement with West Ham.

Copyright 2007 ID Media Inc, All Right Reserved. Crafted by Nurudin Jauhari