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.

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