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.

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