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.


Hammersfan said...

Great headline!

Anonymous said...

Love that headline!


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