‘Nobody came out of the Carlos Tevez affair with any real credit’

An absurd rivalry has now developed between our fans and those of Sheffield United

Our recent fixture against Sheffield United brought back memories of our Great Escape in 2006/07. We’d won 1-0 at Manchester United on the final day to avoid relegation, which resulted in the Blades being relegated.

I’ve previously taken an in-depth look into the reign of Alan Pardew and to me, his tenure was defined by a failure to properly use Carlos Tevez who featured in all but three of the games under Pardew’s charge. But was Pardew culpable for not building the team around Tevez and also Mascherano, who was essentially ignored and only played five games before transferring to Liverpool in January 2007?

It’s naive to sign a great player and just assume the manager will make it work. They have to fit the tactical plan; are other players going to be on the same wavelength? That season though Pardew might have been on his way a lot sooner had it not been for the protracted sale of the club.

Chairman Terry Brown was denounced following the sale of West Ham’s golden generation; angry fans questioned his management of the club and were only deterred by the threat of legal action. The sale was completed in November 2006 as an Icelandic consortium took control. The new chairman Eggert Magnusson was a lugubrious figure and should really have been stroking a white cat. 

Forest Gate-born Alan Curbishley was appointed manager the week before Christmas. It was a sensible move as the former Charlton boss made his name as a player at West Ham. He was highly regarded and once interviewed for the England manager’s job. Charlton became a steady top 10 side under his stewardship and steered the club to 7th place in the Premier League. 

Such is the managerial merry-go-round, Alan Pardew did a swap taking over at Charlton in December 2006. The task now was to pull West Ham out of a tailspin leading into the crucial holiday period. However, the bombshell secretly prepared in September was ready to drop. When Tevez and Mascherano joined West Ham, few paid attention to the detail. They were signed for an undisclosed fee; nothing unusual there, transfer fees are essentially a private matter between the contracting parties.

If anything goes public, it’s nothing more than an estimate. The selling club accounts for income in the usual manner and the buying club records the purchase accordingly. However, in January 2007 it was revealed that Premier League rules had been broken when the pair were signed. 

Company director Kia Joorabchian owned the players’ economic rights via MSI and Just Sport Inc. Contract clauses that permitted third party influence were strictly forbidden. However, if the club had broken the rules they gained no advantage from it. West Ham showed little sign of recovery as they embarked on another shocking run. 

A 6-0 defeat at Reading on New Year’s Day was the catalyst for a losing streak that left them bottom of the table in March. But there were rumblings of discontent primarily from clubs in the bottom half of the table. The Premier League had to act and charged West Ham with breach of rule B13 and U18. 

They were still immersed in a relegation battle when a world record fine of £5.5million was imposed. But it stopped short of the expected 10-point deduction which would almost certainly condemn them to relegation. Wigan chairman Dave Whelan commented that it was wrong as West Ham broke the law. A wholly inaccurate statement but served to illustrate the matter would only rest if West Ham were relegated. 

With the eminently quotable Neil Warnock as team manager, Sheffield United crowed the loudest as small club syndrome clicked into action. United threatened legal action against the Premier League and West Ham if natural justice failed to deliver the outcome they wanted. For all his ability, Tevez didn’t break his duck until March when West Ham lost at home to Spurs. He scored in consecutive wins against Blackburn and Middlesbrough and in a subsequent 4-1 defeat to Chelsea. 

Two goals in the home victory against Bolton secured three precious points; and then the final game of the season away to Manchester United. Tevez scored the winner in that game and was, to all intents and purposes, the basis of Sheffield United’s fury. Beating Manchester United gave West Ham a total of 41 points, three ahead of United who finished in 18th place. Never mind that a goalless draw would have kept West Ham up; United were relegated and convinced that Tevez made all the difference. 

But was his presence the only reason they survived in the Premier League? United’s assertion that West Ham were a one man team is frankly a ridiculous statement. Hard facts show that Tevez had little impact for six months of the season. He wasn’t even the top scorer as that distinction fell to Bobby Zamora with 11 league goals. 

Tevez played regularly during a miserable run that included eight straight defeats with only one goal scored by Marlon Harewood. Similarly, he featured in six consecutive losses at the beginning of 2007.  West Ham won four of the six games in which Tevez scored. They were significant contributions but none to justify the sweeping assumptions made by United. 

An appeal lodged against the Premier League’s decision was ultimately rejected. However, in a classic volte face, an arbitration panel later admitted United had a valid complaint and that it would in all probability have reached a different conclusion and deducted points from West Ham. Buoyed by the Premier League’s indecision, United kept rubbing an open sore. A year later an FA Tribunal concluded they had no doubt that West Ham would have secured at least three fewer points had Carlos Tevez not been playing for the club. 

There’s no question West Ham broke the rules but how could they possibly be that definitive? The law of contract and rules of agency loom large but the basic facts are more prosaic. Premier League rule U18 states; No club shall enter into a contract which enables any other party to that contract to acquire the ability materially to influence its policies or performance of its team. 

When Tevez and Mascherano were signed, West Ham entered into a private agreement with companies controlled by Kia Joorabchian. These companies were able to terminate the players’ contracts upon payment of a fee. The takeover bid led by Joorabchian only added to the incendiary nature of the agreement. The takeover was defeated but the damage was done. The club hadn’t just broken rule U18 they drove a bus straight through it.

West Ham admitted liability for the breach and paid the financial penalty. However, they were still in the Premier League and Sheffield United were still relegated. A claim for damages was the next logical step but who exactly would they sue? The Premier League had made a decision according to its own rules; the only possible respondent could be West Ham. 

However, to pursue a claim against them United would have to rely on the breach of rule B13 which states: In all matters and transactions relating to the League, each club shall behave towards each other club and the League with the utmost good faith. Utmost good faith is an archaic business principle locked in the mists of time. The modern application would suggest that parties to an agreement act honestly and fairly towards each other. 

United claimed damages of £40 million and relied on a highly fluid concept. They could not have picked a better time to threaten West Ham with legal action. In December 2007 Eggert Magnusson left the club and his interest was purchased by majority shareholder Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson. 

The Icelandic banking crisis of 2008 left the club’s holding company on the verge of bankruptcy.  The club would have to be sold and the last thing they needed was costly litigation stretching out for months, possibly years. United exploited a chink in West Ham’s armour and nobody would blame them for doing that. But the basis of their complaint makes no logical sense or reason. 

Their claim would have been on shaky ground had it gone to court.  As members of the Premier League, West Ham and Sheffield United effectively belonged to a trade association. Both were subject to that body’s rules and face the appropriate penalty if found to be in breach.

But the rules did not imply a contractual relationship between the members themselves. It certainly doesn’t make one member liable to pay compensation if it broke the rules. United would also have to prove the FA Tribunal had authority to challenge the Premier League’s original decision. 

Third party contracts aside, Tevez was still validly registered and entitled to play for the club. One can never predict how a court might have ruled but United’s case was nowhere near as strong as many thought. 

It was more about who blinked first; the fact that West Ham settled out of court was stone cold pragmatism. The threat of legal action was in many respects a convenient shield for Sheffield United’s failings. 

Barely out of the bottom five they were lost without top scorer Rob Hulse who missed the final months of the season. West Ham were not much better but more likely than most to dig themselves out of trouble.

United’s chairman Kevin McCabe boasted that he could have bankrupted West Ham but accepted a £21 million settlement instead. Such humanity belied how much United gained from a single season in the Premier League.

They also received £18 million in TV money plus parachute payments of £6 million for each of the following three seasons; prize money and various endorsements would have totalled £60 million. Whilst such figures are approximate, there would have been a tidy sum available to rebuild the side. Even so United were relegated again and spent six seasons in the third tier of league football. 

History allows us the benefit of hindsight but nobody came out of the Tevez affair with any real credit. Poor corporate governance had left the sport open to ridicule yet again. Even worse, an absurd rivalry developed between the fans of both clubs. 

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