Such was the effect of Bryan Robson’s predictably disastrous spell of Sheffield United in charge the following season, the saga of The Blades, West Ham United and Carlos Tevez has been largely forgotten by the media over the last twelve months or so. The story has, however, roared back into the headlines following the release of the findings of the arbitration panel which studied the case. As you may remember, there was controversy surrounding Tevez’s transfer to West Ham United from day one, and the irregularities rumbled on until the FA stepped in and confirmed that the third party agreement concerning his ownership by Media Sports Investments was against their rules. Tevez’s contract was quickly tidied up, and the FA fined West Ham £5.5m but, controversially (since there were only a couple of weeks of the season left), didn’t dock them any points.
The supreme irony came on the final day of the season, when Tevez scored a highly improbable winning goal for West Ham at Old Trafford to send Sheffield United, beaten at home by Wigan Athletic, down in their place. In the couple of weeks between the judgement and the last day of the ruling, it had been Dave Whelan of Wigan Athletic who had been the most vocal in public condemnation of the ruling, though his opinions on the matter were slightly more muted after Wigan stayed up. As soon as the relegation places were decided, the Sword Of Damocles was taken up by Sheffield United’s Kevin McCabe, for whom this was suddenly the greatest injustice in the history of football. The case was referred to a three man arbitration panel (former MCC president Lord Griffiths, Sir Anthony Colman, a former High Court judge, and Robert Englehart QC), and their findings made for pretty bad reading for Sheffield United:
We have no doubt that West Ham would have secured at least three fewer points over the 2006-07 season if Carlos Tevez had not been playing for the club.
Perhaps they should make up the pools panel this winter. Sheffield United have been very precise in the amount of money that they want in compensation from West Ham United. £30,396,897. Of that amount, £21.8m is lost commercial revenue and television money, whilst £4m is made up of money lost on the sale of Phil Jagielka to Everton (Jagielka was believed to be worth £8m at the time, but had a £4m buy out clause if Sheffield United were relegated). The remainder of the claim is for lost ticket sale revenues and commercial activities. The striking thing about the figure is how exact it is. One can’t help but suspect that, had Neil Warnock been as meticulous about team preparation as their solicitors appear to have been in compiling this list of grievances, they might have won enough points to render all of this an irrelevance.
The argument put forward by the arbitration committee is fundamentally flawed. Tevez played just twenty-six matches during that season, three of which came after his clearance to play was approved on the 27th April 2007. The argument that there was anything wrong with his playing in (and scoring the winning goal in) West Ham’s last match of the season is irrelevant, because he was cleared to play in that match. The statement made as quoted above belies a fundamental lack of knowledge on the part of the panel of how football actually works. It’s just as plausible to say that the distraction caused by the Tevez affair cost West Ham points as it is to say that they definitely would have gone down had he not been playing. West Ham lost their first seven consecutive matches with Tevez playing. Who’s to say that they wouldn’t have won a couple of these matches had they played someone else up front.
Ultimately, the blame for this debacle lies with the Premier League. They knew that there might be a problem with Tevez’s registration as soon as Javier Mascherano went to Liverpool during the transfer window. They also knew that a points deduction was probably the appropriate punishment for such a serious breach of their rules. It is supposition to assume that they believed that West Ham would be relegated anyway, thus negating the need to deduct points from them in the first place, but it wouldn’t be surprising if that was the thinking behind their decision. It may or may not have been a calculated gamble but, if it was, it failed spectacularly. Ultimately, they fined West Ham United £5.5m, and West Ham paid it. For anyone to turn around and pass judgement, almost eighteen months after the event, that West Ham should be liable for a further punishment of over £30m strikes me as being (at least in purely legal terms) bordering on illegal in itself. The independent arbitration committee, which was brought in with the intention of resolving this issue once and for all, may just have opened a whole new can of worms.