Sheffield United Relegated – Finally.
Finally, the Independent Arbitration Commission that have been investigating the Sheffield United/Carlos Tevez/West Ham United affair have reached their conclusion and, perhaps predictably, they have found that the Premier League had no case to answer. You can see the whole report here (it makes interesting reading, if you can cut through the legal jargon), and it draws very much the same conclusions that I drew on this very blog a few weeks ago. For those of you that can’t be bothered to read it all, the key conclusions are as follows:
1. There had been no attempts by any third parties to influence West Ham’s policy over the selection of Tevez or Mascherano or those two players. The FA would have been entitled to cancel their registration, but were not legally obliged to do so.
2. West Ham made it clear that they would not allow any third party interference over these matters and allowed the FAPL permission to monitor the situation to ensure that this state of affairs did not change. West Ham had claimed from the outset that any reference to third party influence in the original contract was “unenforceable”.
3. In view of the above, it was not “unreasonable” (as Sheffield United had claimed) for the FA to agree to continue to monitor the situation as opposed to simply cancelling the player’s registration. They do note, however, the “possibility” that third parties could have continued to hold an influence over these matters and, indeed, that they could still do so now.
4. In the view of the committee, the wording of Rule U18 “enables” rather than “entitles” third parties to hold an influence over a player’s circumstances. It was within the jurisdiction of the FA to look at practical concerns rather than strict legal entitlement – ie, to take a “practical” rather than “legal” viewpoint. No-one could have predicted the unlikely set of results that kept West Ham up at the expense of Sheffield United.
5. Whilst sympathetic to Sheffield United’s contentions over the transfer of Mascherano to Liverpool, the committee found that there were not sufficient similarities between this case and the issue over Tevez’s registration with West Ham. West Ham may have been treated leniently, but not so leniently that it could be described as “irrational”.
6. The Premier League’s decision to not cancel the registration was not unreasonable in the sense of their decision being “perverse or capricious”. There was, therefore, no problem with them not referring the matter to a disciplinary panel.
So, to clarify, the committee felt that the FA may have treated West Ham leniently, but not too leniently. West Ham, let us not forget, were fined £5.5m – 7% of their entire value as a club. They had no obligation to cancel Tevez’s registration and were, therefore, not doing anything wrong. This isn’t to say that the Premier League have been exonerated in this respect. You don’t have to read very far between the lines to conclude that the committee might well have come to different conclusions at different stages in the investigation. I think that they have made the right decision, and I’ll attempt to explain why.
If you are interested in football, and in particular something like Premier League football, you have to take it as an article of faith that these people are like wild west bandits, operating at the outer limits of what you can get away with and covering it up as “free market capitalism”. They operate a closed shop in terms of their television money, and operate as a cartel which works to the specific detriment of the wider interests of English football. They will continue to do whatever they can to make more money, and they quite simply do not give a toss about you. They’re not dropping or freezing ticket prices out of the goodness of their hearts. They’re doing it where they can’t fill their grounds, and where they’re coming under intense pressure from supporters organisations. They routinely field reserve teams where it suits them and still charge the full price for the privilege of it. What they actually do is pick and choose the elements of the free market that suit them and disregard the rest.
With this in mind, I find the concept of Sheffield United spouting this “Sword of Damocles” nonsense to be not far from revolting. They don’t stand to “lose” anything from relegation – merely to go back to where they came from, back in the mixer with everyone else, and with the farcical “parachute payment” that the Premier League will be paying them. None of this is an excuse for the behaviour of West Ham United. They have been very lucky indeed. However, I don’t believe for a single second that we would have been dragged through this by Sheffield United this had they finished in a mid-table position, and the sheer hypocrisy of it all stinks to high heaven.
We would, of course, have been dragged through it by whoever finished fourth-bottom in the Premier League, because that is how they see it. They are all utterly incapable of seeing beyond the ends of their noses. The whole existence of the Premier League and more or less everything about the way that it operates seems tailor-made for people to break the rules with impunity, but it is ultimately self-regulating. The twenty clubs themselves make the rules and can change them at will. There is a far bigger stench coming from that league than just this decision.