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What does the Tevez affair teach us?

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Mihir Bose | 07:12 UK time, Saturday, 14 July 2007

The Carlos Tevez affair should form more than a footnote in English football history.

It may well prove that his move becomes the modern form of transfers, if so we better learn how such deals work and what they mean.

What is important to realise is that back in August when Argentine Tevez and his compatriot Javier Mascherano suddenly arrived at Upton Park this was not just an unusual transfer, it was extraordinary.

The really important thing was that behind the transfer was a wider power play, the bid to take over West Ham.

Indeed one City expert described it to me as a poison-pill strategy on behalf of Kia Joorabchian who runs MSI, the company that owns the economic rights to the two players.

In other words, bringing the two players was only the first step. The next step was that Joorabchian’s allies would try to buy West Ham, with the presence of the players acting as a poison pill preventing any other takeover.

But for various reasons that strategy did not work. It was not Joorabchian’s Israeli ally who succeeded in buying West Ham but a consortium from Iceland. And the presence of the two players did not act as a deterrent.

Indeed the two players often did not get into the team and in the early months of the season the most notable incident concerning them was the scene at White Hart Lane of Jermain Defoe trying to bite Mascherano’s arm after a tussle between the two in a Tottenham versus West Ham match.

That may well have remained the most memorable moment had not West Ham’s new manager Alan Curbishley decided that he did not want Mascherano and Liverpool moved in to loan him from MSI.

The initial problem was whether a loan player could play for a third club in one season (Mascherano having also previously played in South America).

While that was resolved with the help of Maurice Watkins, the Manchester United director who is also a great legal expert, the third party agreement that West Ham had made with MSI and which, under legal advice, the previous board had not disclosed to the Premier League, emerged.

Liverpool were allowed to sign Mascherano. The Premier League had no problems with that because they said he was a free agent as West Ham had given up his registration.

They were happy the agreement Liverpool made with MSI did not violate any League rules. The cynics might say the real reason was that Liverpool paid MSI rather more than West Ham - around £1.5m a year as opposed to £300,00 - to loan the player.

It was the Premier League’s next step, its decision to charge West Ham under Rule U 18, that has created the saga that threatens to run well into next season.

Most football experts I have spoken to tell me it is an obscure rule.

When it was initially designed by the former chief executive of the Premier League Peter Leaver, it was not even meant to cover player transfers.

It had come in to deal with companies like Enic owning more than one club and the problems this would cause should the clubs meet in the same competition.

Of course, historically Liverpool and Everton were both owned by the Moores of Littlewoods fame but those were different times when, so we are told by our elders, gentleman ruled the game, money and lawyers had not moved into football and nobody felt the Moores would do anything that was not proper and gentlemanly.

Indeed, Rule 18 is so obscure that you have to search the Premier League rule book to find it. It comes in the section where there is also rule specifying that an advertisement for the Football Foundation must be in a club's matchday programme.

The legal advice of many was that West Ham should be able to drive a coach and horses through Rule U 18 - but when it came to the hearing they pleaded guilty.

It has never been disclosed why they decided not to challenge this obscure rule, but then they probably got the result they wanted: a fine, a huge one but no deduction in points.

Also, by saying that the third party agreement with MSI was probably legally unenforceable and insisting they had torn it up the Hammers made sure Tevez was allowed to play and help them escape relegation. Instead Sheffield United went down.

All this would not have mattered had it happened before the mid-1990s, a time when clubs would moan but not head for the nearest lawyers.

Sheffield United, part of a plc that chairman Kevin McCabe insists has to protect itself, felt it had to explore every legal loophole. Nobody can blame them for that. That is the modern game and how diligently they have done so, ending with Friday’s defeat at the High Court.

Even now, although McCabe concedes that he has little chance of getting back into the Premiership, he has not given up the fight. He is considering various options and still hopes to be proved right and get compensation.

This Sheffield persistence has meant that what the Premier League hoped for has not happened.

The Premier League thought that once the season had ended the whole thing would blow over. Two months after the last game, and that amazing West Ham victory over Manchester United via a Tevez goal, the dispute lingers on.

Had Sheffield not persisted I suspect the transfer of Tevez to Manchester United would have taken place by now.

It might have raised a few eyebrows but everyone would have recognised that since West Ham did not pay for the player but merely loaned him, he now had the right to depart for whatever fee his handlers were getting and whatever salary United were prepared to pay him.

Indeed as one source told me, “It is like hiring a lawn mower. You use it to cut the grass and then refuse to return it.”.

Indeed, after the end of the season this must have been clear to West Ham, who offered Tevez better terms which he rejected. He has since followed this up by telling the Premier League that he no longer wants to be a West Ham player.

The Premier League is a regulatory body but with Sheffield throwing lawyers at the situation the Premier League has assumed a new role of deciding what a transfer fee is and who gets it.

They made it clear to West Ham that if they did not assert their rights to the player they could face another disciplinary hearing, which could reopen the horrible prospect of points deduction.

How will this resolve itself? I suspect Tevez will fly from South America to Manchester and soon become a United player.

West Ham might get some money, although I doubt it will be much. Sheffield will wait to see how the Tevez situation unfolds and then try to get financial compensation.

Meanwhile, I doubt a proper rule which looks at player ownership and properly defines third-party ownership, now so common in South America and on the continent, will come into being.

And without such a rule more such Tevez affairs are likely.

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