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“He’s in the box”; but the penalty or the witness box?

In essence, the game of football is a splendidly simple prospect.

Tracing its roots back to China, England and even Greenland, the very first players of the game used pig’s bladders or skins of possums, and it was even outlawed by King Edward III in the 1300s.

In the hundreds of years since, however, the beautiful game has become increasingly tarnished by the influx of money pumped into it. Indeed, football has evolved so rapidly that its disputes have even entered the law courts as clubs become increasingly dependent on the financial benefits of success.

Last week, the Premier League ruled that West Ham United should face no further sanctions over their conduct during what is now immortalized as the ‘Carlos Tevez Affair’ – also known as the scandal that rocked English football.

To the discerning football supporter, that sounds like a success. To West Ham’s moneymen and corporate suits, less so. They have already suffered a record £5.5m fine because of irregularities in the Argentine’s contract, and have since been ordered to pay Sheffield United substantial compensation.

Sports News - February 08, 2009
Tevez against his former Hammers teammates

The arrival of Carlos Tevez, alongside international compatriot Javier Mascherano, at Upton Park was one that sent shockwaves throughout the football world. The two Argentinians arrived from Brazilian club Corinthians in 2006, after previously being linked with some of the world’s greatest clubs.

A West Ham statement following the signing of the pair said: “The pair have been signed for an undisclosed fee and put pen-to-paper on permanent contracts with the club this afternoon.

“All other aspects of the transfers will remain confidential and undisclosed.”

Only later was it revealed why.

On March 2nd the following year, West Ham were charged by the Premier League for breaching their rules in relation to the signings of Tevez and Mascherano. It transpired that Tevez and Mascherano were, in effect, only ‘on loan’ at West Ham – and it remained unclear who ‘owned’ them. When it became clear that the duo’s economic rights were owned by Media Sports Investments – a third party – West Ham pleaded guilty, and were fined a Premier League record £5.5m.

A commonly overlooked fact in their punishment, however, is the wording of the panel’s decision to spare West Ham a points deduction because it would be unfair on the club’s supporters. Seemingly, the supporters of Sheffield United, who were eventually relegated, were not taken into account. Ten years earlier, Middlesborough were docked three points after pulling out of a fixture against Blackburn after being left with less than 16 fit players following a flu outbreak. According to the Premier League, a honest, genuine, unavoidable reason for not fulfilling a fixture is more serious an offence than deliberately signing a player you do not own, and lying about his contract.

Football - Burnley v Sheffield United Coca
Dejected Sheffield United fans suffer relegation

On May 13, Tevez scored the winning goal against Manchester United at Old Trafford, ensuring West Ham’s Premier League survival at the hands of United. Three days later The Blades, led by chairman Kevin McCabe, file “arbitration proceedings” against the Premier League in a bid to overturn the decision not to deduct points from West Ham, and later threaten to turn to the European Commission if their appeal is unsuccessful.

A series of appeals later failed, leaving McCabe and United no choice but to sue West Ham directly, commencing legal proceedings in August last year. The panel found in United’s favour, ruling that compensation must be paid to the Championship club.

McCabe had originally hoped for up to £30m, roughly a year’s income from a season in the top flight, but reportedly settled for around £20m payable over five years.

Football has certainly come a long way.

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