It’s a bad time to be a West Ham fan. As if being bottom of the Premiership wasn’t enough, they’ve got an appalling defence, players getting far too big for their boots, in-fighting, and now a series of charges related to the move that was supposed to propel them to the next level after last season’s success, the signings of the two Argentinian wonderkids, Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano.
Let’s go back a few months, to August 31. Much of the deadline day news had been taken up with the protracted Ashley Cole-to-Chelsea move, one of the most drawn out sagas in recent years. Then, out of the blue, it was announced that Tevez and Mascherano were on their way to England. Not to the big four, not even to Newcastle or Spurs. But to West Ham.
It all seemed a little strange even then. All sorts of articles came out analysing the situation in depth, and while much was speculation, it was clear that the Hammers, even after one good season, would never be able to afford the pair outright – their estimated worth was 20m each, money that is barely spent in England these days outside Stamford Bridge. Tevez’s release clause at Corinthians was in fact around 70m, so only Chelsea could possibly obtain him.
It appeared at the time that Media Sports Investment (MSI), who had brought the players to cash-strapped Corinthians, owned their registrations, and were ‘lending’ them to West Ham, presumably to increase their value in Europe for a sale within two years. That the move has backfired with their failures in the Premiership is irrelevant to the potential breach of Premier League rules.
Rule B13 states:
“In all matter and transactions relating to the League each Club shall behave towards each other Club and the League with the utmost good faith”
This may seem quite a trite clause, but it is a neat catch-all if the Premier League believe that a club has tried to pull the wool over their eyes. West Ham have now been charged under this rule, based upon their failure to disclose full transfer details of the two players to the league.
Meanwhile, the more serious problem is rule U18:
“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 the performance of its teams in League matches….”
The Premier League have received clarification of the two transfers since Mascherano moved on to Liverpool at the end of January. Based upon this information they have charged West Ham with a breach of this rule. These charges are extremely serious – many times points deductions are mooted for various misdemeanours, but usually only fines are handed out. In this instance, a points deduction is far more likely. Only five points have been gained with either of the pair in the team (which says a lot, to be honest), so that could be one penalty, a standard three point deduction is another option, or they could even be made an example of with greater measures. Whatever the deduction, it would be the final nail in their survival hopes.
The real trouble they appear to have is with their defence – it is poor to say the least. They surely have no comeback from the first charge, given that the Premier League were never given full details of the transfers, which it clearly requires. This, however, is not the main problem – that charge will likely incur only a fine.
The major problem is U18 – if the clubs do not hold the registration for the players that qualify them to play in a competition, then precedent demands that they lose everything they gained from that advantage, in this case five points. In a cup competition, clubs are thrown out for fielding ineligible players (as Bury will testify). Unsurprisingly, West Ham are mounting a ‘vigourous defence’.
But what exactly is that defence? It is clear that they did not purchase the players, as they could not have done financially. Kia Joorabchian, who was responsible for MSI’s involvement with Corinthians, still controls the players’ movements, and failed with his takeover bid at West Ham, where he would have presumably transferred ownership from one organisation he runs to another. Without the takeover going through, the situation is far more delicate. And if West Ham don’t own the players, then that suggests they have a third party to please in MSI, which directly breaches the rule.
Their only defence is that the situation did not influence team selection or policies, but how can that be when they have the playing rights ‘lent’ to them of two of the brightest stars in world football? MSI would be extremely naive to hand over the registration with a carte blanche ‘play them or don’t play them, we don’t care’ attitude.
The defence gets even weaker with the argument that those involved in August’s dealings are no longer with the club since the Icelandic takeover. But that is no excuse – it is the club’s responsibility to act according to the regulations, so merely resigning does not save the club from punishment, in fact even using that as an argument suggests guilt.
In the midst of all this, you have to feel for Eggert Magnusson. The Icelandic businessman purchased what he believed to be a club going places, and since then about everything that could go wrong, has. And unlike a few foreign investors who appear to care only about the business, he seems genuinely pained by each passing match.
It is likely, almost certain, he has bought a club destined for the Championship. Even without legal trouble, they look incapable of escape, a points deduction would only confound that. Which leads to this – if West Ham drag this process out, it could conclude next season, given the league the opportunity to deduct points at that time. As of this moment, such a deduction would add insult to injury, but wouldn’t make much of a difference to an already doomed side. Next season, it would be a serious problem. Is it really wise to fight these charges?