Tuesday 23 September ~
The summer sales at West Ham that triggered the departure of Alan Curbishley have now been explained. The club were expecting to be clobbered with a huge fine for their illegal dealings with the player agency MSI who supplied them with Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano. The tribunal examining Sheffield United's claim for damages for having been relegated while West Ham stayed up (in part thanks to Tevez's contribution) ruled against the Hammers today. A fee has yet to be set but United are asking for over £30 million, made up principally of the TV and merchandising income they lost after relegation to the Championship.
That money ought to boost their club's promotion push this season but of course Sheffield United fans would prefer to have stayed up in the first place. Admittedly their fate was in their own hands even on the final day. Had United managed to win at home to Wigan they would have survived and relegated their opponents; a draw at Bramall Lane would have sent West Ham down unless they won at Old Trafford. That highly improbable result happened, however, against a team that had already clinched the title, thanks to a goal from that man Tevez.
But the crucial moment in the saga had come a month before the end of the season. The Premier League panel investigating West Ham's rule breaking – they admitted to withholding important documents relating to the Argentinian duo's transfer from Brazilian club Corinthians – decided to punish them only with a fine rather a points deduction.
Clubs who field ineligible players have had points deducted in the past, but not significantly at the top level in the Premier League era. Another Argentine, Esteban Fuertes, played eight games for Derby in the first half of 1999-2000 before it was discovered that he has a false EU passport. The one goal that Fuertes scored decided his team's game with Everton and they won 11 points in matches he played in; Derby were in the bottom five for almost the entire season and eventually stayed up by five points.
The club who took the final relegation spot, Wimbledon, didn't lodge an official complaint as there was no suggestion that Derby had been a party to Fuertes's deception. West Ham, however, knowingly connived in the Tevez case by signing a player whose contract was part-owned by another party, in breach of League rules. Unless West Ham get relegated and Sheffield United come up this season, £30m is still a light punishment.