Compensation culture

Who stands to gain from the brouhaha at West Ham?

The summer sales at West Ham that triggered the departure of Alan Curbishley were explained in a splurge of back-page headlines in late September. Hammered! said the Daily Mail, who were a day ahead of the pack in reporting that the club had anticipated a huge fine for their illegal dealings with Kia Joorabchian of the MSI agency, suppliers of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano. The tribunal that examined Sheffield United’s claim for damages for having been relegated while West Ham stayed up won’t decide on compensation for several months. But United’s claim for over £30 million, made up principally of the TV and merchandising income they lost after relegation, is likely to be met. Indeed, unless West Ham are relegated this season and Sheffield United come up, £30m seems like light punishment. Most of the coverage sympathised with the claimants, with Neil Warnock telling the Times that he’d still be at Bramall Lane if the club had stayed up. “It knocked us back no end. Relegation is on my CV, which it shouldn’t be.”

In considering the wider effect that the verdict might have, the Daily Mail passed on some gloomy reflections from “a senior football official” who said : “It hasn’t just opened a can of worms but a barrel full of pythons.” Sure enough, a day later it was announced that up to ten Sheffield United players were considering legal action against West Ham for loss of earnings. With wages cut by up to 50 per cent after relegation, anyone earning £20,000 a week in the Premier League would have lost around £500,000 during 2007-08. 

Sheffield United’s fate was in their own hands, of course. Had they managed a final-day 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, thanks to a goal from that man Tevez. Nonetheless, with his employers now considering their legal options, West Ham’s new manager Gianfranco Zola argued that Tevez’s contribution to the team should not be seen in isolation: “I played with Maradona, who was the best player in the world. But I have never seen a game which he won on his own.” Meanwhile, Daily Mirror columnist Dan Silver worked up a righteous froth in querying a judgement that “somehow stated as fact that Carlos Tevez was worth at least three points to West Ham’s great escape” and suggested that the Sheffield United Ten are “a disgrace to football”. He went on: “Who’s next in line to get their grubby snouts into West Ham’s trough? Maybe some of Sheffield United’s season‑ticket holders would like to be compensated for being denied the opportunity to watch Cristiano Ronaldo tear their team apart last season?”

On the weekend before the tribunal announced their verdict, Manchester City were reported to be considering a £30m bid for Carlos Tevez, now in the second year of his two-season loan at Old Trafford (a complex arrangement in itself, although it met with the approval of the Premier League). Having overspent on Dimitar Berbatov, United won’t have the funds to sign Tevez permanently until next summer. If a deal can’t be wrapped up by then, City’s links to the mysterious Kia Joorabchian, who apparently brokered the recent signing of Jô, could yet present them with an opportunity. They will want to make doubly sure that all the paperwork is in order.

From WSC 261 November 2008