Attempts by Manchester United Football Club to sign Argentina’s Carlos Tevez have been described as in a stalemate. Did complicated legal issues make this inevitable? Or in hindsight, might more creative leadership actions have avoided this impasse? And if so, by whom?
This has not been the happiest week in the footballing life of Carlos Tevez. A week ago he was a leading member of the Argentinian team favored to win the prestigious Copa America competition. In addition, Manchester United Football Club had announced that a transfer deal of the star from West Ham United was all but complete.
Over the weekend, Brazil recaptured enough of their brilliant skills in the final to sweep aside bitter rivals Argentina. Tevez headed for Europe, final destination Manchester, for a pre-transfer medical check-up with the club of his dreams. Personal terms had been agreed with his agent.
No so fast, Senor
Even as he was completing the last leg of the flight, the story took on a new turn. There had been delays in sorting out the contract, and now last-minute talks between West Ham and MUFC had broken down. Tevez arrived in Manchester, but he had not been granted permission by West Ham to put himself forward for a medical examination.
What’s going on?
English football fans were familiar to the background of a rather complicated story. I will try to capture the various inter-related threads, from the various press reports.
Where does a story start? We have to go back at least as far as the time that West Ham became involved in a very unusual transfer deal involving two Argentine footballers, Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano.
The deal in Auguest 2006 was unusual because unlike other contracts agreed through the FA and The Premier league, the players were still, in some unrevealed way, not fully contracted as West Ham players at the outset of the deal. The arrangement was not with their former club (Corinthians) but with an agant, Kai Joorabchian on behalf of a shadowy background organization Media Sports Investments (MSI).
MSI were headed until June by Kia Joorabchian, who resigned but retained an investment in the two Argentines. MSI were linked with a takeover of West Ham last season but eventually pulled out.
While the contract was unusual, there have been other abnormal contractual arrangements permitting players to move on loan to and between Premier League clubs, with small-print not made public. The Premier League and The Football Association accepted reassurances from West Ham that satisfied them enough to sanction the arrangement. This was later to become one of the contested areas in the matter.
At the time of the contract, West Ham appeared to be struggling to survive in The Premiership. Financial limitations prevented them investing in top-flight players. Within considerable turmoil on and off the pitch, performances remained bad.
Enter The Egg
It was with some sense of relief that the club passed to new ownership with deeper pockets. The new owner quickly caught the public imagination. Eggert Magnusson (The Egg) is a wealthy Icelandic businessman who had already been involved in football as President of the Football Association of Iceland
His somewhat quirky appearance and enthusiasm and commitment to West Ham seemed to silence even the more extreme xenophobic reactions from the Alf Garnet faction still active among the club’s supporters.
West Ham’s problems persist
The club’s fortunes continued to decline until demotion was almost inevitable. Tevez had failed to live up to the reputation mainly earned through his World Cup performances. Magnússon sacked manager Alan Pardew in December 2006 replacing him with Alan Curbishley. The question of Tevez’ contractual position was again raised. A lengthy enquiry began.
The great escape
Then a great escape occurred. Tevez began to score match-winning goals. West Ham began a remarkable winning streak. Survival was still a possibility. Eggert had a contagious belief in his new players.
But other clubs facing relegation began to speak out against the arrangements that had brought Tevez to West Ham. Legal action was threatened. Sheffield United manager Neil Warnock, anticipating a close finish, was particularly vociferous, arguing that West Ham should be punished by losing points. This would help Sheffield United but effectively condemn West Ham to demotion.
An independent enquiry found that the club had initially been technically wrong in their contractual arrangement. The punishment was a fine, but no point deductions. During this period, one concern regarding the outcome of a future transfer of Tevez. The club claimed to have ‘ripped up’ an agreement [presumed to be Joorabchian and partners]. This was seen as protecting West Ham from the charge that future transfers might also be unconventional and taken as possible evidence of the club’s further illegal arrangements with Tevez’ agents.
In a gripping climax to the season, other struggling clubs (including Sheffield United) stumbled. West Ham avoided relegation when they won the last game of the season against Manchester United who had already won the League. Desperation triumphed over classy complacency. Tevez impressed enormously and scored a fine goal.
The legal challenges to West Ham petered out.
Manchester United bid for Tevez
The close season in the English Premier league is also a transfer window (the other window is in January). After their League triumph, MUFC revealed their recruitment plans for the new season. Unlike West Ham, they were able to compete for the best players.
Apparently, Tevez is a player whom Manager Sir Alex Ferguson had admired for some while. His admiration must have been reinforced by the performance of Tevez in the last game of the season.
In a recent press conference, AF announced that a deal to secure Tevez was nearly complete, subject to some details to be agreed with the League. He sounded confident, revealing that the final details would be sorted out by Club lawyer and former director Maurice Watkins. He added that Club Chairman David Gill had been working on the matter for a while, but he and Gill were shortly leaving with the squad on a pre-season tour in Asia.
Confidence at Old Trafford in clinching the deal began to drain away, after an emphatic statement from West Ham to the effect that they still held the rights to the player, and that he was not up for transfer.
From Japan, David Dill announces that FIFA has been called in to ‘expedite a resolution’ of a dispute between player and West Ham, and that he expects the resolution to find ‘in favor of the player’. He still expects Carlos Tevez to be playing for MUFC at the start of the new season.
The stalemate metaphor is only of limited application. Stalemate in chess occurs when the player to move has no legal move available. This is invariably the player who would otherwise lose. The stalemate is the result of a previous careless move from the player who was in the stronger position. In this case, it seems as if MUFC had the stronger position, but West Ham had been able to avoid accepting defeat. MUFC has to set up arrangements for another more conclusive battle.
In fact, you can see how chess metaphor as a source of strategy insights can be taken a bit further. The MU leadership may have taken for granted that their position was so strong as to require no deep risk analysis. This is suggested by the way that David Gill had delegated the case to solicitor Maurice Watkins, while Magnus Magnusson remained very much on the case at West Ham.
One of the special features of the business is the potential for blame to be attached to various parties, including the Premier league. The blame may have serious financial and legal consequences.
These were the ‘events’ that turned the matter of completing a football transfer into a complex problem.
Don’t hold your breath on this one…
There were a few more twists and turns. Eventually a contract was signed and Tevez joined MUFC on loan for two years. On loan from whom? Not West Ham, although the club received a payment from the Joorabchian camp in a deal which confirmed it was not West Ham.