West Ham fans must be some of the hardest-suffering supporters on the planet. The “Academy of Football” enjoys a sterling reputation for developing talent. No less than 8 of the 23-man squad called up for the Spain Friendly had ties to The Upton Park outfit, many of them coming through the youth set-up. Despite a steady stream of talent, the team is a classic yo-yo club bouncing from top flight to Championship and back again with unsettling regularity. Just as something starts to gel, players are sold off and the process starts again. New, “filthyrich” owners arrive on the scene, only to produce a false dawn due to failing Icelandic banks. Bankrupt sponsors heaped on the misery, leaving patchwork West Ham kits looking, as Ernest Hemingway put it, “like the flag of permanent defeat.”
Usually, West Ham’s suffering centered on the pitch or the boardroom. A few years ago, however, the courtroom became the newest venue for the West Ham soap opera. Recently, Chris Walker wrote a compelling piece for EPL Talk summarizing the sordid West Ham transfer saga featuring Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, and Sheffield United’s desire to seek compensation for damages. Finally, after two years in the courts, the clubs have come to a settlement. Finally, all football fans can put this to the farthest reaches of their memories and move on from this embarrassingly regrettable episode.
Or so we thought.
The case for West Ham was pretty cut and dried. With the team far enough up the table to not worry about relegation, it was time to sort out a definite payment plan with Sheffield United. Once these “X” factors were solved, the path was clear for Eggert Magnusson to sell the club. Finally, it was possible to establish a price for potential buyers with no strings attached. All debts were established, all revenues determined, the books were clean.
Unfortunately, a little “what if?” scenario seems to have reared its head in lieu of the Sheffield United settlement. The compensation package deals with the club vs. club conflict, but what if the players and manager also felt aggrieved at loss of revenue that comes from relegation. Looks like we’re going to find out.
Today, it has been revealed that the players and manager Neil Warnock are exploring court action to seek compensation for lost revenue. In most ways, it appears the players have a fair case. After all, many contracts, particularly with a club that could enjoy only a one-year Premiership tour of duty, would have clauses and provisions that address wage packets for various divisions of play. But while the same goes for appearance, goal, and win bonuses, it becomes much trickier to establish exactly how much would have been paid out since you actually have to appear, score and win in the Premiership to earn these incentives. Additionally, transfer fees certainly change when you can offer yourself as an established Premiership player instead of one not good enough to keep a team at the top level. This could conceivably adjust a player’s valuation by millions of pounds.
So, the water becomes pretty murky in a hurry. But it gets worse. While players who suffered the unjust relegation appear to have a relevant claim, what about the spinoff effect? Could a player like Phil Jagielka claim he’d have been more important to United than Everton, and could have commanded a larger wage packet with a struggling Premiership side? Could he argue that he could have earned a bigger transfer fee (and subsequent cut of the transfer fee) if he could have packaged himself as a Premiership player instead of part of a relegation fire sale?
Could a player like Rob Hulse claim that he never would have left the Blades, that they’d still be a Premiership team, and therefore he’s lost out on more years of salary than can be proven thorugh empirical means?
Can a player like James Beattie argue that, had he joined a Premiership Sheffield United instead of the Championship version, he could have received more in transfer fee and wages? Where does it end? Sadly, it appears the end will only come when we run out of creative lawyers who are willing to try yet another tendril of “relevance”.
West Ham fans deserve better than this. All they want to do is enjoy their football with the only uncertainties the ones brought on by a system that releases lowest clubs to the lower divisions and rewards successful clubs with additional European fixtures. Instead, it appears that the attempt to finally put paid to financial uncertainty has opened a Pandora’s box of litigation. In the end, the £10-15 million paid out to Sheffield United might be dwarfed in payments in the form of personal claims and lawyers’ fees. Just when you thought it was over, the real legal work could be just beginning.