What would define an Oscar nominated movie? In Layman’s terms, any movie worthy of a nomination would have to contain a powerful script. It would need to contain a storyline with a captivating introduction to grab the viewer’s attention, followed by a plot full of twists and turns. Eventually, it would need to create a drama worthy of keeping everyone on the edge of their seats, with the climax leaving an everlasting impression.
A climax where hearts would be broken, leaving Sheffield United fan’s with dark memories of the time when an Argentinian decided to show up and clinch relegation survival from beneath their grasp. Upton Park would rejoice while Bramall Lane would mourn, as the Championship returned to the utter despair of one half of the Sheffield community.
West Ham United had pulled off the great escape of 2007, but at what cost? Their handling of transfers would rewrite the course of history. A new dawn would beckon over the Premier League, with creation of new policies outlining how transfers would be conducted in the football-loving country. Eventually, the decision left feelings of rage flowing through the veins of the Blades and their fans, seeking justice for a relegation they didn’t deserve.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the transfer saga of 2006, a story with all the ingredients, worthy of an Oscar.
In a world representing some of the most elite and illustrious clubs in Europe, mainly Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, indulging within the summer transfer market was a yearly norm. Recruiting and competing amongst each other for the signatures of players was something, which gathered regular front page access in daily tabloids sports section.
In the year of 2006, two members of the Argentina squad, fresh from having displayed their talents in the World Cup, were gathering such attention. The duo in question were Corinthians’ Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano. A pair of 22-year-olds, one was applauded for a unique mix of enthusiasm and finishing technique, the other was known for anchoring his team with crunching tackles with hawkeye vision as a central midfielder.
While Europe’s best squabbled over their signings, there lay another world in the distance. This world comprised of a young Premier League team, who had just celebrated having finished ninth. The highlight of their season had been their FA Cup run, coming within a whisker of beating Liverpool. The result left their fans and manager, Alan Pardew, proud but in despair at the thought of what could have been. Despite being in London, it was a rarity for Upton Park to showcase silverware unlike their red and blue neighbours.
On August 31st, 2006, both worlds collided, making Upton Park the epicentre of every media channel in the country. The Irons had done the unthinkable, creating a paparazzi comprising of the entire football federation. Known for showcasing bubbles before the commencement of games, nobody knew that the entire East London would itself become one big bubble. Look up and take notice, West Ham United have arrived.
On the final day of the transfer deadline, Tevez and Mascherano found themselves on the either side of Alan Pardew, dawning the new West Ham kits with their names printed on the back. Much to the bemusement across all three faces, two of the hottest talents in South America had ditched the Camp Nou and Allianz Arena to showcase themselves at Boleyn Ground. One of the most controversial transfers in English football, the two young Argentinians had swapped the warmth of Sao Paulo with the cloudy grey skylines of East London.
Carlos Tevez would now accompany striker Carlton Cole and Marlon Harewood, while Javier Mascherano would fight for his place amongst the likes Hayden Mullins and Nigel Reo-Coker. As staggering as it sounds, Alan Pardew was left with the task of picking his starting 11. No guesses, whom he decided to pick week in week out. But the real question in everyone’s mind was surrounded around the team morale. In a young team galvanised, sprinkling with talent and pace, stable in terms of maintaining league position, was there any need to sign two high-profile players?
The signing changed everything and what followed were a series of unfortunate events for West Ham United. Nothing was ever the same, both on and off the pitch.
A transfer deal anticipated to have cost West ham next to nothing became a huge topic of debate. Just how did they acquire the services of Tevez and Mascherano? To understand the saga, a third party had to be introduced in the shape of an Iranian businessman Kiavash Joorabchian. Founder of Media Sports Investment (MSI), the company presented itself as “a London based international investment fund.”
In 2004, MSI purchased a majority 51 percent stake in the Brazilian club Corinthians. By doing so, they agreed to invest funds to cover the club’s outstanding debts, but also purchased direct stakes in players. This way, through their business model, they would be able to retain financial interest in players, piercing their way into the career paths of recognised talents like Tevez and Mascherano.
As the season progressed, the speculations surrounding the transfers only grew further. An investigation by the Premier League began. What followed was a discovery of a hidden business model that had meticulously breached the transfer rules and policies set out by the Premier League Board.
Tied with separate third-party companies, almost identical to Joorabchian’s MSI, both players had contracts which detailed that the balance of power never lay in West Ham’s hand. In fact, neither Tevez nor Mascherano themselves held any powers, with both companies having complete say over decisions regarding both the players.
As disclosed later by the disciplinary board, Mascherano’s contract stated that West Ham could only offload the midfielder “in the event of permanent incapacity or incapacity of 18 months over a 20-month period.”
Whereas in the case of Tevez, the company held sole power to exercise a transfer away from West Ham. Leaving both the club and the player powerless in terms of rejecting any future deals that came their way.
With the truth of the transfers discovered, West Ham pleaded guilty. By doing so, they survived the wrath of facing a points deduction in the league. A decision, which in hindsight, would be the only silver lining in the Iron’s shambolic on-field and humiliating off-field season.
On judgement day, West Ham were handed a record £5.5 million fine in April 2007. Having found guilty, the charges held against them included improper decision making and withholding vital documentation regarding the ownership of the two Argentinians.
The incident gave a grave reality check in to the improper conduct and complications that arose with third-party ownership of players. Holding the West Ham case as reference, Premier League banned third-party player ownership from the start of the 2008-09 season. As a domino effect, UEFA and FIFPRO: The world players’ union, requested the European Commission to outlaw third-party ownership (TPO) completely, and not just limit the decision to players.
Current ruling states that all existing TPO player contracts can continue until they expire, with renewal no more an option. English teams are now able to deal with existing TPO companies associated with players. However, they have to pay the full amount for the player. As companies try to maximise on their return on investment, these full amounts are often inflated transfer fees, holding the only existing problem with TPO.
The coverage of West Ham’s off-field legal battles managed to drive attention away from their on-field performances. Their dream of watching two Argentinian starlets guiding them to the top reaches of the Premier League, soon turned into an everlasting nightmare.
Instead of challenging the elite, West Ham were down in the dumps. Tevez and Mascherano had not only cost West Ham financially but were also responsible of disrupting the dressing room harmony. Slowly and steadily, paving the way for the club’s relegation into the Championship.
A dream with a contrasting reality, West Ham made a special appearance in the prestigious UEFA Cup, with a first-round elimination. This followed a League Cup exit at the hands of Chesterfield. As for the Argentinians, Tevez remained unfit and unused, as he adjusted to his new life in England. Mascherano, on the other hand, couldn’t adjust to the pace of the Premier League.
Communication was a massive barrier, and while Mascherano was seen making an effort by trying to speak English at interviews, Tevez had his translator adopt the role of his shadow.
Eventually, Mascherano managed to only play seven forgettable games before being put out of his misery. His final appearance coming as an 84th minute substitute against Everton. Pardew with his final role of dice to try and salvage something from the game, poised at 0-1. Unfortunately, instead of a game changer, Mascherano orchestrated Everton’s second goal, gifting the Toffees all three points. A defensive mistake which summed up the Argentinian’s forgettable stint at Upton Park.
A blessing in disguise as his stint ended with Liverpool roping up his services, something which surprised many at the time. Eventually, Javier Mascherano became the player many expected him to be, leading the Barcelona central midfield with vigour and a sense of purpose showcased through his defensive duties. He shone in Spain, making one wonder what West Ham could have been had he been the same player.
The Carlos Tevez story started of no different, with a lack of dedication tag looming right from the onset. The West Ham faithful had to patiently bear a staggering 1,142 minutes before they finally witnessed the Argentine net his first goal for the club.
Chances went begging all season round, as Tevez began cutting a frustrated figure. The situation became even more apparent when the striker stormed out of Upton Park, after his substitution in a win over Sheffield United. Seeking some sort of amusement value in an otherwise failed transfer thus far, Tevez’s antics against Sheffield United awarded him a punishment decided by his fellow teammates.
The next day’s training saw Tevez having to swap his training kit with bright yellow colours of the Brazilian National team jersey. Although a hilarious sight for many, there lay an undertone exemplifying that another dream transfer had turned into a horrible nightmare.
Yet, something changed the day Tevez finally netted his first goal. Fortunes would turn, something West Ham desperately needed as they lay an astounding ten points from safety. Linking up with fellow striker Bobby Zamora, goals started to come by. The resurgence of Yossi Benayoun, whose newfound creative spark helped showcase a bundle of assists, reignited the attacking flair.
Amongst the reincarnation, stood a young defensive midfielder carrying the badge with pride and emotion. A future club legend in the making, it was clear to see why a certain Mark Noble was on everyone’s lips. The Irons had discovered their mojo, as Upton Park began to showcase their traditional pre-match bubbles filled with joy and optimism.
Finding form in just the nick of time, Carlos Tevez spearheaded the revival. His seven goals in the final nine games of the season, handed West Ham a healthy 21 points from a possible 27 available. The great escape did indeed happen, but the climax of this transfer saga would cast a dark cloud over Bramall Lane. Leaving a Sheffield United team having to stare down the barrel that excruciatingly relegated them to the Championship.
Heading into the final day of the season, West Ham faced league winners and FA Cup champions Manchester United. Mathematically, the Irons needed just a point in order to secure their Premier League status at the cost of Sheffield United.
Although champions elect, the Red Devils named a strong starting 11 with Wayne Rooney leading the line. Furthermore, there were introductions of Paul Scholes and Cristiano Ronaldo at the half-time interval. Despite the relentless pressure and the sheer quality that the red half of Manchester possessed, West Ham managed to steal a victory.
When chances came in complete scarcity, Tevez grabbed the rare opportunity with both hands, scoring at the stroke of half-time. A resolute West Ham managed to somehow hang on to their one goal advantage and take home the vital surviving points.
A day to forget as Bramall Lane witnessed a Sheffield United side, stumbling to a heart-breaking 1-2 defeat at the hands of Wigan Athletic. Neil Warnock, the manager at the time, highlighted how the proceedings at Upton Park were not justified. The comments picked up pace and Blades cried foul play.
They appealed to the board that the decision not to deduct points of a guilty West Ham United had cost them dearly. Having been declared a wrong conduction of transfer, they further highlighted that Carlos Tevez, whose influence had ultimately been the nail in the coffin, should not have been allowed to step foot on the pitch.
The appeal made sense; an unfair advantage had indeed been exercised by West Ham United. Unlucky for the Blades, the eventual ruling in their favour didn’t come until September 2008.
Despite being awarded a £20 million compensation from West Ham, the money ended up holding very little significance. With a near decade off financial turmoil, experienced following their unfair removal from the Premier League, Blades suffered defeat even in their victory.
The settlement brought an end to the most embarrassing transfer saga in British football but created a bitter rivalry. A new derby like feeling came into existence.
Tevez and Mascherano moved on within a single season, but their story still lingers on in the hearts of Sheffield and East London. A story that always triggers thoughts of angst and revenge, bad blood prevails till present day.
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