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Saturday, Sept. 27, 2008

PREMIER REPORT

Impact of Tevez ruling could be profound in future


LONDON — So now we know. There is such as thing as a one-man team.

Christopher Davies

All those respected managers down the years had it wrong.

The player who broke the mold is Carlos Tevez, the Manchester United forward.

Who said so?

The three-man Football Association independent tribunal which ruled against West Ham (or, if you like, in favor of Sheffield United) in "Tevezgate."

To cut a very long and involved story short (and for that be grateful) United claimed Tevez was not eligible to play for West Ham at the end of the 2006-07 season, yet had a key role in the Hammers' Premiership survival at the Yorkshire club's expense.

Forget the Premiership comprised 38 matches and United could not muster sufficient points to retain its place among the elite of English football. It lost more away games than any other club, scoring the fewest goals on its travels.

That wasn't down to Tevez.

This has to be the most ridiculous and at the same time dangerous ruling. That one player effectively kept a team in the Premiership.

It is so obviously wrong that the Court of Arbitration for Sport, to whom West Ham is set to appeal once another tribunal rules on the compensation due to United, will probably look at the case and say: "Are we sure?" And rule in West Ham's favor.

The rights and wrongs of West Ham's original misdemeanor are almost irrelevant. It lied about some aspects of Tevez's contract and was fined £5.5 million by the Premier League.

Many (not least Sheffield United) felt a points deduction would have been more appropriate, but that was the punishment which West Ham accepted.

United invoked an F.A. rule that allows clubs with a legal dispute to go before an independent tribunal. Sixteen months later the tribunal — comprising former Middlesex Cricket Club president Lord Griffiths, Sir Anthony Colman, a former High Court judge, and Robert Englehart QC — effectively decided the Argentine single-handedly kept West Ham up.

With nine matches remaining in the 2006-07 season West Ham was in last place in the Premier League and 10 points adrift of safety, while Sheffield United was two places above the drop zone. Tevez scored five goals after this, including the winner against Manchester United at Old Trafford on the final day of the season, to secure West Ham's survival.

But he needed teammates to defend, pass him the ball and the goalkeeper to make saves.

Amazingly, the tribunal took into account one of the match reports of Henry Winter, the acclaimed football correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, who had written that Tevez kept West Ham up.

Fine writer that Winter is, this is only an opinion. If members of Her Majesty's press start becoming arbiters in such football matters what next?

In this age of litigation one can imagine a writ against a referee for a decision that allegedly cost a team points.

The legal eagles are pocketing a fortune because of the ongoing row. United is said to be looking at £30 million compensation — West Ham, reasonably, believes it should not be punished twice for the same offense.

* * * * *

ALAN HANSEN once memorably said, "you win nothing with kids," but after Arsenal's youth team beat Sheffield United first XI 6-0 in the League Cup, Kevin Blackwell, the Championship side manager, disagreed.

His team, which will be challenging for promotion to the Premier League, was humiliated by the young Gunners — average age 19.

United midfielder Gary Speed, 39, is old enough to be the father of all his midweek opponents.

Of Jack Wilshere, manager Arsene Wenger said: "I don't think he even shaves."

The scoreline of 6-0 is unusual when two teams from the upper echelons of English football meet.

The youngest side ever to represent Arsenal — four players were making their competitive debut — emphatically underlined the growing gap between the elite and the hopefuls.

What hope is there for teams like United when it is played off the park by Arsenal's kindergarten?

Mexican Carlos Vela, 17, led the scoring with a hat trick, while Wilshere, 16, scored his first senior goal for the club, and 20-year-old Dane Nicklas Bendtner scored the other two goals in a scintillating performance.

Wenger called them "the best set of youngsters I have coached." He added: "I'm not as surprised as you because I see them every day, but you never know how they'll respond on the big stage."

Last season Arsenal's kids, who are definitely all right, reached the League Cup semifinals where they lost to Spurs.

Wenger said: "We want to win the trophy with this team. We can of course go all the way and we can win it as well. Why not? These players do not play like kids, they play like people with intelligence, with talent and with spirit."

Five of those involved in the United thrashing are under the legal age to drink alcohol — a sobering thought.

* * * * *

I CRINGED at the embarrassing human error that cost a team a goal.

How anyone could make such a basic, schoolboy error is beyond me. The poor guy responsible must have wanted the earth to open up and swallow him.

The TV cameras showed his moment of madness in slow motion and it looked even worse.

We all make mistakes . . . but I'm sure Nicolas Anelka will get over it.

The Chelsea striker missed the most open of goals against Manchester United, but his unwitting mistake did not see him suspended or dropped.

Nigel Bannister, the assistant referee at the center of the phantom goal in the 2-2 draw between Watford and Reading, was less fortunate. Bannister's human error was to rule the ball had crossed the Watford goal line when in fact the ball went out for a corner.

Bannister has been sent to football's Siberia. The mistake may even cost him his place on the select group list. The incident will haunt him for the rest of his career and longer.

Anelka's error that cost his team a goal is little more than a pin prick on his CV.

Bannister's incorrect decision will impact his career.

Who says match officials aren't accountable?

Christopher Davies covers the Premier League for the London Daily Telegraph.


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