It started with a tweet.
My comment on social media last week, following confirmation that Legia Warsaw had been expelled from the UEFA Champions League qualifiers after being found guilty of fielding an ineligible player, provoked some interesting responses from folk who guessed, quite correctly, that I was contrasting the Polish club’s fate with events during the Carlos Tevez Affair.
Seven years on, after West Ham were spared a similar fate by the Premier League despite contravening regulations governing third party ownership of players, yours truly has got no desire to provoke another spat between Sheffield United and their counterparts in the east end of the capital. Nor have officials at Bramall Lane got anything to gain, unfortunately, by reopening old wounds.
But those respondents who dismissed my admittedly mischievous message as being nothing more than the ramblings of a bitter old hack, or argued United’s relegation that season was solely the fault of then manager Neil Warnock and his squad, are missing, deliberately or otherwise, a couple of very important points.
One, that the odds, given Tevez’s considerable talents, meant they were fighting an unfair battle during the closing stages of the 2006/07 top-flight campaign. And two, their own clubs, West Ham included, could potentially fall victim in the future to the ridiculous notion that a game supposedly governed by universal laws tolerates a system whereby different sanctions can be imposed for what essentially boils down to the same offence.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I feel sorry for Legia’s players and coaching staff who have suffered such painful punishment for what was probably an innocent mistake. I would have felt equally sorry for West Ham’s if they had been parachuted into the Championship due to matters beyond their influence or control. For the same reason, I emphasised with United’s fury when they missed out on an estimated £90m bonanza, (£70m more than Legia’s supposed loss), after they were effectively dismissed by the PL despite adhering to the rules. (Losing the kudos associated with being a top-flight sportsman probably hurt even more).
With Sunderland also being fined, initially in private, for deploying Ji Dong-Won when his paperwork was not in order last term, it seems little has changed. Surely it would be better for everyone concerned if FIFA, UEFA and domestic governing bodies across the close reached some sort of consensus on matter like this? And surely it is not beyond them either?
Vanishing spray, drinks breaks etc are fluff. Basic principles of what constitutes fair play should be sacrosanct.