Striker could sue Mancini - but he's unlikely to win
Published 27/10/2011 | 05:00
Colin Gibson, a partner at Field Fisher Waterhouse and a specialist in dispute resolution, discusses the legal framework of Carlos Tevez's threat to sue Roberto Mancini for comments the Manchester City manager made about him in the aftermath of his apparent refusal to appear as a substitute during last month's 2-0 Champions League defeat at Bayern Munich.
Could Carlos Tevez sue Roberto Mancini for defamation?
Yes. Defamation, legally, is defined as lowering someone in the estimation of right-thinking people. Mancini went in front of a television camera and said that Tevez, a man who plays football for a living, had refused to play football. That is an allegation that does damage to his professional reputation.
Technically, Mancini was speaking, so it would seem to be a case of slander, but as he was speaking into a television camera, he could be said to have participated in the broader publication in permanent form of his allegations, which is libel.
What is the crux of his case?
Tevez seems to accept that he refused to warm up when asked to do so by Mancini in Munich, yet Mancini went on television and said he had refused to play. The case would rest on the interpretation of those two meanings. If a judge accepted Mancini's version of events, that Tevez's refusal to warm up was a de facto refusal to play, then it is very hard to see Tevez being able to make a case. If that "higher" meaning was not accepted, then there is something to argue about.
What must Tevez prove if he
is to win?
The curiosity of the libel laws in Britain is that, to the horror of Americans, the burden of proof lies with the defendant. It is not that Tevez must prove Mancini defamed him; rather, the Manchester City manager must prove he did not.
What is the process now?
The limitation on cases like this is one year, so Tevez has plenty of time, though any delay may damage his credibility. There would be an exchange of letters between lawyers and, if he decided to proceed, Tevez would most likely issue a claim of both slander and libel.
There may then be an early hearing to establish meaning -- whether Mancini's assessment that refusing to warm up is refusing to play is correct -- and then, if not, disclosure of documents and the gathering of witness statements before going to trial.
Would Tevez win?
I do not think so. There is a very good argument for Mancini's version of events, while he may also have an admittedly thin defence of qualified privilege, that he was contractually bound to speak and that he was talking to a group of people who had an interest in the information beyond prurience.
What would the ramifications for football be were he to do so?
Managers, who are under contract to speak, would have to be much more careful about what they said about their own players, opponents and referees. It may even force the Football Association, Premier League or Uefa to enshrine laws in contracts that players will not follow Tevez's lead if they are criticised by their managers.