Saturday 26 May 2018

Richard Sadlier: Lone crusade won't change how deals are really done

Tapping up is a fact of life in football, despite what West Ham think

Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo
Richard Sadlier

Richard Sadlier

Having been rightly awarded the Ballon d'Or in Zurich on Monday night, Cristiano Ronaldo said some things that could have landed Manchester United in a spot of bother. He spoke about Rio Ferdinand's efforts to persuade him to return to Old Trafford last summer. "It was true that Rio spoke to me a lot," he said. "He's a fantastic guy and tried to change my mind. I did think about United."

Sadly for United, Ronaldo went on to commit his future to Real Madrid in a deal that runs to 2018. Luckily for them, however, Real haven't concerned themselves with upholding the integrity of the transfer market as much as Sam Allardyce and West Ham United.

The East-Londoners have reacted angrily to comments made by Fulham manager Rene Meulensteen after he confirmed a bid had been made for Ravel Morrison. Asked by a reporter whether he believed Morrison wanted to join the club, he replied, "Yes". For this, West Ham have reported Meulensteen and Fulham to the Premier League and an investigation is under way.

Meulensteen is potentially in breach of regulation T8 which says: "A statement made publicly by or on behalf of a club [about signing another club's player] . . . shall be treated as an indirect approach".

By revealing he thought Morrison wanted to join the club, Meulensteen left himself open to accusations of contacting the player, either directly or indirectly. This is forbidden under Rule T3 which deals with tapping up of players.

The wording of the regulations and the likely outcome of this particular case isn't really relevant. Tapping up players is widespread in football. It is how deals are instigated. It is how interest is lodged and why bids are made. It is not the carry-on of a rogue element within the game, a small group of tearaways that are ruining it for everyone else. It is how the game works. Complaining about it seems absurd, which is exactly how West Ham have made themselves look in this instance.

When I was playing, I was contacted twice by players from Premier League clubs acting on instructions from their manager. I also once tried to convince an international team-mate to join Millwall. I was once approached at The Den by the chairman of a visiting team who wished to lodge his interest, while several agents contacted me over the years claiming to be acting directly for other clubs.

There are regulations in place that outlaw all of this behaviour, but most players would have plenty more anecdotes of their own. It is how the game is played in the transfer market. If clubs fully adhered to the regulations they'd get left behind, but I'd be astonished if there is a club anywhere that acts in that way.

Meulensteen can claim he was just offering an opinion on whether Morrison wanted to join Fulham, rather than relaying what he knew to be true from having spoken directly to the player. Morrison, for his part, just needs to stay quiet. He will either get a move elsewhere or an offer from West Ham of improved terms because he has only 18 months of his current deal left. Whether he was involved directly in discussions with another club is unknown, but the implication that he was will see him rewarded in some way. It's pretty obvious why it's in players' interests to get involved.

But for West Ham, it will be hard to come out of this episode looking anything other than ridiculous and petty. Nobody in professional football is of the belief that transfers are generally conducted according to regulations. Only the naive think transfer talks are sparked by a formal bid from one club to another. The process is well under way long before that point.

And very few would put Sam Allardyce down as wide-eyed and naive when it comes to the transfer market. This may be about many things but it's not about cleaning up the game and clamping down on those who are in breach of the rules.

Ferdinand may not be the kind of man who would have knowledge of contractual sub-clauses, but players are not allowed tap up others and they certainly shouldn't be publicly discussing doing so. "I tried and failed to twist his ear," was how he phrased it last week on Facebook. But the fact it drew such little attention by way of criticism shows how outdated the rules are and how widely they are breached.

Allardyce is a man under pressure. This may be an attempt to get their fans back on board, giving the impression they're willing to fight for every inch. After the 6-0 hammering recently against Manchester City, Allardyce declared, "You either come out fighting or you sink and die".

It just seems like this particular battle is entirely pointless.

Irish Independent

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