11 players who were allegedly tapped up for transfers: Cole, Keane, Pogba…

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Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and Barcelona are among the clubs who have been accused of tapping players up in their pursuit of a transfer.

A 2009 scandal saw a number of Premier League clubs accused of illegally tempting young players into moves – and the accusations have continued to be aimed in the preceding nine years.

We’ve taken a look at some notable cases where clubs have been forced to defend themselves over claims they made unlawful approaches for players.

Christian Ziege

Liverpool signed Ziege from Middlesbroug after activating a £5.5million release clause in his contract. Boro claimed they had received offers of over £8million but said the player had been tapped up by the Reds.

In 2004, the case was settled just days before it was due in the high court, with Boro chairman Steve Gibson and Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry both being stubborn in pursuit of what was seen as little more than a personal grudge.

Boro were reportedly claiming compensation in excess of £2.5million, a total found from a variety of costs including lost merchandise, an estimated 10 points lost in the 2000-01 season, and even claimed Liverpool owed them because they had to bring in Terry Venables to avoid relegation.

Philippe Mexes

Mexes joined Roma from boyhood club Auxerre in 2004, only for a tapping up case to be successfully brought against the player and the club.

After appeals and suspensions, Mexes finally served a six-week ban at the end of his first season in Rome before paying damages to his former club himself – with Roma reportedly set to be forced into a €7million payment.

The club were instead banned from signing anyone other than free agents, which actually worked in the centre-back’s favour, as he established himself as a regular as Roma earned a second placed finish in Serie A.

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Charles N’Zogbia

N’Zogbia spent time on trial at Newcastle despite being contracted to Le Havre – though the player himself believed it was a shorter deal than it in fact was.

“At first, Le Havre offered me a one-year deal,” he said at the time. “Actually the officials trapped me because I signed for three years.

“I was forced to leave Le Havre. Either I stayed and was blocked, or I could go abroad as I could not sign for another club in France.”

The 19-year-old switched to Tyneside in an attempt to circumvent youth development laws which force a compensation payment for any player under 23 moving between domestic clubs. FIFA intervened and allowed N’Zogbia to be registered at Newcastle, who were ordered to pay £250,000 compensation.

Ashley Cole

Being spotted out for dinner with a rival club’s manager isn’t the best way to go about things, especially if you’re plotting a behind-the-scenes move.

Cole was seen with Jose Mourinho in London, and a year later, after an infamous drawn out saga, moved across the city to join Chelsea.

As a result of the affair, Chelsea were fined £300,000 and reportedly came very close to a points deduction, Cole was fined £100,000 and his agent was suspended for 18 months, while Mourinho was slapped with a £200,000 fine.

Robbie Keane

Spurs reluctantly sold Keane to Liverpool after the striker became immensely popular during his six years at White Hart Lane, with chairman Daniel Levy furious with Rafa Benitez’s conduct – though an official complaint was dropped.

“I was incredibly disappointed when I first heard, not only that Liverpool had been working behind the scenes to bring Robbie to Anfield, but that Robbie himself wanted to go,” he said, adding that he didn’t “regard it as a transfer deal”.

Keane later admitted that it was the wrong decision to move as he rejoined Tottenham six months after his departure.

Gael Kakuta

Kakuta’s move from Lens to Chelsea was the subject of much media noise and sparked a scandal involving two further English clubs in the alleged tapping up of players.

The 16-year-old winger joined the Blues in 2007, with the issue coming to light two years later when he was on the verge of breaking into the first-team.

Lens were initially found to be correct by FIFA, with Chelsea ordered to pay them €130,000, and the player himself ordered to pay €780,000.

CEO Peter Kenyon seemed to brush the issue aside, saying: “People need to remember that this is something which happened two years ago.”

The Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned the ruling – which also saw Chelsea banned from signing players for 18 months – as Kakuta’s contract with Lens was found to be invalid.

After promising so much, Kakuta had six loan spells away from Chelsea, and following a stint at Sevilla, he is now at Amiens, on loan from Hebei China Fortune. After progressing through the French national youth teams, he switched allegiances to DR Congo.

Paul Pogba

“The player and his parents refused to keep the arrangement because Manchester United offered very high sums of money to the parents with the aim of obtaining the transfer of their son,” a statement regarding Pogba read on Le Havre’s website following the Kakuta story.

United threatened to sue the club, claiming the transfer was completely legal, before they were cleared of any wrongdoing by a FIFA judge.

Le Havre weren’t done there though. “Contrary to what Manchester United state on their official website FIFA have not validated the transfer of Paul Pogba,” they said in reaction to the ruling.

“As they normally do in this type of case, have issued a provisional international certificate. The decision of the international body is therefore a non-event.”

United were also accused of tapping up Fiorentina defender Michael Fornasier at the same time, though no formal complaint was made.

Jeremy Helan

Manchester City were the third club caught up in the scandal, as it was Rennes who called for them to be handed a Chelsea-style punishment after they claimed Jeremy Helan had signed a pre-contract agreement aged 13.

It was in fact February 2009 that Helan let his professional contract expire before moving to England, and City responded claiming it was simply an extension of an ongoing dispute between the player and the club, which pre-dated any interest.

“It is even more illegal than Kakuta,” said the Rennes chairman. “Manchester City must now realise the consequences of their attitude.”

Helan didn’t make a single league appearance for City, though became a well-liked figure at Sheffield Wednesday before retiring in 2016 to travel to Saudi Arabia and devote himself to Islam.

Virgil Van Dijk

In June 2017, reports suggested that Van Dijk wanted to move to Liverpool as Jurgen Klopp had sold him on his vision, with the Reds boss having allegedly met the central defender in Blackpool of all places.

Southampton reacted angrily and complained to the Premier League, and it was believed that they had the necessary documents to incriminate Liverpool, but did not submit anything as the incident calmed down after Klopp’s side issued an apology.

They promised to end their interest in the player – only to make the Netherlands international the world’s most expensive defender the following January.

Antoine Griezmann

Griezmann was reportedly set for a move away from Atletico in the summer of 2017, but he chose to stay with his club under a transfer ban.

However, Barcelona’s pursuit of the striker became more and more public, up until the point that an Atletico director claimed Barca had contacted the player’s family.

The club were unhappy at the repeated contact from Barcelona, despite the player signing a contract extension until 2022, and Atletico stating that he was not for sale.

“Of course Griezmann will be able to leave at some point,” manager Diego Simeone said.

“If a player comes to me and says, ‘Coach, I have a chance of a lifetime and want to leave,’ and if he’s left everything on the pitch for me like Griezmann, I’ll say, ‘No problem.'”

Benjamin Garre

Manchester City were called into question by Argentinian club Velez Sarsfield over their signing of youngster Benjamin Garre in 2016.

Officials accused City of tapping up Garre when he was just 15, also taking aim at FIFA rules which state no player can leave his home country before the age of 18 – unless both countries are in the EU.

FIFA, however, sided with City as they found that the striker held an Italian passport and was therefore free to move after he turned 16, a decision which has been upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.


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