West Ham‘s signing of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano in 2006 was shrouded in controversy, but it provided one of the Premier League’s most entertaining subplots.
“As far as I’m concerned I should still be a Premier League manager. And I think the players have a case, too.”
So said Neil Warnock in March 2009, almost two years after Carlos Tevez effectively relegated Warnock’s Sheffield United side.
Tevez had signed for West Ham alongside fellow Argentine Javier Mascherano at the start of the 2006-07 campaign, and netted a winner against Man United on the final day of the season that kept West Ham up and sent Sheffield United down.
But neither Tevez nor Mascherano should ever have been at West Ham.
Midway through the season, it transpired that the deal taking the two players from Corinthians had been more than a little shady, and had been orchestrated by a mysterious sports investment guru named Kia Joorabchian.
As Tevez dragged West Ham to victory at Old Trafford, Sheffield United lost 2-1 to fellow relegation candidates Wigan. They went down, Warnock left the club, and a legal battle followed as the Blades tried to get West Ham punished.
Warnock, who also sought personal damages from West Ham, has since maintained the Tevez saga was a disgrace to the Premier League.
Without meaning to sound unsympathetic to the club or the manager, who has clearly been scarred by that crazy season, he’s totally wrong.
Annoyingly, it’s difficult to say that someone is wrong without having to explain what they’re wrong about, which means we have to look at what happened with those Tevez and Mascherano deals.
In short, Premier League clubs weren’t, and still aren’t, allowed to field players owned by ‘third parties’, which you can define as pretty much anyone or anything that isn’t a football club.
The deals that took Tevez and Mascherano to West Ham did involve third parties: the economic rights to the players were owned by some organisations that absolutely, definitely weren’t football clubs.
For Tevez, that was two investment companies going by the names ‘Media Sports International’ and ‘Just Sports’. For Mascherano, it was ‘Global Soccer Agencies’ and the appropriately named ‘Mystere Services’.
The common thread? All four of these firms were connected to Joorabchian.
This was generally considered to be a ‘bad thing’, a case of weird bureaucracy and loopholes that had negative consequences for a lot of people.
But there’s actually a lot to admire about Joorabchian, a man so central to Premier League football in 2006-07 he might have had his own Panini sticker.
First and foremost, that infamous double transfer was entertaining. Really entertaining. Two top-rated international stars turning up at an unfashionable club, out of nowhere, with seemingly no plan for their tactical or cultural integration.
It was computer game stuff, and while Mascherano, one of the best defensive midfielders of his generation, struggled to oust Hayden Mullins from the West Ham line-up, there was a lottery-like euphoria in seeing plain old West Ham acquire two of the world’s hottest prospects.
Of course, those transfers weren’t really for West Ham’s benefit. They were an attempt by Joorabchian to bring the Argentines to a high-paying market, to put the commodities squarely in front of prospective buyers.
Did it work? Yes, though it’s not entirely clear how putting the players alongside Nigel Reo-Coker and Marlon Harewood was supposed to increase their value.
Couldn’t Joorabchian have just posted a YouTube video? Couldn’t he have just, you know, pointed to some stats? Didn’t most people already agree that these were two massively talented, massively valuable players?
Yes to all, but the businessman chose to ‘stick them in the shop window’ anyway, and we got to see Tevez play in England because of it.
Everyone won, right?
Okay, Warnock didn’t. Sheffield United didn’t. But there are two sides to this.
To be honest, I thought about third-party ownership maybe twice between 2007 and 2016. After the West Ham episode, I didn’t think it was still a thing, or that Kia Joorabchian’s name would ever come up again.
In 2015, the practice – commonplace in South America and other parts of the world – was globally banned by FIFA.
But then Sam Allardyce went and told some dressed-up journalists that, not only did the practice continue to exist, but that he knew ways to get around it. Third parties were back on the table.
While such organisations might have to operate in mafia-like secrecy these days, they could well conjure up another Tevez-Mascherano deal for your club. And that possibility should really be welcomed, not vilified.
Come on: are you going to moan about how the game has become too corporate, how agents buying the economic rights to young South Americans isn’t in the ‘spirit’ of the game? Are you going to cry into your Rob Hulse jersey for the fiftieth time?
Are you going to pretend you wouldn’t have launched Mystere Services if you’d thought of it first? Are you seriously going to take Neil Warnock’s side?
Or are you going to relish the sight of two superstars turning up at a small club whose name they probably learnt on the plane journey over?
For another Tevez-Mascherano deal, we should gladly relegate a thousand hapless clubs, break a thousand transfer rules and sink a thousand pints of wine.
Kia, we miss you.