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Manchester United did not break Premier League rules in Howard “deal”

The Guardian today tells us that Manchester United wanted to cheat, but that the Premier League stopped them just in time.

From a neutral (i.e. non-biased, non-prejudiced and non-hype) perspective, I don’t see this as cheating, nor do I consider it being such a big deal. However, Manchester United DID find a loophole in the Premier League rules, and that shouldn’t be ignored, regardless of the fact that we’ve won the title.

In essence, Manchester United did not want Tim Howard to face them in the return fixture this season and when this matter came up during the Howard transfer in February, United inserted a clause in the contract that would prevent him from doing so.

This, as the Guardian gleefully points out, is against Premier League rules as it amounts to third-party influence in club affairs – and in light of the West Ham affair, if this clause had actually been included in the final contract, Manchester United would have definitely faced a points penalty.

What followed was a gentleman’s agreement between the two managers that Howard would not be picked in the Everton – United game. He wasn’t, Turner dropped a clanger that let United back into the game and now the question is, does that verbal agreement constitute the same type of ‘interference’ that West Ham were accused of allowing in the Tevez / Mascherano contracts?

Yes, and no.

Yes, because in spirit the verbal agreement is an honor-bound contract that David Moyes and Everton were supposed to follow.

No, because this was not a legal contract, and Rule U18 goes something like this:

“No club shall enter into a contract which enables any other party to that contract to acquire the ability materially to influence its policies or the performance of its team.”

This passage highlights the debate:

Critics of the Howard situation suggest that Everton’s refusal to play the goalkeeper reflected Manchester United’s third-party influence. Everton claim that they were only adhering to the gentlemen’s agreement, and the Premier League ruled that since there would have been no material repercussions from his appearing – save for angering Sir Alex Ferguson – there was no case to answer.

I don’t buy the repercussions argument – this is the second time in a row that the Premier League has not applied the law because of ‘circumstances’. In West Ham’s case, it was because the verdict was too late in the season. This time, the rationale is that because Howard’s appearance wouldn’t have changed things, it’s not relevant.

Essentially, the Premier League is saying that rejecting third-party influence would not have negative consequences for the club, therefore Everton weren’t forced to do this. However, the fact remains that Everton WERE under third-party influence and this covers the selection of certain players for certain games.

Manchester United got it wrong, and we’re lucky that the Premier League intervened and got the clause removed from the contract.

At least that’s how I see it – what do you guys think?

Here’s the key rule again:

Rule U18 – “No club shall enter into a contract which enables any other party to that contract to acquire the ability materially to influence its policies or the performance of its team.”

I’ve discussed the Premier League ruling on West Ham, and especially the rule that concerns third party influence, in this article.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Red Ranter

    11 May 2007 at 22:11

    Well, I can’t really say much on this but for the fact that there was something fishy throughout this whole third party influence case. Both with WHU and MU.
    Hopefully it doesn’t get blown up and the league does something for the next season to rectify this.

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