Football

Why did the FA let Liverpool break the rules?

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You may have seen it, the Liverpool article that kicked up such a fuss on GiveMeSport.

If you haven't read it, the basic argument boils down to the illegitimacy of Luis Suarez's Liverpool campaign in the light of John W Henry's comments.

The Liverpool owner admitted that he flat-out ignored Arsenal's infamous £40m + £1 bid for the Uruguayan international - despite a clause in his contract forbidding just that.

A piece was published on our site that took this fact and expanded upon it to an admittedly far-fetched, but nonetheless legitimate, opinion. Liverpool should have let Suarez talk to Arsenal, and if he moved, his 30-odd goals and 13 assists would have gone with him. That added up to 13 Premier League points at the time of writing.

That was the author's opinion. He did not say that it will happen, nor that it can, simply that it should.

The general thrust of the argument was flawed and relatively brief, which no doubt boiled the blood of those commenters who felt compelled to let off steam. Because it's undoubtedly the worst kind of slippery slope argument that ultimately strips the article off credibility in the eyes of many.

But while that may be the case, there's a kernel of truth to the piece that got lost in the din of criticism.

You can discredit the author's conclusion - but not his right to hold it. It can be discredited because a Liverpool without Luis Suarez would not necessarily have been 31 goals worse off, and consequently not necessarily 13 points lower down the table. But that doesn't mean a points deduction cannot be justified.

In this parallel universe Liverpool have £40m + £1 in the bank and the chance to sign a big-money replacement. Even without a new face, someone else would have been in the position Suarez was occupying - Liverpool would not have played every game with 10 men. Having said that, I wouldn't like their chances with Iago Aspas up top…

Still, when John W Henry admitted that he ignored Arsenal's bid, he also reneged on an agreement with Suarez himself. Namely that if a Champions League club bid more than £40m, he was allowed to move.

For the sake of argument, here's what Mr Henry actually said: “Luis Suarez is the top scorer in the English Premier League which is arguably the top soccer league in the world.

“And he had a buy-out clause - I don't know what degree I should go into this - but he had a buy-out clause of £40million - more than 60 million (US) dollars. So Arsenal, one of our prime rivals this year ... they offered £40million and one pound for him and triggered his buy-out clause.

“But what we've found over the years is that contracts don't seem to mean a lot in England - actually not in England, in world football. It doesn't matter how long a player's contract is, he can decide he's leaving.

“We sold Fernando Torres for £50million. We didn't want to sell but we were forced to."

What is the point of a contract, if its clauses are simply ignored when it suits. I'm pretty sure that's not how contract law works.

And this case is not without a pretty convincing precedent. Neil Warnock fumed on the final day of the Premier League season after Carlos Tevez's goals helped to relegate his Sheffield United team in 2007.

West Ham ultimately settled out of court with United, but Warnock was livid after Tevez, owned by a third party which was illegal under Premier League rules, scored the winning goal against Manchester United at Old Trafford on the final day.

The Tevez transfer was found to be in breach of Premier League rules, leading to a £5.5m fine and the subsequent settlement. Tevez was allowed to continue playing, West Ham stayed up and United stayed down.

Perhaps this is the sort of thing that Henry was referring to. Rules and regulations don't really mean too much in football. You can get your way if you're willing to pay for it. Look at the Qatari allegations. Look at the number of crackpots to have passed the Premier League fit and proper person test.

You wouldn't be allowed to break your contract at work, the bank wouldn't allow you to stop paying your mortgage. Why did Liverpool escape sanction here? What's the point of the FA if it cannot enforce a contract?

The punishments laid out in the previous article were excessive and provocative, but the root of the grievance was legitimate. It is a fact that Suarez should have been allowed to talk to Arsenal.

Whatever you believe would have occurred as a result of that is your opinion. But remember that at the time Suarez was pushing to leave Anfield. The balance of probabilities suggests the Uruguayan would have left - Arsenal were a Champions League club, Liverpool weren't.

Of course it's easy to say now that it's obvious that Suarez would have stayed, after all, Liverpool nearly won the league. But at the beginning of the season many believed they'd struggle to crack the top four. That success was a surprise to Liverpool fans, to neutrals and probably to Suarez himself.

At this point, it's important to address one particular word used in the article. Liverpool were described as "cheats". It's impossible to say whether that description is unfair without all of the facts at hand. But it sure sounds like Henry acted dishonestly to gain an advantage for Liverpool Football Club. He ignored a transfer agreement to keep Suarez on Merseyside.

John W Henry took a chance based on his hunch that the Premier League and FA would turn a blind eye - and he was right. Nothing wrong with that if you're willing to live with the consequences.

You can't turn back the clock and implement punishments after the fact, which is what the previous GMS article advocated.

That doesn't invalidate the main point though -  Liverpool should have been sanctioned, only it should have happened back when the bid was made in July.

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Topics:
Liverpool
Football
Luis Suarez

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