West Ham United face significant player unrest over the non-payment of contractually agreed remuneration. A number of the London club's senior internationals believe they are owed "substantial six-figure sums" and have been angered by the failure of David Gold and David Sullivan, the owners, to pay.
At least one player has threatened the club with legal action after going over six months without receiving payments stipulated in a contract of employment agreed after Gold and Sullivan took control of the club. Other first-teamers are considering their position. The dispute centres around players' "image rights", an additional payment above standard salary designed to reward professional sportsmen for the commercial exploitation of their name.
Such payments, which are normally exempt from tax, have become common components of the remuneration of footballers. At Upton Park, Kieron Dyer, Robert Green, Benni McCarthy, Scott Parker and Matthew Upson are among the players understood to have contracts that include provisions for image rights. Commenting on West Ham's failure to honour such contracts, a representative of one of the players who has not been paid said: "It is no way to operate if you are trying to attract footballers to a club."
While HM Revenues and Customs (HMRC), Britain's tax authority, has monitored image rights deals to ensure they are not used as a means of avoiding tax on standard salary, the fundamental principle of such payments is not in question. Other Premier League clubs have continued to use them to reward players. West Ham, however, have used the threat of an HMRC clampdown as a reason for not paying out on certain image rights contracts.
Arguing that there is a threat that the club could be held liable for tax contributions if the sums paid are deemed to be excessive, the club have frozen some payments, asking players' representatives to clear their client's position with HMRC directly. The club are also understood to have sought to change the terms of certain image-right contracts. Gold and Sullivan bought a controlling interest in West Ham in January this year. Amid talk of the fiscal "Armageddon" that faced the club should they be relegated to the English Championship, the pair quickly initiated a wide ranging programme of cost cuts.
Gold and Sullivan have regularly detailed the alleged excesses of the club's former owners. In recent statements, Gold has claimed that he and Sullivan have covered an on-going operating loss of £30 million (Dh171m) and that the club remain £100m in debt. Last night, Sullivan said: "We are simply withholding payment until the HMRC tax position is resolved. We have to build up the tax that is potentially owed and payment is in the solicitors escrow account pending resolution.
"The players understand. We hope things will be resolved within a few months." email@example.com