x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Blinded for justice

The English humourist Ambrose Bierce defined litigation as "a machine which you go into as a pig and come out of as a sausage".

Carlos Tevez scored against Manchester United at Old Trafford in May 2007 to save West Ham from relegation, but not litigation.
Carlos Tevez scored against Manchester United at Old Trafford in May 2007 to save West Ham from relegation, but not litigation.

The English humourist Ambrose Bierce defined litigation as "a machine which you go into as a pig and come out of as a sausage". Enlisting lawyers to sort out our problems is rarely a path to contentment. Nowhere is this more true than in sport. Ask West Ham United, who seem to have spent more time in the courts of law than on the field of play during the season just gone.

Now they are being sued again, this time by a sports consultancy agency claiming £100,000 (Dh585,161) commission for introducing the club to its main sponsor. As a supporter, I despair. It appears the agency suing the club is part of a law firm, so I guess they are on fairly firm legal ground. But the thought of all the behind-the-scenes finagling necessary to keep my team playing football seems so at odds with the beautiful game.

It leaves a taste in the mouth more rancid than the aftermath of the fast food on sale outside the ground. Granted it is a tiny amount of money for a club with a turnover of around £100 million a year, but after a promising season it would be nice if we supporters could focus for once on players rather than accountants and lawyers. It seems unlikely. After a £25m out-of-court settlement with Sheffield United, who objected to West Ham fielding the improperly registered Argentine Carlos Tevez, deemed by "experts" to have single-handedly kept the Londoners in the Premier League, more legal claims against the Hammers are in the offing.

These will come from players signed by Sheffield United on contracts more or less guaranteeing them Premier League deals. This is an aspect of modern-day football in Britain I find particularly difficult to stomach. Why should footballers who have played all season for a relegated club not take some responsibility for their club's failure, instead of cutting and running once the curtain comes down?

It has almost become an end-of-season ritual in the UK. Currently it is especially prevalent at Newcastle, where players' agents have their mobile phones more or less welded to their ears trying to sort out deals to ensure that while the club may go down, their players will not accompany them. Where is the honour in that? I realise that footballers have a short career and wish to play at the highest level they can for as long as possible.

But might they not respect themselves more if, instead of going running to their agents, they were to buckle down and fight alongside their teammates to return their club to the top level. The fact that some footballers will even consider resorting to legal action to avoid their just deserts gives you some idea why the modern-day professional footballer is not the folk hero his predecessors were.

@Email:mkelner@thenational.ae