'Murky' football transfers

Gary Lineker this week attacked the ‘murky” world of the football transfer business, telling a high court jury in London that Harry Kewell’s transfer from Leeds United to Liverpool was a deal that had tarnished the game’s reputation.

Giving evidence in his own defence during the libel action brought against him by Kewell, the former England captain said he had criticised the transfer in his Sunday newspaper column because the nature of the deal had irked him.

Kewell joined Liverpool for £5-million on a five-year contract worth £13,5-million in July 2003, but of the transfer fee £2-million was paid to his personal manager Bernie Mandic. In the article, published five days after the transfer was completed, Lineker said that Kewell ‘needed his head examined” if he was happy for Mandic to prosper at his expense.

In a composed performance that at times drew laughter from the jury, Lineker said that he had meant no offence to Kewell, but had used the ghost-written column to attack the nature of the transfer system. ‘It’s the sort of deal which doesn’t do the image of the game any good whatsoever — a sport which is very much part of my life and I care about, coming out of it, yet again, badly over a transfer that was murky.”

Lineker said he had become frustrated at the transfer after hearing an interview with Mandic on radio.

In the interview, which was heard by the jury last week, Mandic said the £2-million fee from Liverpool was a ‘success fee” and had ‘nothing to do with [Kewell]”.

In evidence last week Mandic told the court that of the £2-million fee, 20% to 30% related to work on the Kewell deal, and the rest to work carried out in Australia for Leeds over three years.

The court has also heard evidence that Mandic or his associates represented all three parties to the deal, Kewell, Leeds United and Liverpool, at various stages of the transfer.

‘There were a number of issues that irked me somewhat,” Lineker said.

‘The first thing that alerted my attention was that £5-million had been paid and £2-million had gone to Mandic ...
it seemed an extraordinary amount for an agent to be paid in a deal.

‘The other key thing that frustrated me most of all was that when pressed about it [Mandic] said it had nothing to do with the player. For me that simply beggared belief, because if Harry Kewell did not exist there is no deal.”

Lineker explained that he was persuaded to devote his regular Sunday Telegraph column to the subject after a discussion with a member of the paper’s sports desk.

He told the jury that he did not put pen to paper himself, but instead thought about what he wanted to say and then narrated it to Clive White, a journalist on the paper, during a 45-minute telephone conversation.

Lineker said he did not check the facts in the piece — ‘Clive helps out in that area,” he said — and he did not think it was necessary to put the criticism he made to Kewell.

‘The purpose of the article was not to attack Harry Kewell, I have no reason to do that, but the purpose was to attack the transfer system, the role of agents in that system, and that is what I endeavoured to do.”

Asked why he had not apologised to Kewell for the piece after the Liverpool winger complained, Lineker said: ‘This was quite clearly a murky transfer deal, there was someone representing all parties in the deal ... it was not transparent, and every-thing I have heard since makes it look murkier and murkier. Far from needing to apologise, I actually feel vindicated.”

Lineker added that he felt Kewell had been naive in engaging Mandic and allowing him to close such a lucrative deal. ‘I don’t think there is defamation in this. I had no reason to have a go at Harry Kewell other than to say he [Kewell] is a pawn in this transfer ... If the agent is walking away with £2-million then the player should be asking questions. He was guilty of naivety, classic footballers’ naivety.”

Andrew Monson, counsel for Kewell, put it to Lineker that his defence of fair comment did not stand as the central claim — that Mandic profited at Kewell’s expense — was not true.

When Monson put it to him that Mandic had been paid for work in Australia, Lineker said: ‘For me that just makes the deal worse. The work was for the transfer of Harry Kewell. There is no documentation as far as I know, or separate invoice, for works done in Australia. It seems to me that this work was for Harry’s transfer.”

Kewell is suing Lineker, the Sunday Telegraph sports editor John Ryan and the Telegraph Group for damages.

The hearing continues. —

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