In 2008, Tottenham Hotspur sold then-26 year old English striker Jermain Defoe to Portsmouth for £7.5m. Pompey’s manager that season was none other than Harry Redknapp. I was still in my early 30s and had been a Tottenham supporter for less than a year.
Today, the Times of London published a paywalled report that states Tottenham may have broken agent rules as part of Defoe’s transfer, interacting with one agent representing Defoe who was unlicensed and employing another one to represent the club who had not completed the proper paperwork. At the time, the FA did nothing about it, but there are now indications that it could re-examine the case 15 years later with new (?) evidence based on phone records. Similar infractions by other clubs in the past have led to point deductions (including to Luton Town who were docked 10 points that same season), significant fines, transfer bans, and even relegation.
There are plenty of details in the report about the two agents involved in the transfer, Mitchell Thomas and Stuart Peters, as well as Daniel Levy and (naturally) quotes from Harry Redknapp. You can go find them if you want. But the heart of this issue is a paperwork infraction from 15 years ago concerning the transfer of a player who has been retired from the game for a year now, and an infraction which the FA apparently knew of in 2008 and did nothing about.
From the Times’ report:
At the arbitration hearing over the Defoe transfer, the panel found that Mitchell Thomas, the former West Ham United and Tottenham player and an unlicensed agent, was a central figure in the deal. Thomas was named by the FA in 2008 on a list of agents who had been operating in football without a licence.
It was also heard that Levy enlisted the services of Stuart Peters, an agent who was licensed, to act for Tottenham but that a representation contract — required under FA rules — did not appear to be in place. Levy agreed to pay Peters about around £1 million for his role in the £7.5 million transfer.
“The case was heard by an independent arbitration panel 15 years ago,” a spokeswoman for the FA said. “The FA was not a party to the arbitration. It is unclear how much information was shared with the FA at the time, and no disciplinary action was taken. If there is new evidence which was not available at the time, and which suggests serious breaches of our rules took place, we will review it.”
It does appear that an agent violation did take place during the 2008 transfer, there was an independent hearing about it, and then the FA decided to... let it go? The Times report attempts to paint a picture that Daniel Levy, still smarting from the free agent loss of Sol Campbell to Arsenal, was desperate to sell Defoe to avoid something similar happening with a year and a half remaining on his deal, and may have broken agent rules in pursuit of that goal. There’s also a somewhat hilarious passage in the Times report where Levy — the man in charge of his teams’ transfer dealings — pleads ignorance to how the rules actually work with regards to agents. Portsmouth, when asked about it, correctly noted that there is literally no overlap between the ownership or the people in charge of the club now with the people in charge when the violation took place in 2008; they have nothing to add.
However, it’s not particularly clear what sort of new information has come to light, why anyone should care about it 15 years later, and how — or even if — it should impact this current Tottenham team. On the one hand, violations are violations and clubs, even my club, should be held accountable when they’re broken. On the other hand, this was a decade and a half ago on one transfer. Naturally, these revelations are also coming to light with the backdrop of Everton’s ten point deduction for Financial Fair Play violations, and other — likely significantly worse — punishments potentially coming for Manchester City and Chelsea for significant and pervasive financial malfeasance.
The FA had an opportunity to address this in 2008, and they didn’t. That seems as much of an FA issue as it is a Tottenham, Harry Redknapp, or Portsmouth issue. If I had to make a guess, I’d say that the breathless exhortations in the Times of transfer bans and point deductions over a £7.5m player transfer are significantly overblown. If anything at all comes out of this, it’ll likely be some sort of fine and everyone will move on.
But this is also the FA we’re talking about, an organization that has proven countless times over the years to be both capricious and incompetent. Can I see a scenario where the FA reviews a 15 year old agent paperwork issue and decides to dock Spurs points this season? Well, yes. Unfortunately that wouldn’t surprise me either. It would certainly disappoint me, but it wouldn’t surprise me.
I almost ignored this story, but on the off chance that the FA decides to be capricious, it’s probably worth mentioning it. Hopefully I’ll never have to write about it again.