The face of Walkers Crisps and main presenter of Match of the Day, Gary Lineker, came face-to-face in court with Liverpool winger Harry Kewell yesterday. Kewell is suing Lineker, the Telegraph Group and the Sunday Telegraph’s sports editor for libel.
Lineker writes a regular column in the Sunday Telegraph, and in an article almost two years ago he wrote about Harry Kewell’s move to Anfield. Kewell said he felt "shocked and assaulted" by Lineker’s "hurtful and humiliating" attack.
Lineker’s article appeared five days after Kewell’s move across the Pennines to Anfield in July 2003. The deal was surrounded by controversy because the Leeds chairman of the time, Professor John McKenzie, had failed to pay attention to the funding of the deal. Liverpool paid a fee of £5m for Kewell. £2m of that fee was paid to Kewell’s agent Bernie Mandic, via his company Max Sport.
After the transfer had taken place McKenzie claimed that £2m had gone missing. He said the fee was supposed to be £5m plus Mandic’s fee, not £5m including Mandic’s fee. He said he’d wanted £7m.
McKenzie went quiet after Liverpool’s Chief Executive Rick Parry spoke about the deal. It was at the press gathering to reveal Kewell as a Liverpool player and Parry said: "I’m not sure I want to get drawn into a slanging match with Professor McKenzie, the discussions have been cordial and long may they stay that way."
He continued: "But no, we didn’t make an offer of £7m on July 4. I don’t know what Prof McKenzie means, I just know the realities of the case. I’m just telling you the realities of the situation.
It’s now known that Manchester United had tried to buy Kewell after Leeds had tried to get more money for the Australian at the last minute, but Kewell wanted to join the team he supported as a child. Parry continued: "Harry here has turned his back on some huge offers over the last few days, make no mistake, he has not come here purely for money. He’s well rewarded and rightly so, but he’s come for football reasons because there has been enormous interest and temptation."
Parry said that Kewell made up his mind and agreed his own terms very quickly: "Once he had made up his mind to come to Liverpool he has stuck with that right down the line, there has never been an attempt to change the terms and the deal."
Kewell had got to the most feared part of a contract from a club’s point of view – the last year. Leeds were worried that Kewell could stay until January and then start negotiations on his next deal, leaving on a Bosman. Parry certainly seemed put out at the time at the inference that Liverpool had acted in an underhand manner: "Our dialogue with Leeds has been as straightforward as transfer deals are, quite why it has become all blown up is a bit of a mystery." Liverpool were the first victims of a high-profile Bosman transfer when Steve McManaman went to Real Madrid for no transfer fee. Disappointing, but a fact of football life according to Parry:
"Just look at our experience with Steve McManaman, we lost a lot but that’s the reality of the Bosman situation, it is law. That’s what players are allowed to do."
Parry also spoke of the aborted transfer for Lee Bowyer: "We agreed a deal with Leeds for Lee Bowyer, a perfectly straightforward one but we couldn’t meet his financial terms, it was as simple as that so he didn’t come." Newcastle fans are probably wishing they’d had the same difficulties meeting the players terms too right now as Bowyer is once again in the headlines for the wrong reasons.
It’s probably fair to say the McKenzie comments made it easier for Lineker to be critical of Kewell. McKenzie tried to get more money for Leeds at the last minute – and this would have meant more money for Kewell himself – but Parry said Kewell turned the other clubs down: "That is the reality of life. You can’t do deals in isolation, it’s not about clubs horse trading players as commodities, it’s about players wanting to go. Leeds have had it with Paul Robinson. They agreed a deal with Aston Villa and the player didn’t want to go, he’s still there. That’s the reality of how life works. Where is the problem? It’s a judgement for Leeds, they either take what we offered and they did, or they decide to keep Harry for 12 months and lose him. They could have said no at any stage but again to Harry’s credit, he wanted to come to Liverpool and not anywhere else. It was a footballing decision"
Parry put the terms of the deal as simply as he could: "As far as Liverpool is concerned the situation is crystal clear, money has gone to Leeds and money has gone to Harry as part of his contract, there is nothing else and suggestions to the contrary are wholly without foundation at all, absolutely nothing untoward. There is no mystery. We have paid Harry through his contract and then Leeds United, those are the only agreements in place."
At the time Kewell himself said: "I’m sorry to say that Leeds never offered me a new contract and never put actually figures and numbers in front of me for me to sit down and discuss. It’s disappointing. I was there nine years and you expect a friendship with the club, but there was no friendship there. They didn’t want to offer me a contract."
This is all importan background to a case that will probably do football more harm than good.
In the Sunday Telegraph piece Lineker said the transfer made him ashamed to be in football. He said that the payment to Mandic was wrong – Kewell should not have allowed it and had circumvented transfer regulations.
Kewell’s legal representative Mr Monson said Lineker’s article had effectively labelled Kewell "a knave" – and this could not go uncorrected.
He said the defence of fair comment did not apply. He said that the court would hear how Bernie Mandic’s fee wasn’t just for the Kewell transfer, but for other work carried out on behalf of Leeds.
Kewell had started to use Mandic as his "personal manager" 1999 and told the court that Linekers article had hurt him: "When someone as high up as him says I disrespected the profession, that hurt a lot."
When cross-examined Kewell said that Mandic had never charged a fee for his services.
He said Mandic had represented him in negotiations between Leeds and Liverpool. He’d also fielded offers from seven other clubs.
Kewell said he had no knowledge of the £2m fee agreed between Leeds and Mandic. Mandic later explained to the court that the fee was for work he’d done over three years establishing links between Leeds and Australian clubs. Kewell said: "It has nothing to do with me so I don’t need to know anything about it so why would he tell me? If that is what Bernie arranged with Leeds, that’s fine."
Kewell said he signed terms with Mandic’s brother – Nick Mandic – shortly before his transfer. Nick Mandic is a FIFA licenced agent. The court was told that a player must be represented by a FIFA licensed agent before transfers can be completed.
The jury were shown documents stating that Nick Mandic’s company SCI also acted as intermediary between Liverpool and Leeds – they were paid £1m for this.
On the official FA transfer form the space for the name of the player’s agent was left blank. Nick Mandic had signed as Liverpool’s agent.
Kewell said he doesn’t recall noticing this when he signed the form.
The case continues.