Mandic: Kewell wasn’t interested in Man United

The Harry Kewell court case continued today. The following report is by Jan Colley of PA Sport.

Footballer Harry Kewell’s personal manager said he had been made a “scapegoat” in the controversy over the midfielder’s move from Leeds to Liverpool. Bernie Mandic dismissed as “absolute rubbish and a total lie”, a claim by soccer pundit Gary Lineker that he had manipulated 26-year-old Kewell to his detriment by making £2m at his expense.

He told Mr Justice Eady and a High Court libel jury that he acted in Kewell’s best interests and that there was “zero” wrong with the July 2003 deal.

Kewell, 26, wants substantial damages over a “hurtful and humiliating attack” which the Match Of The Day anchorman launched in a July 2003 Sunday Telegraph column. He claims that Lineker, sports editor Jon Ryan and Telegraph Group Ltd had accused him of being a fool and implied he was a knave who was guilty of dishonourable conduct.

Mandic said he set the ball rolling with Liverpool after Kewell, who moved for a total five-year package of £13.5m, rejected offers from other clubs so as to fulfil his “boyhood dream” of joining the Merseysiders after Leeds began selling players to ease their debts.

Leeds wanted £7m but Liverpool offered £5m plus an additional £2.4m loyalty bonus to Kewell, payable over three years. Out of the £5m fee, £2m went to Mandic’s company, Max Sport, as payment for work it had done for Leeds in Australia.

Leeds’s then chairman, Professor John McKenzie, complained in the media that Liverpool had gone back on an agreement to pay £7m. Mandic said that the extensive Australian work involved finding a club out there which had the best soccer talent for future development.

He said that Liverpool never offered £7m.

The dispute about the fee was something created by Professor McKenzie for the media to justify the problems he was having with the board which was not happy with how things had gone. "Certain members of the board were pushing the Manchester United situation quite openly and because Professor McKenzie had failed to get the £7m he had indicated Manchester would have given, he needed a scapegoat and that was Max Sport and myself.”

He said Prof McKenzie wanted to construct a £7m transfer package as it would look good for Leeds on the Stock Exchange.  The Professor proposed that Leeds would get £7m but would pay another £1.5m out of that to Max Sport – on top of the £2m payment – which the company would then reimburse to Kewell tax-free. Mr Mandic said he simply was not prepared to do that. The negotiated £2.4m loyalty bonus was totally legal.

Mr Mandic said that Manchester United’s Alex Ferguson wanted Kewell to fly down to Nice in a chartered jet for “Sir Alex to do what Sir Alex does best – charm people” but Kewell, while honoured, was not interested. All Kewell’s personal advisers felt that the meeting should go ahead but were over-ruled. “At the end of the day, Harry is in charge of Harry and we accepted his wishes.”

Kewell’s counsel, Andrew Monson, has said that the article libelled him in three ways:

# That he put his agent to approach Liverpool without Leeds’s consent and had therefore been disloyal and cunningly circumvented the rules which prohibited him from entering into negotiations with Liverpool before the final year of his contract;

# That he had naively and stupidly allowed Mr Mandic to manipulate him to his financial detriment;

# That he had discredited himself by willingly participating in a deeply dishonourable and financially dubious transfer.

He said that the message from the newspaper, which denies libel, was that the article was not critical of the claimant and so it was not defamatory of him.

“The message was that the article only criticised the transfer system and agents like Bernie Mandic.”

He said the defence of fair comment did not get off the ground as the central fact relied on by Lineker to support his comment about the claimant was wholly untrue.

“He was quite simply wrong to claim that Bernie Mandic had made £2m out of the transfer deal at the expense of Harry Kewell.

“He was quite simply wrong to say that the claimant was happy for his agent to make such a huge profit at his expense.”