Fayed must pay £2.5m to ex-Fulham manager

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The Independent Online

A legal battle between Mohamed Al Fayed and the sacked manager of his football club ended yesterday with the Harrods' owner facing a £2.5m bill and criticism from a High Court judge. Fulham FC, the once-struggling London side rescued by Mr Fayed's millions, lost its claim against Jean Tigana that he had, in effect, swindled the club out of £7m by over-paying for two foreign stars.

A legal battle between Mohamed Al Fayed and the sacked manager of his football club ended yesterday with the Harrods' owner facing a £2.5m bill and criticism from a High Court judge. Fulham FC, the once-struggling London side rescued by Mr Fayed's millions, lost its claim against Jean Tigana that he had, in effect, swindled the club out of £7m by over-paying for two foreign stars.

Mr Tigana was accused by Mr Fayed in court of possibly taking kickbacks on deals to sign the Dutch goalkeeper Edwin van der Saar and the French striker Steve Marlet. But the judge, Mr Justice Elias, rejected the claim that Mr Tigana was in breach of his contract and allowed the Frenchman's counter-claim for unfair dismissal, entitling him to £2.1 in share options and £455,000 won at an employment tribunal.

The judge said: "I consider that the defendant has behaved properly and conscientiously in his dealings with Fulham and did not act dishonourably towards the club."

Mr Justice Elias told the High Court he found Mr Fayed "unreliable" during his testimony on the Van der Saar transfer from Juventus in 2001 for £7m: "It was not supported by any other witness and was contradicted by a number of witnesses.".

There has been a series of wrangles in English football over the minutiae of the multi-million pound deals signed by Premiership clubs after negotiations often involving a network of agents, former players and middlemen. Mr Tigana, a former star of the French national team, joined Fulham in July 2001 and was credited with helping to turn around the club's fortunes with high-profile signings, including Van der Saar and Louis Saha, who now plays for Manchester United. But the club claimed Mr Tigana, who was also a director of Fulham, had "grossly overpaid" for two signings.

The club had said the "correct" price for Van der Saar should have been £4.5m, and Marlet, bought for £11.5m from Olympique Lyonnais in August 2001, was, in fact, worth £7m. The manager was also accused of not passing on financial information in the Marlet deal, and misleading the club during negotiations with the Spanish club Valencia for the Norwegian striker John Carew. The club said its former coach had broken his obligations of "fidelity, good faith, trust and confidence".

David Phillips QC, for Fulham FC, said: "Mr Tigana's career at Fulham began in hope and optimism but ended in deceit and dishonesty." Mr Fayed, who denied that his pursuit of his former manager was "vindictive", told the court he had suspicions that Mr Tigana was "a crook".

The Frenchman, described by the judge as an "essentially honest witness", said the decision on how much money was paid for his signings had always rested with Mr Fayed. In a statement after the verdict, a "very happy" Mr Tigana said: "The club made untrue and unfounded allegations against me in an attempt to justify its refusal to honour its contractual obligations towards me." A statement from the club said they were considering an appeal.