Lineker: 'I feel vindicated over transfer article'

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The Independent Online

Gary Lineker criticised football's "murky" finances in the High Court yesterday and refused to apologise for an article questioning a £5m Premiership transfer deal.

The Match of the Day presenter, defending a libel action brought against him by the Liverpool player Harry Kewell, said he felt he had been "vindicated" for his comments in his Sunday Telegraph column.

Mr Lineker said the piece, which appeared a week after Mr Kewell's £5m transfer from Leeds United in July 2003, was not intended as a personal attack on a player he had the "greatest respect" for. His aim was to highlight the shortcomings of the football transfer system and the role of agents in it.

Mr Lineker maintained that for Mr Kewell's Australian agent to make £2m from a £5m move was "extraordinary" and highlighted the need for urgent reforms to be drafted by Fifa, the game's world governing body. He said his own agent, Jon Holmes, had earned only £75,000 over two years for his role in a £3m move taking Mr Lineker from Tottenham Hotspur to the Japanese club Grampus 8.

Giving evidence on day four of the trial, Mr Lineker said: "It seemed to be another example of a transfer that was less than transparent. It was a subject I feel very strongly about. I've seen so many examples of this sort of deal in football over the years."

Mr Lineker said he first heard about the details of Mr Kewell's deal as he was listening on his car radio to a BBC Radio 5 Live interview with Bernie Mandic.

He said what struck him as he listened was not just how much Mr Mandic earned from the deal - 40 per cent compared with more "usual" five or 10 per cent - but Mr Mandic's attitude towards Mr Kewell. "It seemed an extraordinary amount of money for an agent to collect in a deal," Mr Lineker said. "The other key thing which frustrated me most of all about the interview was when Mandic said it had nothing to do with the player. For me that simply beggared belief because obviously if Harry Kewell doesn't exist, there is no deal."

Lawyers for Mr Kewell claim that the fee was so high because it included work Mr Mandic carried out for Leeds United establishing links with a Sydney feeder club. But Mr Lineker said that during the Five Live interview Mr Mandic had not mentioned this. Asked whether he knew about this extra work when the article was written, he said: "I think how he got the money or why he got the money is totally irrelevant, to be honest."

Mr Lineker said the aim of the article was to get Fifa to look at the transfer system again and to ensure that this sort of deal did not happen in the future.

He said Mr Mandic was not a licensed agent, so not subject to the rules but, on the other hand, clubs were not allowed to deal with non-licensed agents. "Both Liverpool and Leeds are in clear breach of the Fifa guidelines on that. It's a fact. Clubs cannot negotiate with a non-licensed agent."

Asked why he had not apologised to Mr Kewell, Mr Lineker replied: "I haven't apologised, to be perfectly honest, because nothing that I have heard or read since has changed my view ... This was quite clearly a murky transfer." He added: "It wasn't transparent and everything that I have subsequently learnt about it has made it murkier and murkier.

"So, far from feeling the need to apologise I actually feel, if I am allowed to say this, vindicated."

The court was told that Mr Lineker, 44, won 80 caps for England, about 20 as captain.

Mr Kewell's counsel, Andrew Monson, has claimed the article suggested the Liverpool player had circumvented the transfer rules, had naively and stupidly allowed Mr Mandic to manipulate him to his financial detriment and had discredited himself by taking part in a dishonourable and financially dubious transfer. The newspaper, which denies libel, claims the article was not critical of Mr Kewell. The case continues.

Ex-England captain stands by 'ghost-written' words

Gary Lineker admitted yesterday that the newspaper column which prompted the libel action from Harry Kewell had been ghost-written by a journalist on The Sunday Telegraph.

Mr Lineker explained that when he started writing his column in the newspaper he penned the words himself. But that was no longer possible because his television commitments - mostly as presenter of the BBC's Match of the Day - meant he could not meet the paper's deadline on Friday.

Instead, on this occasion, he shared his thoughts over the telephone with Clive White, a sports writer at The Sunday Telegraph who put them into words under Mr Lineker's byline.

For research, Mr Lineker spoke to, among others, his agent Jon Holmes. He said he had not seen the finished article prior to publication, adding that he had every "confidence" in Mr White's journalism.

Mr Lineker is the BBC's chief football presenter and as such is the front man for big games, including England internationals, the European Championships and the World Cup.