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Football: Pennant agents to face charges

TWO FOOTBALL agents have been charge by the Football Association and Premier League for their involvement in the controversial transfer of the outstanding teenage prospect Jermaine Pennant to Arsenal.

Mark Curtis and Sky Andrew stand accused of various offences in the build-up to the 16-year-old's move from Notts County. The maximum fine they could face if found guilty is pounds 100,000, but they could also lose their Fifa agent's licence and, with so much at stake in a possible "show trial", Curtis and Andrew are planning to fight the charges vigorously.

Curtis, who worked on behalf of Arsenal, faces eight charges, including some that stem from allegations of illegal payments and approaches as well as operating for both a club and a player in the same deal. Andrew, who made the complaint about Curtis in the first place, also has to answer four charges - two of acting in an unprofessional manner and two relating to offering inducements - after bringing the dispute to the attention of the FA.

Neither Arsenal, who signed Pennant at the age of 15 in January this year, nor any other club who showed an interest in the teenager - including Tottenham - has been accused of any wrongdoing. Curtis is abroad but intends to put the matter in the hands of his solicitors as he says he did nothing wrong.

Andrew, who claims to have Pennant under contract, was more vehement. He said: "When I say what I have got to say then I am sorry because a lot of people are going to run for cover."

When Curtis was interviewed he said Arsenal had been "whiter than white" in the negotiations. However the inquiry, carried out over six months after a Sunday newspaper story in January, may yet accuse other parties.

Pennant is one of the most promising players in the game. He was targeted by Tottenham first, a potential move that alerted Notts County. To protect themselves from losing Pennant for nothing when his previous arrangement ran out, County then set up a deal with Arsenal and a transfer was rushed through.

Arsenal paid around pounds 500,000 for Pennant and put him on a three-and-a- half year deal. However, Andrew did not know of the move and made a complaint about Curtis, alleging he had taken the youngster from him.

Then Pennant's father, Gary, was later pictured taking a cash payment of pounds 750 from Curtis. The agent maintained the payment was for a separate sportswear contract. The sportswear firms Nike and adidas were questioned during the inquiry and Curtis was apparently cleared of that particular accusation. Neither Nike nor adidas was implicated in the affair.

Curtis and Andrew will face stern punishment unless they can successfully fight their respective corners. Although this bizarre transfer has been put in the spotlight, many in football think that far worse offences are taking place without any official inquiries into them.

The Premier League's , Mike Lee, said: "I can confirm that letters have been sent to the two agents concerned, setting out the charges that have been made against them. They have 14 days in which to make clear their response. It is likely that a disciplinary board will be convened to consider the charges and to advise on what action, if any, is appropriate."

Slaven Bilic's return to West Ham could be sorted out before the Londoners embark on the next stage of their InterToto Cup campaign tomorrow. The Everton defender has opened negotiations with Hammers manager, Harry Redknapp, over what is likely to be a free transfer from Goodison Park back to the club he left for pounds 4.5m two years ago. The Everton manager, Walter Smith, confirmed: "Slaven will meet with West Ham this week."

Bilic is leaving so that Smith can cut the club's wage bill and give himself a chance of signing Benfica's out of favour Welsh international Mark Pembridge.

Everton midfielder Tony Grant is to have a week's trial with Dutch side NEC Nijmegen with a view to a transfer and Sunderland are expected to make another bid to sign pounds 1m-rated John Oster. Smith needs to sell Bilic, Grant and Oster is he is to sign Pembridge.