David Conn: Tigana's £3m toast as Fayed loses

Click to follow
The Independent Football

At the heart of the case which Mohamed Al Fayed comprehensively lost in the High Court yesterday was the Fulham and Harrods owner's burning conviction that the club's ex-manager, Jean Tigana, had screwed him, by paying too much for the striker Steve Marlet, then taking a bung from Marlet's agents, BMB.

At the heart of the case which Mohamed Al Fayed comprehensively lost in the High Court yesterday was the Fulham and Harrods owner's burning conviction that the club's ex-manager, Jean Tigana, had screwed him, by paying too much for the striker Steve Marlet, then taking a bung from Marlet's agents, BMB.

Fulham signed Marlet from Olympique Lyonnais for £11.5m in August 2001, following promotion to the Premier League, which Tigana won for them in his first season at the club.

Fayed, however, is described by the judge as having become "disillusioned" with Marlet and this led to the breakdown of his relationship with Tigana: "Mr Al Fayed strongly felt that the player was nowhere near worth the amount paid for him. He began to suspect that he had been cheated and that a number of people involved in the transfer, including Mr Tigana, had dishonestly made money out of the transfer deal."

Tigana was subsequently subjected to a series of internal Fulham investigations into the transfer, led by three different firms of solicitors over six months. The first was in November 2002 when, without having been given any notice, Tigana was questioned for an hour by a lawyer, in the presence of two of the club's directors, at Harrods. He was then quizzed by Fulham's chief executive, then by another solicitor in February 2003, then another in May. The questions, according to his barrister, Paul Goulding QC, were "put forward in a hostile atmosphere."

Trust irretrievably broke down between Fayed and Tigana; Franco Baresi, the former Italian international defender, was brought to Fulham as the Director of Football in May 2002 without Tigana's knowledge and without consulting him. Players were bought over Tigana's head, then: "In June, Mr Al Fayed directly confronted Mr Tigana with his suspicions of the manager's dishonesty."

In March 2003, Fulham announced they would not be extending Tigana's contract when it ended on 30 June that year. That made Tigana's status in the dressing room difficult to maintain, so in April 2003 he and Fulham agreed he would go on "garden leave" until the end of the season, and Chris Coleman took over as the manager.

In May 2003, Fulham lodged a criminal complaint in France, identifying Tigana as "someone they suspected of having dishonestly benefited financially from the Marlet transfer." That investigation is still going on. The allegation of a bung was not made specifically in the trial here, however the judge yesterday emphasised that from what he had seen in the course of the bitter, month-long trial, he did not believe it to be true:

"I can only say that there is no evidence before me that would have begun to sustain such an allegation."

Instead, Fulham piled allegation on allegation, that Tigana had negotiated the transfer and paid too much for Marlet, £11.5m, when the striker was really only worth £7m; that he agreed an excessive salary for Marlet of £40,000 per week without even negotiating with Marlet or his agents, BMB.

Crucially, too, Fulham were claiming that they could have paid a lower fee to Lyon because under his contract with Lyon, Marlet was entitled to a share of any transfer fee the club received, but he had agreed to waive it. Had they known that, Fulham claimed, they could have paid less to Lyon. Instead, they claimed, Tigana knew Marlet was foregoing his fee, but he never told Fulham.

Central to Fayed's sense that he was being cheated were the French agents in the deal, BMB, run by two brothers, Sebastian and Pascal Boisseau. BMB acted for Marlet to negotiate his salary package at Fulham over several weeks in August 2001, beginning with a meeting in the Sofitel Hotel in Lyon, then conducted with faxes batted back and forth. Then, on 28 August 2001, the day the transfer was finally agreed, Fulham themselves agreed to pay BMB over half a million pounds "ostensibly", according to the judgment, for acting as "an intermediary" in the transfer.

Fayed and Fulham then became suspicious about the transfer, and sued BMB, alleging that BMB had failed to disclose some relevant details about Marlet's deals. BMB denied that, but the case was settled, partly in return for the Boisseau brothers agreeing to give evidence for Fulham against Tigana. Pascal, mainly, gave the evidence, but the judge was not convinced by him, or impressed by the fact that he was apparently representing both the player and Fulham:

"I did not find him to be an altogether reliable witness and in particular he was extremely vague about who BMB was supposed to be acting for in the Marlet transfer."

Tigana denied all the allegations, said that he always acted honestly and conscientiously, and that, while he did get involved in the negotiations with Lyon, he did not withold any information from Fulham. The judge agreed, and found that when the deal was done, Fulham's then chief executive, Michael Fiddy, made the final decision to sign Marlet at that price. Behind him, however, the judge found that "everybody agreed" that Fayed himself "held the purse strings and had a final veto over any proposed transfer."

So fierce was Fayed's resentment, however, that he tried not to pay Lyon for the Marlet transfer. Fulham also refused to pay Juventus for the goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar, another part of the case against Tigana which the judge dismissed. Fulham claimed they paid £7m for Van der Sar when he was worth only £6m, but the judge found specifically that Fayed had agreed the fee at the negotiations with Juventus in July 2001, which took place at Fayed's office at Harrods.

Both Lyon and Juventus pressed for payment and ultimately the cases were decided in special football tribunals under the auspices of football's world governing body, Fifa. In the proceedings so far, Fulham have been ordered to pay up in full.

The judge, finding in favour of Tigana in every instance, said: "I consider that the defendant has behaved properly and conscientiously in his dealings with Fulham and did not act dishonourably towards the club."

That meant that Fulham were not entitled to summarily sack Tigana, as they did by fax on 30 June 2003. By doing that, and claiming that Tigana was guilty of dishonesty and misconduct, Fulham were claiming they did not have to pay him share options to which he was entitled under the terms of his contract. Yesterday's judgment means that he must now be given those share options, worth £2.1m. He also previously won an employment tribunal in September last year and was awarded £455,000.

During the trial, his barrister, Paul Goulding QC, had argued that Fayed simply made the allegations up, because he believed he was being ripped off:

"His evidence did not have any credibility. In certain respects it was vague, in others it was clearly untrue and in others it was fictitious.... It may well be Fayed assumes a deep sense of grievance but it has led him to lose any sense of objective judgment of the facts."

The background to these extraordinary court proceedings appears to have been the souring of the football dream for Mohamed Al Fayed. As the judge drily noted, Fayed took Fulham over in 1997 with the famously stated aim of making the club "the Manchester United of the South."

After Kevin Keegan left Fulham to become the England manager in the summer of 2000, Tigana was "enticed away" from his then work as a football agent, and from his French vineyard to succeed Keegan. He won promotion for Fulham that first season and Fayed was very happy with him, but their relationship deteriorated, particularly over the Marlet transfer.

In his devastating judgment, clearing Tigana of dishonesty, Mr Justice Elias said Fayed was still nursing his grievance:

"Mr Al Fayed still believes that [Tigana] has in some way, yet to be established, been involved in dishonourable dealing."

Yesterday, a statement from the club appeared to confirm that they did not accept Tigana's innocence. "We need time to consider fully the terms of the judgment. We remain confident the truth will eventually emerge."

The truth as it stands is that Jean Tigana, the legendary former player for France in their 1980s heyday, manager of Lyon and Monaco before Fulham, is vindicated. None of the allegations of dishonesty or misconduct have been made to stick, and Fulham have to pay him up.

He released a statement yesterday via his solicitors, Clifford Chance:

"I am very happy at the decision of the High Court. The club made untrue and unfounded allegations against me in an attempt to justify its refusal to honour its contractual obligations. I am sad I had to litigate against the club to prove my innocence and integrity. All I ever wanted to do was help Fulham FC become a great club."

He was not, however, in court to hear the judgment in person. His spokesman said he was in France, tending his vineyard.