FA fines agent £100,000 over role in Cole affair

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The Independent Online

The last major act in the Ashley Cole tapping-up scandal was completed yesterday when the Football Association made clear its intention to make an example of the England international's agent, Jonathan Barnett, for his role in the affair by fining him £100,000 and revoking his licence for 18 months.

The punishment was handed down by an independent commission appointed by the FA who were damning about Barnett's role in that now infamous meeting attended by him, Cole (who was then an Arsenal player), Jose Mourinho, the Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon and the agent Pini Zahavi at the Royal Park Hotel in London 20 months ago. The ruling described Barnett as a "prime mover in the setting up of the meeting".

The commission left the agent Barnett - whose Stellar Group agency also represents, among others, Peter Crouch, Ledley King, Kolo Touré, Darren Bent and Kevin Davies - in no doubt that his role in the illegal approach to Cole was being punished to set an example to other agents. "We are wholly satisfied that there is need in this case for an element of deterrence in the sanction we are to impose," the commission said.

It is more than a year since a total of £600,000 - some reduced on appeal - was imposed on Cole, Chelsea and Mourinho by a Premier League commission for the affair while Barnett's lawyer, Graham Shear, complained of the "master and slave relationship" of clubs and contracted players. It is a relationship that has benefited Barnett in particular and the commission will have considered the kind of fees paid to agents who deal in lucrative transfers of clients to Chelsea when setting the fine.

Barnett announced yesterday that he would appeal against the decision - Shear described the punishment as excessive and disproportionate - but he may find any hope of sympathy thwarted by his own refusal to admit any guilt in the whole saga. The commission made a point of that: "There having been no acceptance by Mr Barnett of his guilt on these charges," their statement read, "there is no scope for additional mitigation in that respect."

Barnett's agent's licence will be cancelled for nine months and he had a further nine-month sentence suspended on the understanding that he does not breach any more FA rules in that 18-month period.

In reality, the licence is not a major issue - he can still unofficially negotiate transfers but would have to use one of his colleagues at his company Stellar to sign off the official paperwork.

Much more damaging is the ruling by the FA that he was a "prime mover" in the whole unsavoury affair which comes at a time when agents are under increased scrutiny following the BBC's Panorama investigation into corruption in football. Barnett could not say he did not see it coming - during the Premier League hearing in the summer of last year, the commission said it was a "matter of regret" that Barnett's action did not fall within their jurisdiction.

Given how tenaciously Barnett, Cole and Shear have fought since then the case may not be completely finished. While neither Cole nor Barnett appear to have accepted any responsibility for their actions, the total fines of £175,000 will leave them in no doubt of where others believe the blame lies.

Also hit for the expenses of the commission, Barnett was punished for "procuring" the breach of Premier League rule K5 - which outlaws approaches to contracted players without the permission of their clubs. He also "failed to respect the rights of a third party [Arsenal]" under the agents' code-of-conduct regulations.

Speaking on talkSPORT radio yesterday the Crystal Palace chairman Simon Jordan said that the ban would affect Barnett's standing in the game. Jordan said: "He's been named and shamed, he's been vilified. I think whether he was banned or not he's been found guilty and being found guilty really tarnishes his reputation. From the point of view of his personal credibility, it's in the toilet."

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