Injured United player awarded £4.5m

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The Independent Football

One of the country's most promising young footballers - praised by Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson as "outstanding" - will receive at least £4.5 million compensation over a tackle which ended his career.

Ben Collett, now 23, was at the High Court in London today to hear a judge award him more than £4.3 million damages - which his lawyers later described as a record - including £3,854,328 for future loss of earnings.

But Mrs Justice Swift pointed out that when additional sums for future loss of pension and interest on past loss of earnings are determined, the final payout was unlikely to be less than "four and a half million".

Sir Alex told the judge at a recent hearing in Manchester that Collett had an "outstanding chance" of becoming a full-time professional if he had not been injured.

Collett joined United's youth academy aged nine and signed youth contracts, becoming part of the club's FA Youth Cup-winning team in 2003.

But, aged 18 and in his first game in the reserves in May 2003, he had his right leg broken in two places in a tackle by Middlesbrough FC's Gary Smith.

After the ruling, Collett's solicitor, Jan Levinson, of law firm Beachcroft, said: "Ben Collett and his family are happy that this case has finally come to a close and that Ben is now able to move on to the next chapter in his life."

He said: "The size of the award made by the court today reflects his talent and potential prior to the tackle as one of the brightest young footballers in the country.

"Having said that, Ben would understandably have preferred to earn this sum through a full career as a professional footballer."

Mr Levinson said: "The judgment announced today is the highest award ever given to a professional sportsman or sportswoman.

"Thankfully, injuries of this severity are not a common occurrence on the football or any sporting pitch, so I do not see this successful claim opening the floodgates to litigious action by sportsmen."

Both Smith and the club admitted liability for the "negligent" tackle and the judge's task was to decide on the level of compensation that Collett should receive from Middlesbrough's insurers.

Mrs Justice Swift said she had found that had it not been for the injury Collett would have been offered a three-year professional contract with Manchester United in July 2003.

Sir Alex told Manchester High Court during the hearing of the damages action: "I thought the boy showed fantastic focus, a great attitude to work hard and they are qualities to give any player an outstanding chance in the game."

United legend Paddy Crerand said the youngster was a Giggs type of player and could have gone on to become a household name.

As well as evidence from Sir Alex, Mrs Justice Swift heard from other high-profile witnesses, including United captain Gary Neville.

The judge said the evidence about Collett's ability and achievements, as well as his character and attitude, "was all one way".

She said: "During his 11 years at Manchester United, he had impressed players and staff at all levels, from Sir Alex Ferguson and Mr Gary Neville to the contemporaries who played alongside him."

Describing the accident, Mrs Justice Swift said Collett was playing for Manchester's reserve team in a match against Middlesbrough's reserves: "In the course of the game he was tackled by the first defendant (Gary Smith).

"The tackle was high and 'over the ball' and, as a consequence, the claimant suffered a fracture of the tibia and fibula of his right leg."

The evidence from those who knew Collett was that "at the time he sustained his injury, he was on course for a successful career in professional football".

Mrs Justice Swift found that Collett "must have had a good chance of spending at least part of his career - possibly the majority of his career - in the Premier League".

His "positive attitude towards his injury and to the devastating blow of being unable to pursue his chosen career does him great credit".

Mrs Justice Swift said of Collett in her ruling today: "I found him a most impressive young man.

"He was plainly intelligent and it is clear that he has brought - and will in the future bring - to his academic studies the same dedication and commitment that he formerly applied to football."

Collett intended to take up a place at Leeds University next month to study English, she said.

The judge said that the claim for pension loss and interest on past loss of earnings would be dealt with at a hearing in October if the parties were unable to agree the sums in the meantime following today's judgment.

The sums awarded today were:

* An agreed figure of £35,000 for general damages for pain and suffering, loss of amenity and loss of congenial employment, with agreed interest on that sum of £1,515.

* An agreed figure of £2,469 for the value of "past gratuitous care", with agreed interest of £740.

* Past loss of earnings of £456,095 - the interest on that sum has yet to be determined.

* £3,854,328 for future loss of earnings.

* Future loss of pension has yet to be decided.