Exclusive: City ignored warnings over Hélan's 'contract'

Premier League club in 'poaching' row claim player's ties to Rennes were void
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The Independent Football

Manchester City were told that teenage defender Jérémy Hélan was contractually bound to the French club Rennes a month before dismissing the claims and signing him for their academy.

Rennes, who have reported City's actions to football's world governing body Fifa and expect a transfer ban to be imposed similar to the punishment handed out to Chelsea in the Gaël Kakuta case, have a file on the case which includes the letter they wrote to City's solicitor George Davies on 27 January and another to executive chairman, Garry Cook, and chairman, Khaldoon al Mubarak, a day later, reminding them of the player's contractual obligations to them. Davies replied to say that City did not consider Hélan to be tied to the French side.

City remain confident that they acted entirely within the bounds of football law in the new case, details of which were revealed by The Independent yesterday. Legal advice was sought on the validity of the original contract, which Hélan signed at the age of 13 before heading for the French Football Federation's (FFF) famed Clairefontaine academy, and the response is understood to include the conclusion that it was void on at least three grounds.

But Rennes, who lodged the case with Fifa in March, insist that the contract Hélan was tied to was binding enough to make Manchester United abandon their pursuit of the same player, having offered Rennes a fee for him. The Rennes technical director, Pierre Dreossi, told The Independent yesterday that his club had held discussions with United about Hélan after the defender decided he wanted to play at Old Trafford instead of joining them after Clairefontaine.

"We had a meeting with Manchester United and they made us an offer about this player," Dreossi said. "We discussed the offer once but United [realised the position] and said: 'It is not possible to make a deal with you as you do not want to sell.' They said, 'fair play,' and it was closed but the player went in secret to Manchester City. Our letters to City said it was not possible to sign him as he was our player. City have played him anyway but they can't. It's forbidden. He has a contract with us and can't have a contract with two clubs. We told them that."

The loss of Hélan from the national youth system has been a source of more indignation in France than Kakuta over the past 18 months. United's initial approach prompted a robust response from L'Equipe, including the headline "Manchester pillerait Clairefontaine?" ("Is Manchester pillaging Clairefontaine?"). That was in May of last year when Old Trafford, rather than Eastlands, appeared to be the player's destination. Reports on the case at that time suggested that he was also attracting the interest of Milan, Newcastle United and Everton.

Ironically, Rennes are known in France as the club which provides the greatest incentives to buy young players from smaller clubs. But Hélan was theirs from an early age and they have certainly been supported within the country on this case. It is understood that the French football league, the Ligue de Football Professionnel (LFP), stepped in on their behalf when United had made their move.

The FFF evidently blundered initially when a secretary sent the player's International Transfer Certificate (ITC), clearing his move to City, to the Football Association by mistake. But Dreossi said that the federation realised its error and within a week had contacted the FA to point it out. The picture is complicated by the fact that Hélan is trying to establish in the French courts that his contract was void. This case has now reached a French labour tribunal after the French League commissions and the French Olympic Committee rejected his case.

Rennes insist the case is actually more clear-cut than that of Kakuta, whose move to Chelsea and the west London club's subsequent transfer window ban, has prompted the current examination of the signing of teenage players. While Kakuta's pre-contract agreement offered the possibility of a proper contract, Hélan's agreement guaranteed a two-year deal if he represented the France while at Clairefontaine. Hélan, now 17, was France's Under-16 captain, a year before Kakuta.

Fifa confirmed yesterday that the Hélan case had been referred to it, as has Fiorentina's complaint about the way that Manchester United signed their former youth player Michele Fornasier. No investigation has been started in the Fornasier case as Fifa does not have all the documentation. Fifa is also examining United's approach for the Empoli youngster Alberto Massacci. The Italian Football Federation has not granted an ITC and neither has the FFF in the case of Paul Pogba, whose move to Old Trafford has left Le Havre unhappy.

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