What to do with a problem like Alejandro Faurlín?

Alejandro FaurlínFollowing last night’s dramatic twist in the race for the final automatic promotion spot, eyes turn today to the FA hearing that could send shockwaves through the top 6. Despite being aware of the issue since March, the FA in its typically mind-boggling fashion has decided to wait until today to start proceedings on the matter of the alleged third-party ownership of QPR midfielder Alejandro Faurlín.

An FA ‘source’ indicated to The Sun last week that QPR could face a points deduction of up to 15 points. QPR fans had their promotion party on Easter Monday swept from them temporarily by an injury-time Norwich goal – could the FA seriously spoil the party now that they’ve claimed the Championship title?

QPR should be worried. In the event they are found guilty of third-party ownership, and all indications seem to be pointing that way, the possibility of a serious points deduction is a very real possibility.

Let’s look back at the Carlos Tevez case for a minute, which really brought the issue of third party ownership to light. When Tevez and team-mate Javier Mascherano were registered as players, West Ham failed to disclose that they had entered into an agreement with third-party companies. Tevez was owned by Media Sports Investments and Just Sports Inc, Mascherano by Global Soccer Agencies and Mystere Services Ltd – all four companies represented by Kia Joorabchian, who in essence held the contracts and transfer rights.

The first thing to point out is that the charges to QPR deal with more than the alleged third-party ownership of Faurlín, and their failure to declare this prior to his July 2009 signing. These include:

– allegedly using or seeking to pay an unauthorised agent in relation to the Faurlín’s registration
– allegedly submitting false information contained in documents to the FA in relation to Faurlín signing an extension to his playing contract in October 2010

If their initial response is any indication of what they will be arguing today, QPR will plead their innocence to these charges. This could be the first alarm bell for QPR fans. When the Premier League gave their verdict on the Tevez case, they made it clear that West Ham’s admission of guilt factored into the decision not to dock points and instead receive a £5.5m fine.

A separate consideration is that it isn’t the Premier League that is looking at the QPR case, but the FA. In the Tevez case, they were only brought to review the Premier League’s initial decision following an appeal by the then-relegated Sheffield United, and Fulham. There was significant criticism levelled at West Ham during that review, stating that they had been “deliberately deceitful”. The FA tribunal also stated the following:

“The tribunal had much sympathy for Sheffield United’s grievances. However, the tribunal had to apply the principles of judicial review and determine whether the decision [not to deduct points] was irrational or perverse. This is a very strict test and is very difficult to satisfy. It concluded that it was impossible for this tribunal to find that the decision was irrational or perverse.”

They accepted that it was a serious offence, but it is clear that he FA were not willing to overturn a Premier League decision that would have had serious implications on the make-up of their league. This time round though, it is the FA that gets first say. Had the FA decided the original Tevez case, perhaps a points deduction would have followed. They will also surely remember the claims by West Ham during the original hearing that the third-party agreement with Joorabchian had been torn up – found to be false during the subsequent hearings.

QPR fans might be reassured though by one of the key considerations the Premier League made in its initial verdict, against a points deduction:

-A points deduction so late in the season might have consigned the club to relegation
-The players and fans of West Ham are in no way to blame for the situation and therefore should not suffer

A significant points deduction so late in the season would strip QPR of the promotion they’ve already celebrated twice. There would be effectively little they could do on the pitch to retain that automatic spot, and would be lumped with the unpredictable playoffs. You can argue that the Premier League shouldn’t have taken the fans and players into account when looking at the Tevez case, but the reality is they did and there’s no reason he FA couldn’t do likewise.

You could also argue that pretty much everyone would accept that Tevez was probably the main reason West Ham stayed up, so was shown to have a significant impact, could the same be said of QPR re: Faurlín, a player which though steady has not had the impact on their season as someone like Adel Taarabt.

At a recent Culture, Media & Sport Committee hearing on football governance, the FA was slammed by both the Minister Hugh Robertson and William Gaillard, one of Michel Platini’s key advisers. They have, like the Premier League in 2007, left this decision till one of the last weeks of the season. They must this week decide this issue, knowing that legal challenges may result whatever they decide, be it from QPR themselves or other clubs in the top 6.

There certainly is less of a groundswell of opinion that QPR has wronged the League, in contrast to the strong criticism of West Ham, though on the face of it the crimes appear very similar. It’s a big week for QPR, but also for the FA. If another club gets a slap-on-the-wrist token punishment, then what is the point in having this rule on third-party ownership? The FA might try and make an example of QPR where the Premier League failed in the case of the Hammers.

Harsh on the QPR fans certainly, but when it comes down to fundamental questions over whether a club has acted within the rules of the game, the fans shouldn’t come into the equation. QPR should, in light of the Tevez case, have known better. The FA, in light of the Premier League’s utter failure to impose a significant punishment for this issue 4 years ago, will want a sterner punishment this time to finally draw a line under the issue of third-party agreements. I predict we’ll see a points deduction that is significant enough to strip QPR of 1st place, but not enough to push them into the playoffs

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