FA suspend Cole agent over Chelsea 'tapping up'
Ashley Cole's agent Jonathan Barnett has been fined £100,000 and had his licence suspended after being declared 'a prime mover' in fixing the infamous meeting between the England defender and Chelsea.
It is the first time an agent has had his licence suspended in connection with illegal approaches for players, and the Football Association hope the tough sentence will act as a deterrent to others.
Barnett's suspension is for 18 months from October 16, with the second nine months suspended on the condition he does not breach any other FA rules. He has already lodged an appeal.
The punishments were imposed by an independently-chaired FA disciplinary commission for two misconduct charges relating to Cole's meeting with Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho and chief executive Peter Kenyon in London's Royal Park Hotel back in January 2005.
Chelsea, Cole and Mourinho were all fined by the Premier League last year and the full-back finally moved from Arsenal to Stamford Bridge last month after a protracted transfer saga.
The disciplinary commission, chaired by Peter Griffiths QC, took the unusual decision to issue a lengthy statement explaining their findings.
It said: 'We are wholly satisfied that there is need in this case for an element of deterrence in the sanction we are to impose. We are also wholly satisfied that Mr Barnett was a prime mover in the setting up of the meeting.
'We consider this a most serious case of its kind involving as it did a leading English international player contracted to one of England's premier clubs, namely Arsenal FC, and also involving the chief executive and manager of another leading English premier club, namely Chelsea FC.'
Barnett's suspension effectively prohibits him from being involved in any transfer or re-negotiation of a contract for a player, but the FA have no jurisdiction over his involvement in the negotiation of commercial contracts such as football-boot deals.
Pini Zahavi, the Israeli 'super-agent' who acts for Chelsea in many transfers, was also at the meeting but the FA have no jurisdiction over him.
The level of the punishment is consistent with those handed down to the others involved.
In June 2005, Cole was fined £100,000 for his role in the illegal meeting, later reduced to £75,000 on appeal; Mourinho was fined £200,000, reduced to £75,000 on appeal. Chelsea were fined £300,000 and hit with a suspended three-point penalty to be imposed if the club as found guilty of tapping up any contracted player during the following season.
Cole embarked on a series of unsuccessful legal challenges including the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne and the Office of Fair Trading claiming restraint of trade. Once these courses of action were exhausted in April this year, the FA then announced charges against Barnett.
The agent denied the charges and hired barrister David Pannick QC to represent him but the commission found two misconduct charges against him proved - that he procured a breach of Premier League rule K5 by Cole regarding illegal approaches and that he was guilty of failing to respect the rights of a third party, namely Arsenal.
The disciplinary commission, made up of the independent chairman plus three members of the FA's disciplinary committee, made a point of saying: 'There having been no acceptance by Mr Barnett of his guilt on these charges, there is no scope for additional mitigation in that respect.'
Barnett's solicitor Graham Shear has already lodged an appeal, claiming the punishment was excessive.
Shear said in a statement: 'Following the sanction arrived at by the Football Association disciplinary tribunal today I can confirm that I am instructed to lodge an appeal on the grounds that in the circumstances it is both excessive and disproportionate. It is hoped that this appeal will be heard as quickly as possible.'
The FA hope this will prove something of a test case. Another agent, Carl Dunn, was fined £1,500 and given a suspended three-month suspension last year for faxing clubs about one of his clients without informing the player's current side.
But these were the first charges involving a high-profile player with specific 'tapping up' allegations against another club.
The FA and Premier League last week launched an investigation in connection with BBC Panorama's allegations that several agents, clubs and managers had been involved with illegal approaches for players.