By Nick Harris
4 February 2010
Chelsea have today been cleared of wrongdoing by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) over the 2007 signing of Gaël Kakuta from Lens in France after the clubs reached an unspecified “agreement” over the player’s move. To reach this conclusion and avoid the case dragging on, Chelsea paid an undisclosed sum of cash to Lens to settle the case and thus remove the threat of a two-window transfer ban on the club.
A statement issued today by CAS said: “The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has issued an award today ratifying the agreement reached by Chelsea FC, Racing Club de Lens and the French football player Gaël Kakuta, putting an end to this arbitration procedure which also involved Fifa. The CAS has noted that, in the agreement, the two clubs and the player have recognised that the contract between the player and RC Lens was not valid. Accordingly, the player could not have terminated it prematurely and without just cause and FC Chelsea cannot therefore be liable for inducing a breach of contract. As a consequence, in light of these new circumstances, the sanctions imposed upon Chelsea FC and the player by the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber had to be lifted.
“In accordance with the parties’ request, the entire proceedings, including the arbitral award and the agreement shall remain confidential and the CAS will not comment on this matter any further.
“On 25 September 2009, the Fifa Dispute Resolution Chamber imposed, inter alia, a restriction of four months’ ineligibility on Mr Gaël Kakuta, and Chelsea FC was banned from registering any new players, either nationally or internationally, for the two complete, consecutive registration periods following the FIFA decision. The sanctions were stayed by the CAS until the award was issued.”
In a statement from Chelsea, the club’s chairman, Bruce Buck, said: “We are pleased to have come to an amicable resolution of the matter and that it has been ratified by CAS and recognised by Fifa. It was always our intention to work together with Lens to reach this end, and both clubs have strengthened their relationship as a result of resolving this case to everyone’s satisfaction.
“In an act of good faith and with a view to the possibility of future collaboration with Lens, and without recognising any liability, Chelsea has agreed to pay compensation costs for the training given to the player while at Lens, as mandated by Fifa in its original ruling.”
Chelsea’s chief executive Ron Gourlay added: “Naturally, we are pleased Chelsea has been cleared of any wrongdoing and that the matter is now closed.”
Yesterday’s apparently amicable settlement is a win-win situation for all parties – apart from Fifa, perhaps – but leaves more questions than answers. Why did Chelsea buckle and effectively “settle” the case if they thought they could win? Why did Lens buckle and effectively accept a compromise? And what does Fifa truly think about its own original verdict over a poaching allegation being found, effectively, baseless?
Make no mistake: at a meeting on 26 August last year, Fifa’s dispute resolution chamber (DRC) found Kakuta guilty of breaching a contract with Lens as a 16-year-old, and found Chelsea guilty of inducing that breach. Fifa handed out an additional punishment element in its ruling, banning Chelsea from two transfer windows. Chelsea appealed to CAS over that DRC ruling but CAS was ultimately spared a decision.
If Chelsea genuinely believed they were innocent, why pay about £1m to settle the case? Buck argues it was an “act of good faith and with a view to the possibility of future collaboration with Lens”. Could it be that Chelsea knew there was a theoretical risk of losing their appeal at CAS, and being banned, and therefore a million quid was a quick way to make it go away? Chelsea insist not, saying they were on solid appeal grounds.
What about Lens, then, a club that insisted until recently that Kakuta had a contract that would stand up? Even while Fifa agreed with this, Lens now seem not so sure. Could it be that Lens suddenly realised their contract wasn’t worth the papier it was written on? And realised they might lose at CAS? And therefore took the money and ran, even though they originally wanted about five times as much?
And what about Fifa? Did the DRC get it wrong? The arbitration process means we’ll never know. But it sends no deterrent message to be careful about who has a binding contract or not.