By Editor Wayne Veysey
Calum Chambers would have signed for Arsenal in the summer of 2014 “for a Mars bar”, FA documents revealed today.
The England international is at the centre of the deal which ended today with his club being fined £60,000 for breaching agent regulations and middleman Alan Middleton fined £30,000 and suspended for three months.
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A 26-page FA document explaining its decision, and seen by Football Insider, gives a revealing insight into the £16million transfer that took Chambers from Southampton to Arsenal in July 2014.
Personal terms were agreed between the two parties in a “straightforward” meeting lasting just 45 minutes at the Gunners’ London Colney training base after Arsenal had offered a lower basic salary than Chambers’ representatives requested but agreed to top up the player’s wages with performance-related bonuses.
Middleton subsequently told the FA’s independent commission that Chambers was so keen to join the Gunners that he would have signed “for a Mars bar”.
Negotiations were conducted on Arsenal’s behalf by the club’s transfer and contract negotiator Richard Law, who flew to London from Nice, where he was negotiating another player transfer, to secure the Chambers agreement on 25 July, 2015.
However, Law, regarded by the commission as “transparently frank and truthful”, failed to accurately complete the FA’s Agent Declaration Form and reveal the central role of Chambers’ unlicensed agent Philip Ercolano in the contract negotiations.
Instead, the form wrongly identified Middleton, a lawyer and licensed agent who had not met Chambers until the day that personal terms were agreed, as the player’s agent.
The FA commission regarded this as a case of “partial fronting” that occurred “as a result of Middleton’s failure (and that of the club) to take adequate care” when completing the agent form.
As a result, both Arsenal and Middleton were found to have been “negligent” and “failed to take reasonable care in all the circumstances”, although the commission accepted there was no deliberate intention from either party to conceal or misrepresent Ercolano’s involvement.
The background to the controversial transfer was Arsenal’s pursuit of Chambers following the end of the 2013/14 season.
“During the early summer of 2014 (May/June), the Club was interested in acquiring the registration of the Player,” reads the FA document. “He was aged 19 at the time and playing in the Southampton Reserve Team. Two offers were made by the Club, both of which were rejected by Southampton. The Club maintained its interest in the Player and, by late July 2014, Southampton had become more receptive to the prospect of a transfer.”
Law informed Ercolano, whose business colleague Steve Moss is the partner of Chambers’ mother, on 24 July of that summer that Southampton had accepted Arsenal’s third offer for the defender, believed to be £16million.
Arrangements were made for an Arsenal car to collect Ercolano and Chambers the following day, where they were taken from Hampshire to a hospital for his medical and then on to London Colney, where personal terms were discussed with Law.
It was at the Gunners’ training headquarters where Middleton and Law both signed the Agent Declaration Form, as required by the FA, and which contained the declaration, “they confirm that no other agents have been involved in the transaction or contract negotiation”.
This was false, as Ercolano negotiated the value of Chambers’ contract, firstly informally during a phone conversation with Law on 24 July, and then more formally the following day at Law’s training ground office along with Middleton. Chambers was not present.
“[Law] told the Commission, and we accept, that he had used the basic salary figure of £X that Ercolano had given him on 24th July as a basis for the proposed terms that he then drew up,” the document explains. “The latter, which he incorporated into a written document, provided for a lower basic salary of £Y, but included various bonus incentives that gave [Chambers] the potential of achieving the figure that PE had mentioned.”
The Commission regarded Law’s version of events as “entirely plausible and likely”. It added: “Otherwise, the terms which [Law] would have gone into the meeting with the following day to offer [Chambers] would have been speculative, the only reference point being players of a similar age, experience and promise.
“From Law’s standpoint, the obvious risk associated with the latter course, without first ‘sounding out’ those acting for [Chambers], is that the club might offer more than he would be prepared to accept. To underline this point, the phrase was coined by [Middleton] during his evidence that [Chambers] would have been prepared to ‘play for a Mars Bar’ in order to join the club.”
In his evidence, Law revealed there were “movements, not on the base wage, they were more on the bonus end”. He also explained how Ercolano, who, unknown to Arsenal had taken and failed the FA’s football agent exam, played a key role in discussions.
“Ercolano was negotiating the numbers and concepts, and Middleton was acting in his role as a solicitor, and reviewing the drafting, the wording, making sure the concepts matched their expectations,” Law told the commission.
Arsenal subsequently made two payments in October 2014, one of £30,000 and one of £120,000 to Cassius Sports Company, which was founded by Ercolano and is majority-owned by him. Further agency fees of£480,000 are owned to the company.
While the commission cleared Law of any deliberate wrongdoing and accepted he was “under pressure” as he simultaneously negotiated another transfer in France, its findings revealed he must overhaul his work practices to avoid falling into the same trap again when signing the agent paperwork.
“Law’s custom and practice at the material time, and which he continues to adopt, is that when he deals with transfers involving multiple agents, he only identifies the principal or lead agent on [Agent Declaration From],” reads the FA document. “This is to misunderstand the level of disclosure that the declaration requires.
“Despite the overhaul of its systems that the club has put in place, further difficulties in compliance are likely to be encountered in the future unless full disclosure is given. This is the root cause of the club’s difficulties in this case, not any conscious decision to conceal or misrepresent.”