By Chris Wright
No doubt you’ve heard by now that Sunderland have been fined for fielding an illegible player back at the start of the season, with Ji Dong-Won playing five times for the Black Cats despite not actually being internationally cleared to do so.
Ji, who has since moved to Augsburg on loan for the rest of the season ahead of an already agreed summer transfer to Borussia Dortmund, played in four Premier League ties (three defeats and a draw) and one Carling Cup game for Sunderland back in October – though the club were later fined by the Premier League after it came to light an administrative error meant the South Korean striker didn’t have the necessary paperwork to play.
It later turned out that, although Ji was registered with the Premier League and included as part of Sunderland’s 25-man squad, the Black Cats had failed to transfer his international clearance back to the club after the forward returned from his first loan spell at Augsburg the previous season.
Now, while we accept that is was Paolo Di Canio in charge for the first four of Ji’s appearances, with caretaker Kevin Ball overseeing the fifth following the Italian’s sacking, we can’t help but be reminded of incumbent Sunderland boss Gus Poyet’s little sabre-rattling rant about the moral issues raised by the fielding of ineligible players while manager of Brighton several years back.
Poyet’s Brighton were beaten 2-0 by Hartlepool in League One in April of 2010 only for it later to emerge that Pools had included Gary Liddle in their starting XI – a player who was supposed to serving a two-match suspension at the time after receiving his tenth booking of the season two days prior against Leyton Orient.
However, Liddle’s ban wasn’t processed over the intervening Bank Holiday weekend and the midfielder started the game against Brighton believing himself to be perfectly eligible having not heard otherwise from the relevant authorities.
The Football League then realised the mistake the following day and deducted the three points from Hartlepool’s total as well as fining the club £3,500, though it wasn’t enough to satisfy Poyet, who made a merry little to-do of the whole thing in an interview published on Brighton’s official site – demanding that the Football League award the three points to his side instead as anything else would be fundamentally “unfair”.
After brief deliberation, the Football League then announced that Brighton would not be awarded the points on the basis that they actually lost the game – only for Poyet to describe the decision as “totally wrong”, claiming that it left the integrity of English football “open to ridicule”.
Poyet’s rant in full:
“Had it happened in Spain, Italy or France or any other league in the world we would have automatically awarded the game either 2-0 or 3-0, with no need for a decision from the league.
“Here in England we have to wait for a decision. Then, when that decision comes it is one which leaves the game in this country open to ridicule. In my opinion this is totally wrong.
“The points mean nothing to us, we are safe, we can not be promoted, we don’t need the points.
“It is a matter of principle and for the sake of integrity of the Premiership, Football League or even the Football Conference or lower.
“We must bring our rules in line with others, as one day it may have severe consequences on a club when another fails to play to the rules.
“For example, were Wigan to beat Chelsea on Sunday and Manchester United win the Premiership, and then after the game it emerged that Wigan had fielded an ineligible player in the game, would Chelsea accept that? No way.
“I feel the rulebook is wrong and urgently needs updating to bring the English game in line with the rest of the world.”
Hmmm. We await Gus’ Friday press conference with baited ears.