Sunderland have launched a £20million legal action against a top law firm in a long-running saga sparked by the botched signing of attacking midfielder Ricardo Alvarez from Inter Milan in 2014.
The Black Cats accuse top legal firm Mishcon de Reya of missing a crucial deadline to file an appeal in the case, which had already seen the club pay both Inter and Alvarez.
The two sides met at the High Court on Friday as they prepare for a hearing which is expected to last a week.
Ricardo Alvarez celebrates after scoring in Sunderland’s 3-1 FA Cup win over Fulham in 2015
Sunderland claim that by allegedly missing the deadline to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which is based in Lausanne, Switzerland, Mishcon denied them the chance to overturn judgments already rendered and recover their money.
By this stage, the club had been ordered to pay Inter Milan nearly £10m and were forced to hand over £5.8m to Alvarez for shortfall following a court hearing at FIFA. The total bill with fees had reached £20million, it is claimed.
In court documents, lawyers for Sunderland said: “The club is seeking damages for the loss of a chance to overturn the findings of a FIFA RDC [Dispute Resolution Chamber] arbitration panel.
“He lost that chance due to Mishcon’s negligence in failing to file the appeal brief in time.”
Sunderland are now asking the court to award damages based on what they believe to be the chances of their appeal succeeding.
Sunderland signed Ricky Alvarez on loan from Inter Milan on a permanent deal
Both parties submitted documents to the court last year. In his submissions, Mishcon said he “understood at that time that the appeal brief had been sent [to CAS].’
ALVAREZ IN SUNDERLAND
Shooting Accuracy: 50%
Chances created: 7
Passing Accuracy: 89%
Duels won: 44%
Red/yellow cards: 0/3
Mishcon claim they are not liable for damages as Sunderland would have lost their appeal even if they had entered in time.
In summary arguments made by Sunderland in court today, the club said: “Mishcon denies that the club lost any such chance as it denies that the club had any real and substantial chance in the appeal of overturn one of FIFA DRC’s findings [Dispute Resolution Chamber].’
The case revolves around what turned out to be a disastrous signing of Argentina international, Alvarez, on transfer deadline day in September 2014 for around £10million when Sunderland were owned by Ellis Short .
In the previous season, Sunderland struggled to finish 14th in the top flight and finished five points above the relegation zone. Alvarez, then 26, had scored 14 goals in 90 appearances for the Serie A side and the hope was that he would knock the Wearsiders down the Premier League table.
Sunderland attempted to send winger Ricky Alvarez back to Inter Milan after the 2014/15 season
The creative midfielder was initially signed, under boss Gus Poyet, on loan until the end of the season, but the move would become permanent if Sunderland remain on their feet.
Alvarez made his muted debut in a 2-2 home draw against Spurs, then suffered a right knee injury on his second appearance, after coming on as a 66th-minute substitute in a draw 0-0 with Swansea on September 27, at the Stadium of Light. . As a result, he only played 13 Premier League games that season.
However, the Black Cats stayed up – by three points – and Inter came to claim their money.
Sunderland claimed Inter balked at a knee surgery Alvarez needed after the Swansea game and said the Italian club breached the agreement.
Former Sunderland manager Gus Poyet hoped Alvarez would spark a rise in the rankings
FIFA then ruled in favor of Inter, but Sunderland appealed to CAS – and lost.
From the start, Alvarez looked well below the Premier League standard at Sunderland and by the end of the season he was unwanted by both clubs and became a free agent, eventually signing for Sampdoria. , where his form did not improve.
But the saga was far from over. The player then filed a complaint with FIFA against Sunderland for loss of earnings and he won the case. It is this decision that Mishcon would not have challenged before the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
What appears to be a particular feature of the case, given that Mishcon was acting for Sunderland in filing an appeal, is that the law firm now claims it had no prospect of success.
Alvarez signed for Sunderland from Inter Milan, where he scored 14 goals in 90 games
“It is denied that the club has lost any real or substantial opportunity to reverse the conclusion of the [world soccer governing body] Fifa [dispute resolution chamber] by the mechanism of his appeal or not at all,” claimed the defense documents seen by Law360.
“If the club’s appeal had been heard, the CAS would nevertheless have condemned it to pay damages to the player.”
Even that wasn’t the end. Sunderland have also lodged a complaint against club doctor Ishtiaq Rehman, who carried out the medical examination of Álvarez. The parties reached a confidential agreement last year.
The case has hit Sunderland hard. The payment to Inter came in 2017, badly damaging the transfer pool available to then-manager David Moyes in an ill-fated season that saw the Black Cats relegated to the Championship.
The following season the club finished bottom of the second tier and fell to Ligue 1, where they remain, currently fifth.
sports mail contacted Mishcon de Reya for comment.