Sunderland drop £13m legal claim against former Head of Medical

Ricardo Alvarez (left) and Ishtiaq Rehman

Ricardo Alvarez (left) and Ishtiaq Rehman

SUNDERLAND have dropped their £13m legal case against former Head of Medical Services and club doctor Ishtiaq Rehman, thus drawing a line under a costly saga that has gone on for four years.

In turn, Rehman has withdrawn counter-claims against former club physio David Binningsley and doctor David Gough.

Sunderland's claim was for breach of contract and negligence and centred around the signing of Argentine midfielder Ricardo Alvarez, or rather his medical, in September 2014. The Black Cats claimed that Rehman, who was in post from July 2013 to December 2016, had not overseen the medical “appropriately, or acted with best practice”.

The player was loaned from Inter Milan with an agreement that he would sign permanently if the club remained in the Premier League. This they did, meaning a €10.5m transfer was triggered, but Sunderland claimed that the requirement to sign the player permanently had been invalidated by an exemption clause and a delay in treating an injury to his right knee in September 2014 (you can read more about this in the section below).

However, the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in favour of Inter, meaning Sunderland had to pay the Italian side £9m plus more than £300,000 in interest. In separate cases they had to pay his former club Velez Sarsfield €362,500 and Alvarez £4.77m for loss of earnings.

The club's legal action against Rehman was for breach of contract and negligence, which he disputed. A preliminary hearing was held last September, with a full trial due to be held in London in late 2021.

However, Sunderland have now decided to withdraw the claim, with Rehman withdrawing his counter-claims.

Rehman, who has worked for the Football Association and Armed Forces since 2016, sent a statement to TGG reading: “Following recent discussions between SAFC representatives, Dr Rehman and the SAFC employed medical staff involved on the evening of Ricardo Alvarez’s medical of 30 August 2014, SAFC has decided to retract its claim for negligence as against Dr Rehman, the Club Doctor at the time, and considers him to be exonerated in this matter, and Dr Rehman has withdrawn his claims against Dr David Gough and David Binningsley.

“This will allow Dr Rehman and his former colleagues to continue in their valued careers, and permit the Club to focus on pursuing continued success on the pitch, under the stewardship of Kyril Louis-Dreyfus.

Rehman’s lawyers had said that if he was “found liable” he would seek an “indemnity or contribution” from Binningsley, who now works for Manchester United, “and/or Dr Gough”, who “actually carried out the pre-signing medical assessment”.

These claims have also been withdrawn, during a line under the saga.

The case

Alvarez was signed from Inter Milan in September 2014 on loan with an agreement to sign him permanently should the club remain in the Premier League.

This they did, triggering a permanent €10.5m deal. However, Sunderland argued that the clause was in fact invalid, because of a dispute with Inter over the player’s fitness.

Alvarez suffered an injury to his right knee during a goalless draw with Swansea in September 2014, meaning he made only 13 league appearances that season. Sunderland approached Inter to get approval for the player to have remedial surgery, but the Italian side refused, and in March 2015 orthopaedic knee specialist Andy Williams said there were concerns about whether Alvarez could even continue to play football at the highest level.

Sunderland said the requirement to sign Alvarez permanently had been invalidated for two reasons: 1. an “exemption clause” relating to the player's left knee. Even though it was his right knee that was injured, Sunderland argued this had been accelerated by left knee Tendinopathy and a previous micro surgical repair in the right knee, which had not been initially disclosed by Inter. 2. Inter refusing to allow Alvarez to undergo surgery in March 2015.

However, the Court of Arbitration for Sport dismissed these arguments and ruled that the Wearsiders must pay Inter £9m plus more than £300,000 in interest in July 2017. In a separate claim, the Black Cats were ordered to pay Velez Sarsfield, the Argentinian side where Alvarez began his senior career, €362,500.

Alvarez also successfully sued the club for loss of pay and was awarded £4.77m by the Court of Arbitration for Sport this January.

In the case against Rehman, Sunderland were asking for £13m in damages plus interest and costs for breach of contract and negligence. They claimed that the practitioner had not attended the player’s medical because he was with the first team preparing for their Premier League game at QPR on August 30th, instead delegating the examination to four specialists, including a consultant with expertise in knee injuries.

Although concerns were raised about Alvarez’s knees during the medical, Sunderland said Rehman had emailed CEO Margaret Byrne and Sporting Director Lee Congerton to say it was “not of any concern”.

The club argued that Rehman had not passed on the true significance of risk to Alvarez’s right knee, nor the fact that the risk was greater to his right knee than his left.

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