Jonathan Barnett was declared a “prime mover” in fixing the infamous meeting between the England defender and Chelsea.
It is the first time an agent has had his licence suspended in connection with illegal approaches for players. The Football Association hopes the tough sentence will act as a deterrent to others.
Barnett’s ban is for 18 months from October 16, with the second nine months suspended on the condition he does not breach any other FA rules.
The punishments were imposed by an independently-chaired FA disciplinary commission for two misconduct charges relating to Cole’s meeting with Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho and chief executive Peter Kenyon in London’s Royal Park Hotel in January 2005.
Chelsea, Cole and Mourinho were all fined by the Premier League last year — and the full-back finally moved from Arsenal to Stamford Bridge last month after a protracted transfer saga.
Barnett’s suspension effectively prohibits him from being involved in any transfer or renegotiation of a contract for a player. The FA has also made jurisdiction over his involvement in the negotiation of commercial contracts such as football boot deals.
Israeli “super-agent” Pini Zahavi, who acts for Chelsea in many transfers, was also at the meeting — but the FA has no jurisdiction over him.
The level of the punishment is consistent with those handed down to the others involved.
In June 2005, Cole was fined £100,000 for his role in the illegal meeting, later reduced to £75,000 on appeal; Mourinho was fined £200,000, reduced to £75,000 on appeal. Chelsea were fined £300,000 and hit with a suspended three-point penalty to be imposed if the club was found guilty of tapping up any contracted player during the following season.
Cole embarked on a series of unsuccessful legal challenges, including via the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne and the Office of Fair Trading — claiming restraint of trade. Once all these courses of action were exhausted in April this year, the FA announced charges against Barnett.
The agent denied the charges and hired barrister David Pannick QC to represent him. But the commission found two misconduct charges against him proved — that he procured a breach of Premier League rule K5 by Cole regarding illegal approaches and that he was guilty of failing to respect the rights of a third party, namely Arsenal.
Barnett has 14 days in which to appeal, but that is likely only to lead to a possible reduction in the punishment.
The FA hopes this will prove something of a test case. Another agent, Carl Dunn, was fined £1,500 and given a suspended three-month suspension last year for faxing clubs about one of his clients without informing the player’s current side.