Football agent courtroom drama gives fans a peek behind the curtain of super-rich

Saif Alrubie – Football agent courtroom drama gives fans a peak behind the curtain of super rich
Saif Alrubie has been acquitted of sending an intimidating email message to Marina Granovskaia - PA/Jordan Pettitt

Southwark Crown Court, with its bare-plaster walls, threadbare carpets and resident mice, is a world away from the private members’ clubs, exclusive restaurants and overseas hideaways where football’s biggest names are used to doing their talking.

And yet it was in the cramped Court 10, where the ‘t’ is missing from the sign over the door, that former Chelsea director Marina Granovskaia gave her testimony, football agent Saif Alrubie decided attack was the best form of defence and Barry Silkman, with jet-black hair that looked suspiciously like it was from a bottle, produced a crowd-pleasing cameo.

The drama did not only revolve around those who were inside the court, as Kia Joorabchian, the closest thing to a bona-fide ‘super agent’, left the prosecution in the lurch by boarding a private jet to America the night before he was due to appear as a witness.

In his closing address, defence barrister Matthew Radstone turned to the jury and said: “It is beyond belief that you have witnessed this at Southwark Crown Court, that someone has got on a private jet and flown to the United States at the time he is due to give evidence.”

Kia Joorabchian – Football agent courtroom drama gives fans a peak behind the curtain of super rich

Members of the public and journalists could wander in and out of court as they pleased during the trial of Alrubie for sending an alleged threatening email to Granovskaia. They heard how former Chelsea defender Kurt Zouma had been paid £4.1 million simply for having to join West Ham United and how Alrubie compared his arrest to that of infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar, when he had apparently been trying to return to London to watch the Queen’s funeral on television.

The jury were told that, in his interview with police, Alrubie had said: “For me to get arrested off a plane like I’m Pablo Escobar, having had 24 hours of no sleep, to be slung in a jail cell for five hours, I’m not very happy about it…if I was avoiding, if I was even dodging, would I be coming on a plane trying to get back to London to see the Queen’s funeral with my mum and dad?”

By the end of the trial, Alrubie had managed to name-check Escobar, Roman Abramovich and Vladimir Putin. Not quite the perfect hat-trick.

On the same day the jury heard he had compared himself to a monarchist Escobar, Alrubie later told his defence barrister: “I’m sending an email to a woman who is the right hand of Roman Abramovich, one of the biggest Russian businessmen in the world. I’m only Saif Alrubie…I’m a small agent.

“I don’t think I would be stupid enough to be threatening anybody let alone somebody with the might of Roman Abramovich (behind them). That would just be me on a suicide mission. I’m not that stupid.”

For anybody not familiar with Abramovich, Alrubie, on day four at court, took another swing at what he must have thought was an open goal and said: “He is a close ally of Vladimir Putin, sanctioned by the UK government.”

The reference to Putin was described to the jury as “cartoonish” by prosecutor Arizuna Asante during his closing address.

Simply listening to Granovskaia’s voice would have been a novel experience for most of Chelsea’s supporters around the world, who had never heard her speak in over a decade at Stamford Bridge.

Marina Granovskaia – Football agent courtroom drama gives fans a peak behind the curtain of super rich
Former Chelsea director Marina Granovskaia told the court how she felt 'physically threatened' following an email from Saif Alrubie - PA/Jordan Pettitt

The jury were not only part of an audience with someone who had been one of the most private figures in football, but also received printed copies of some of her WhatsApp and email messages.

Granovskaia’s time in the witness box lasted five hours, including three breaks. She told the jury that Chelsea’s current owners had put her on gardening leave from June 2022 until the end of that summer’s transfer window, when she officially departed, and still referred to the club as “me, us and our.”

When Granovskaia was asked in court how she felt when she had received Alrubie’s email, the woman who was so often cast as football’s ‘iron-lady’ said: “Very uncomfortable would be an understatement. I felt physically threatened.”

Apologising to the court with a smile when her telephone buzzed inside her handbag, there was no attempt from Granovskaia to downplay her history with former Chelsea owner Abramovich, despite the fact she must have known it would be seized on by the defence.

Granovskaia described how she moved from Moscow to London in 2004 after Abramovich bought Chelsea and started working in personal asset management and “back office administration” at Stamford Bridge. Going “from commercial and catering to at some point matchday activity then player transfers and player activity.”

It was in 2012 that Granovskaia said it “made sense” to give her the official position of director in charge of football. “Pretty much everything to do with football I was in charge of,” she explained. “Everyone to do with football reported to me, including medical, and I was responsible for the majority of player contracts, buying players and selling players.”

Alrubie later told the court that Granovskaia liked to spend her summers in the South of France. He shared a picture of him with her and Antonio Rudiger’s agent Sahr Senesie, which was taken in 2017 at the exclusive Cap-Eden-Roc hotel – described as a ‘movie-star retreat’ in a review by the Telegraph.

Silkman, a Ric Flair figure of the football-agent world, was only missing the WWE wrestling walk-on music when he strode into Court 10 with a huge grin on his face to give evidence as a witness.

The former Manchester City footballer known as ‘Silks’ – a prominent figure in the normally secretive business of football’s dealmaking for the last 30 years – was coming face to face with the more conventionally educated silks of the courtroom.

In front of judge David Tomlinson, the court heard how Silkman avoids conversations with West Ham United vice-chairman Karren Brady. Silkman also joked that fans inside the London Stadium, the spacious former Olympic venue, need binoculars to see the action from the stands.

Only an intervention from judge Tomlinson stopped ‘agent Silks’ revealing West Ham’s precise wage bill and talking himself into even more potential trouble with Baroness Brady.

The judge looked less impressed with Alrubie during his cross-examination by prosecutor Asante, whose tactics, in football terms, seemed to be to allow the defendant to have the ball and see whether or not he would run into trouble.

Alrubie raced straight on to the attack, attempting to ask his own questions of Mr Asante, telling the prosecutor to “keep it relevant” more than once and eventually prompting judge Tomlinson to shout “Stop, stop, stop” and warn him to stop being so “confrontational.”

When Alrubie excused Mr Asante’s ‘French’ after an excerpt from his interview with police, in which the defendant described himself as being ‘f----- off’, was quoted, the prosecutor quickly fired back with: “More your French than mine.”

In his closing address, Mr Asante said: “Mr Alrubie seems quite pleasant and accommodating until he believes you disagree with his point of view or his belief that you owe him money. He becomes insulting, threatening and aggressive.”

Mr Radstone countered by telling the jury: “Whether you like him or not, or the way he has conducted himself, this is not a court of morals.”

There were tears from Alrubie, as he left the dock, and family and friends in the public gallery after the jury read out their ‘not guilty’ verdict at just before 1pm on day six of the trial.

But with Alrubie last week telling the jury he would pursue a civil case against Granovskaia, this might not have been the last time we see them in court.

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