By now you will have seen the news that Tottenham Hotspur are close to reaching an agreement with Brighton & Hove Albion for the transfer of Malian international midfielder Yves Bissouma. The fee is still being negotiated but is expected to be between £22m and £23m. Unsurprisingly, this has pushed Tottenham into a maelstrom of speeches, due to a shroud of legal ambiguity over a sexual assault allegation that has hung over Bissouma for nearly a year.
We have to talk about that shroud, because it is very important, and silence is death.
I want to start by saying that Yves Bissouma is an excellent footballer, and he would definitely improve Tottenham’s midfield next season. He is a player that I have watched and admired for a couple of seasons now, and if this transfer took place purely in a football context, it would be very exciting. Tottenham Hotspur would be a better performing football club with Bissouma on the pitch.
But that is not the problem here. Bissouma’s current legal status is, to put it mildly, extremely murky, and due to the nature of the incident in which he is involved (a reported case of sexual assault), it is currently impossible for me to comfortably tease out Bissouma in the field. capacity with what has been reported about what happened that night.
I am not an expert on legal issues in the UK. I know that libel laws in the UK are strict, and that is almost certainly why the media has not fully addressed Bissouma’s status. It is also why neither Brighton nor Tottenham have issued any kind of public comment. Being an American and the location of this blog in the United States probably gives me more room to talk about this situation. However, I feel it would be a disservice to speculate on Bissouma’s legal status, what he may or may not have done, or what it potentially means. Speculation does no one any good in this matter.
There is a decent summary of Bissouma’s status on Reddit, with a minimum of editorializing. Very briefly, here’s what we know: In early October 2021, Bissouma was arrested along with another man in his 40s on suspicion of their involvement in a sexual assault incident that took place in a Brighton nightclub. Bissouma was released the next day on bail until November 3. His and the other man’s bail was extended for the next several weeks until early January 2022.
The last relevant update from Sussex Police in April announced that while the man in his 40s had his bail extended further, Bissouma was “released under investigation as investigations continue”. Notably, after a short period after the arrest, Bissouma continued to play football for Brighton & Hove Albion and also in the African Cup of Nations with Mali.
Immediately after the incident, Brighton & Hove Albion made the following statement, to my knowledge the only public statement they have made about the incident:
“Brighton and Hove Albion are aware that one of their players is assisting the police in investigating a suspected crime.
“The matter is subject to legal process and therefore the club is unable to comment further at this time.”
Bissouma was not charged with any crime for what happened in October, but notably, he was not fully cleared of suspicion, and has not yet been. That has put him in a legal gray area where he is (obviously) innocent until proven guilty, but still under a legal cloud that does not eliminate the possibility that he was involved in or committed a crime.
UK libel laws mean that very few actual reports have been made about what happened in October, and what we don’t know could fill a substantially larger volume than what we actually do know. There are rumors. You probably know some of them. They should not be taken into account in our considerations on this subject. Because of this ambiguity, I deliberately try not to draw any conclusions other than what has been reported by the police and the media. It is this very ambiguity that is at the heart of the problem for me, and why at this point I would be deeply uncomfortable with Tottenham Hotspur proceeding with this signing.
I would like to believe that Tottenham know what they are doing here. I want to assume that club officials have access to information, including confidential information, that is not available to the general public, and that Spurs are making a transfer decision with sufficient knowledge to make an informed decision about Bissouma’s legal status and what it means to him. to continue playing football. I want to believe that Tottenham, who have shown their support for marginalized fan groups and good causes in the past, have done their due diligence here and that, as fans, we can assume the best about what this signing means for the club.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure this is the case.
The truth is, we just don’t know. And when it comes to incidents of sexual assault involving a current, past or future member of Tottenham Hotspur, not knowing and assuming the best is not enough.
Tottenham are likely to be severely restricted in what they can and cannot say about Yves Bissouma, both what happened to him and what could be in his future. They may very well not be able to issue a public statement at this time about what it means. But if they CAN do it, the club must address the supporters quickly enough to ensure they know what they are doing. And if they can NOT do it, then the club have no reason to try to sign Bissouma and should look elsewhere for a midfield reinforcement.
Other clubs clearly have different priorities and comfort levels with this sort of thing. Manchester United, in particular, signed Cristiano Ronaldo in 2021 when he was credibly accused of rape in the United States, and has played for more than a season under that cloud; the lawsuit against him was recently dismissed by a magistrate not because Ronaldo was found not guilty, but because his accuser’s lawyers committed criminal acts. But Ronaldo’s status as an accused sexual predator clearly did not bother Manchester United at the time. I expect much better than that from the Spurs.
I want to be perfectly clear here about where I stand. I don’t assume that Bissouma has done anything wrong. He may not have! Should more information come to light that provides further clarification that further exonerates him or explains his situation more fully, something that is highly unlikely to happen at this time, then I would be extremely pleased with Bissouma’s signing and very relieved that he has acquitted of misconduct, because he is a great footballer.
But that’s not the issue here, and until we know for sure, Tottenham are in a position where they are potentially signing a player who is still under the veil of an ongoing sexual assault investigation. Fans cannot, and should not, give the club the benefit of the doubt in these circumstances. Think about what it means to Tottenham fans, or football fans in general, who are survivors of sexual assault and see a player still under suspicion of that crime join their club. Should we expect those supporters to be supposed to remain silent? Why should they assume the club is doing the right thing when they give us no reason to?
If this signing goes through, Tottenham have a responsibility to reassure supporters that they are making a decision that is in the best interest of the club. It is YOUR responsibility to do so. It is NOT the responsibility of the followers to assume the best. If they are committed to signing Yves Bissouma, they need to find a way to convince Spurs fans like me as soon as possible, and through some kind of official or trusted channel. “Innocent until proven guilty” in this case is simply not enough.
And to be even clearer, if the club gives guarantees to the supporters about Bissouma’s condition and if the preponderance of the evidence confirms it, then I’ll be over the moon. I want to be able to enjoy watching Bissouma play without wondering if he has done something wrong, because football is more than seeing the players on the pitch. If Spurs are truly committed to being a club for all, then all of their transfer moves must be made under a strict scrutiny system.
There are plenty of good, available midfielders that Tottenham Hotspur could sign this summer. Signing Bissouma in the circumstances as we now understand them is a CHOICE, but until further information is communicated I am in the unenviable position of not supporting this signing, or Tottenham’s decision-making as part of the process. There is no place on this team for sexual predators, and even the slightest chance that Spurs could sign one is abhorrent to me, and should be to all fans. Tottenham needs to explain or leave.