Former Liverpool team-mates in legal fight over training ground incident in 2015

-Credit: (Image: John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
-Credit: (Image: John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

A former Liverpool FC youth star is suing for more than £200,000 claiming a teammate deliberately injured him to prevent him making the first team.

Daniel Cleary was a 19-year-old defender when he says he was flattened by a dangerous "over the top, studs up" tackle by fellow youth teamer Tom Brewitt in 2015.

Both had been hoping to make their first team debuts for Jurgen Klopp's side in an upcoming FA Cup game during an injury crisis and Mr Cleary says his former pal deliberately tried to put him out of the game.

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In a 2020 podcast, Mr Brewitt spoke of "trying to hurt him enough so that he was out of the way and I would play," saying it was "me or him" for a place in the first team.

Neither went on to play a competitive match for Liverpool FC and Mr Cleary is now suing the club and his former teammate over the loss of a top-level career.

Now playing in the Irish league, he is claiming more than £200,000 damages from the club and fellow defender Mr Brewitt, who was recently released by League Two Swindon Town.

However, both the club and player deny liability at the High Court, with Liverpool insisting that their players are taught to play to the rules. Meanwhile, Brewitt's lawyers, DAC Beachcroft, denied that the later podcast was an admission he deliberately tried to hurt Cleary and take him out the game.

According to claim documents, the Premier League club had been facing a serious injury crisis in defence ahead of the cup game with Exeter City at the time of the disputed tackle in December 2015.

Both wanted to play, but Mr Cleary's barrister Satinder Hunjan KC said he was "confident" of being selected because he had already played in a pre-season friendly and made the bench for a Europa League match.

But it is alleged his chances were scuppered by the "over the ball" challenge he was subjected to by teammate Mr Brewitt during a seven-on-seven training game.

"During the game, Mr Cleary and Mr Brewitt were chasing down the ball from opposite sides of the pitch," says the KC in the particulars of claim.

"Mr Cleary reached the ball first. As he reached the ball, Mr Brewitt made a high 'over the ball' tackle of Mr Cleary."

He says Mr Cleary tried to dodge the tackle, but Mr Brewitt's foot landed "studs up" on his left shin.

"He felt a shooting pain down his left shin. He fell to the ground. He could not put any weight on his left leg and the lower part of his left leg felt numb.

"He thought, at the time, that Mr Brewitt had broken his leg."

Mr Cleary was left with a large gash and significant swelling, he says, and he was unavailable for selection for the FA Cup match 12 days later.

Instead, another youth player Joe Maguire made his debut, with Mr Brewitt leaving Liverpool without making a competitive appearance for the side.

Following the tackle, Mr Cleary was left with continued hypersensitivity and fear of sustaining a direct injury to the left leg, his lawyer says.

The injury resulted in an altered running gait, leading to further injuries and depression, which have restricted his career, he claims.

After leaving Liverpool, he signed for Birmingham City, before playing for Scottish club St Johnstone and Irish sides Dundalk FC and Shamrock Rovers.

"The injuries which he has suffered have impacted upon his ability to fully play at the elite level of football and their impact is likely to remain for the remainder of his professional football career," says his barrister.

Mr Hunjan says Mr Cleary launched his damages claim after learning of his former teammate's account of the tackle on the Football Journeys Podcast.

On the podcast, Mr Brewitt spoke of the injury crisis before the Exeter City match and how in his head "it was me or Dan Cleary" who would play.

"I took the decision that it was me or him, so I went after him in training," Mr Brewitt said in the podcast.

"Before Christmas and the time between Christmas and new year, I put myself next to him in possession games and games and I just kicked him.

“I wasn't trying to hurt him badly, but I was trying to hurt him enough so that he was out of the way and I would play.

"I did it on purpose. I'm not incredibly proud of it and I'm not ashamed of it either. Because in my head it was me or him and I was choosing me.

"He was on crutches for the next weeks and it was sort of like... not mission accomplished, I didn't really want to hurt him, I just needed him out of the way for this game.”

Mr Cleary is alleging negligence and assault and battery against his former teammate, as well as blaming the club for not protecting him.

For the club, barrister Pippa Manby accepted it is vicariously liable for Mr Brewitt's actions, but denied that there was anything wrong with the challenge.

"The challenge was a 50/50 challenge with Mr Cleary and Mr Brewitt both going in equally hard to get possession of the ball," she says in its defence.

"It is admitted that Mr Brewitt's foot made contact with Mr Cleary's shin.

"Mr Brewitt was not sent off or otherwise reprimanded for the challenge. Accordingly it was not considered particularly serious or egregious and/or deliberate by those refereeing and overseeing the training match."

Lawyers for Mr Brewitt, also denied he was to blame for the injury, which they say happened during an "intense and physical" training session.

"Both were a few yards from the ball and both moved towards the ball with considerable speed," they say in his written defence.

"As Mr Brewitt and Mr Cleary both reached the ball, Mr Brewitt's right foot rolled over the top of the ball and made contact with Mr Cleary's leg.

"The contact between Mr Brewitt’s boot and Mr Cleary’s leg was accidental and something that occurs without intention or negligence during competitive football matches and training matches."

Both the club and Mr Brewitt also deny that the injury led to any real impact on Mr Cleary, who was back training again two weeks later.

For the club, Ms Manby says it was unlikely he would have played in the FA Cup game anyway as Joe Maguire was considered better and a senior player was recalled from a loan to take part.

"The claimant had always been considered as a player who was not on course for a first team place at the [club] and who would need to leave the club in order to play first team football," she adds.

The case recently reached court for a brief preliminary hearing ahead of a full trial of Mr Cleary's claim at a later date.