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Fulham ready for court battle over £11.5m Marlet fee

Fulham are investigating a number of transfer deals involving players they have bought from French clubs in the wake of the controversy over the signing of Steve Marlet.

The dispute over the £11.5m transfer of Marlet from Olympique Lyon to the west London club in August 2001 is likely to end up in court. Fulham are refusing to pay more than £500,000 which, it is claimed, they owe to two agents involved in the deal and want to recover a further £500,000. Both sides are now threatening to sue each other. Fulham are also set to withhold £2m owed to Lyon and are questioning the transfer fee.

The Cottagers believe the agents, BMB Conseils, run by the brothers Sébastien and Pascal Boisseau, may have acted for both clubs in brokering the deal. This would be a clear violation of Uefa regulations, they say.

The row is likely to put a strain on relations between Tigana and the Fulham chairman, Mohamed Al Fayed. The future of the former French international is in doubt as his three-year contract with Fulham ends in the summer. There is an option on both sides for a further two years but, so far, this has not been exercised.

It is understood that Al Fayed believes he has seen a poor return for the £50m he has invested in players at Fulham, with Marlet, in particular, failing to make an impact in the Premiership. There was some surprise in France at the size of the fee as the 28-year-old striker is not an established international.

Other players bought from France include the Moroccan defender Abdeslam Ouaddou, for £2.2m from Marseilles, Sylvain Legwinski (£3.3m from Bordeaux), and Steed Malbranque (£5m also from Lyon).

Fulham have been at pains to stress that they do not believed Tigana is guilty of any wrongdoing, although there are question marks over his judgement. While they are examining the other deals, it is only the Marlet transfer that has caused concern.

Yesterday, prior to tonight's crucial Uefa Cup third round second leg against Hertha Berlin at Loftus Road, Tigana spoke of his anger over the affair and insisted it was damaging his "honour". "I'm a right man and don't like these allegations against me," he said. "I have a big, very strict reputation in France and can speak to clubs like Bordeaux, Monaco and Lyon."

Fulham have not contacted the Football Association's Compliance Unit, which investigates the probity of transfer deals. However, they did employ a lawyer to examine the Marlet transfer and he, it is claimed, said they would have a case if they wanted to contact the FA.

One of the agent's involved in the deal, Pascal Boisseau, said last night that he and his brother had started legal proceedings. "We have been paid one part of our fee and not the other, so we're taking the club to court. We're also going to go to the FA," he said.

Elsewhere, the Sunderland manager Howard Wilkinson has moved to dispel fears that Kevin Phillips is about to quit the Wearside club.

The 29-year-old England international made a gesture as he left the pitch after being substituted during Monday's 3-0 home defeat to Manchester City which had been seen by some as a parting shot. But Wilkinson said yesterday that Phillips saw him immediately after the game to explain his actions.

"Kevin came to see me and said it was just a shrug of disappointment and said he wished he had not done it," Wilkinson said. "He said it was directed at his wife in the stand and that he was just showing his disappointment at the way the game had gone. We spoke about it after the game and again in training and he said what he said. That is it."