Benitez row over Defoe goes to Premier League

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The Independent Football

Tottenham Hotspur are up in arms after Liverpool's manager, Rafael Benitez, exacerbated the row that broke out between the clubs over the Spaniard's assertion that the London club are desperate to sell Jermain Defoe and use him to tempt Liverpool to part with Djibril Cissé.

Daniel Levy, the Spurs chairman, was livid yesterday when Benitez not only refused to withdraw his original statement but accused Levy of being unprofessional. A Spurs spokesman said: "We have contacted the Premier League and are in discussions on the matter."

Levy had dismissed Benitez's initial comments, saying: "Not only are they completely untrue but it is unprecedented that any manager should comment in this way on another team's player. It could be interpreted as a direct and blatant attempt to unsettle Jermain."

But Benitez was unmoved by Levy's angry words. He retorted: "The problem is that the Tottenham chairman is not professional, but I am professional. If you read in the papers last month you can see who first started talking about Cissé, who started talking about Defoe.

"The problem is I have a good memory and he cannot remem-ber when he talks with agents about these things. But I can remember, and I have talked to agents and they tell me what has been said. He must think about what he said to agents."

Martin Jol, Tottenham's manager, reassured Defoe about his future when the striker arrived for training yesterday in preparation for Tottenham's home match against West Bromwich tomorrow. In a statement issued by Spurs, the Dutchman said: "Why should I have my players upset in this manner? It is unbelievable. It is bad enough when agents talk and spread rumours, but this was totally unnecessary coming from a club. I would never deliberately upset another team's player like this.

"It's also ludicrous to suggest that we are scurrying around trying to sell one of our best players. And I hear there are suggestions that we tried to swap Jermain for Cissé in January and keep trying to - I have never heard such rubbish. Why on earth would we have been interested in letting a striker as good as Jermain go in January when we were actually looking to add another striker?

"If other managers are interested in my players - and let's face it they will be, I have good players and Jermain is one of them - then they know the proper way to go about asking; and we can politely say no. There is a way to do things, and a way not to do things."

Jol pointed out that Defoe, far from being a forgotten man as he bids to secure a place in England's World Cup squad, had been involved in as many matches this season as Robbie Keane, his rival for a place in the Spurs attack. "Jermain has been involved in 30 matches," Jol said. "Robbie Keane has also been involved in 30 matches. As a matter of fact, Jermain has played more minutes than Keane. Jermain has done wonderfully well. I always say if you play more than 25 games at this club you do well and we're happy with you.

"He has scored and made a lot of important goals for us - I have three strikers and they have scored 30 goals between them, and that for me is the important statistic. Not many top teams can match this."

Jol added: "And no disrespect to Cissé, he is a good second striker, but we don't need this type of player now, end of story."

Cissé has struggled to establish himself at Liverpool and the Frenchman did not play in the Merseyside derby yesterday. He has made 46 appearances for Liverpool, half of them from the bench, and has scored 14 goals - five of them in the Premiership.