Manchester City's search for an emergency goalkeeper ended last night when Sunderland 's Marton Fulop arrived in the north-west, though the club were left frustrated by the impediments to Joe Hart rejoining them which were raised both by the Premier League and Birmingham City.
Hart was keen to return early to City, who had loaned him to Birmingham for the season, but the Midlands side's financial demands for releasing him – which are understood to have included a £500,000 payment if City secured a top-four finish in the Premier League and a contribution subsidising Birmingham reducing season ticket prices if they dropped from their current ninth spot in the table – could have seen City paying out up to £2m for a player who is on their own books. For their part, Birmingham stand to lose up to £3m in prize money by slipping down the table in the last two weeks of the season.
It is to City's constant frustration that clubs they do business with charge over the odds because of their wealth. The fact that they agreed last summer to waive the loan fee for Hart if Birmingham had been relegated back to the Championship this season had led them to believe negotiations would be comfortable. City are still owed that money, which amounts to several hundred thousands pounds.
After several hours of frustrating talks with senior officials at St Andrew's, City appeared to be getting close to a breakthrough, only to discover yesterday afternoon that the Premier League were unwilling to sanction the early return of Hart in any case. City felt that the League were perfectly aware of their interest in bringing back Hart and were surprised to hear there would be an impediment to a deal. City's frustrations with the League were made clear in a statement last night. "The club, with the backing of the Premier League, have been in contact throughout the day with both Birmingham City and Sunderland with regards to bringing either Joe Hart or Marton Fulop to the team on an emergency basis," City said.
But the League felt uneasy about the idea of a goalkeeper who has been playing regular first-team football making a return, with the effect that may have on the integrity of the competition and the legal problems it may cause if another club were hit financially by City prospering because of Hart.
Sources at the League have indicated that the League's board believes that it would be "against the spirit" of the emergency goalkeeper loan system for City to be able to sign a top goalkeeper even if – as in Hart's case – he is already their player.
The emergency loan rule which is paragraph 7.6.2, section M of the Premier League rule book states that an emergency loan of a goalkeeper is at the "absolute discretion" of the Premier League board which "may allow [it] in circumstances it considers to be exceptional".
Hart is understood to be disappointed that he will not have the chance to play in three high-profile games against Aston Villa, Tottenham and West Ham in place of Shay Given, who undergoes surgery on his damaged shoulder in London today and faces four months on the sidelines. The Birmingham manager, Alex McLeish, who was aware of Hart's desire to compete for a place in Fabio Capello's World Cup squad, is understood to have softened in his stance on the issue.
Now City can only hope that Fulop, who will join them in training today, can deliver. The Hungarian has played 14 games for Sunderland this season but Craig Gordon and Trevor Carson are now ahead of him in the pecking order at the club. Fulop who was once Paul Robinson's understudy at Tottenham, has also had loan spells with Chesterfield, Coventry, Leicester and Stoke.Reuse content