Tottenham were on the brink of a 6m transfer for Alan Hutton last night that stalled in the final stages after what the club fear is a firm declaration of interest from Manchester United in the Rangers and Scotland right-back. The player was said to be considering his options which, given the earlier certainty, would appear to be bad news for Spurs.
Sir Alex Ferguson is a confirmed admirer of Hutton, 23, a forceful and attacking right-back who has been one of the stars of British football this season for Rangers in the Champions League and Scotland in their failed Euro 2008 qualifying bid. The United manager finds himself short of cover at right-back where Wes Brown has deputised for the injured Gary Neville this season.
Ferguson has other options there, including a potentially audacious move for Bayern Munich's Philipp Lahm who is out of contract in 18 months. The Serbian defender Branislav Ivanovic now appears to be on his way to Chelsea which makes Hutton an ideal replacement for Neville who has said he is finding it hard to break back into the United team.
As a close friend of Rangers' manager Walter Smith, who was briefly Ferguson's assistant at United for three months in 2004, the United manager is well-placed at Rangers, where he once played, to make his own Hutton enquiry. Ferguson was uncharacteristically effusive in his praise of the young Scotsman after the 2-1 defeat to Italy in November. "Hutton was exceptional," Ferguson said. "He has come from nowhere and looks as though he will become a superstar once he gets that extra bit of experience."
Before his career took off this season, Hutton signed a five-year deal at Ibrox in July which has put Rangers in a strong negotiating position. Tottenham's bid for the player shows just how much their sporting director, Damien Comolli, is pulling the strings at Spurs. Hutton is unlikely to have been on the radar of the manager, Juande Ramos, who was keener on Daniel Alves, right-back at his former club, Seville.
Nevertheless, Spurs appear determined to restructure their team with reservations in the club about goalkeeper Paul Robinson, Pascal Chimbonda at right-back and Lee Young-Pyo at left-back.