Spurs anger after Benitez claims they want to sell Defoe

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The Independent Football

Daniel Levy, the Tottenham Hotspur chairman, delivered an indignant response to claims from Rafael Benitez that he was "desperate to sell" Jermain Defoe, last night accusing the Liverpool manager of making an unscrupulous attempt to lure the England international to Anfield.

A day of claim and counter-claim began with Benitez declaring that Levy was keen to unsettle the Liverpool striker Djibril Cissé in order to facilitate the disillusioned Defoe's exit from White Hart Lane. Barely a week goes by without the French international being linked with a move away from Merseyside. His manager professes to be content with the £14m striker he was saddled with by his predecessor, Gérard Houllier, but a recent confession by Ranko Stoijic, Cissé's agent, that Tottenham wanted to sign the player in January and will rekindle their interest this summer, prompted an aggressive change in tone from the Spaniard yesterday.

"I keep reading a lot of things about Cissé," Benitez said; "Their chairman is always talking. One week it is [Louis] Saha coming and Defoe going to Manchester United and then it is Cissé going and Defoe coming here. They are always talking about players at other clubs. Why? Because we know they are desperate to sell Defoe. I know.

"But they should only talk about their own players. They are desperate to do something [about Defoe] but I am happy with my squad at the moment."

That provoked an immediate denial from Levy, who insisted Benitez's unusual decision to reveal the inner politics of a rival Premiership club was merely an attempt to unsettle Defoe. "I find the reported comments by Rafael Benitez beyond belief," Levy said. "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, in fact, be interpreted as a direct and blatant attempt to unsettle Jermain. We have not had a single conversation on this point with Liverpool or any other club so I fail to see how he can make this statement."

Levy added: "We have absolutely no intention of making an offer for Cissé. I should expect that Mr Benitez on reflection, withdraws his wholly inappropriate, unprofessional and inaccurate comments. They do him no credit."

Tottenham's argument has credibility in that Benitez would consider a move for the 23-year-old, who has seen his World Cup prospects deteriorate this season having fallen behind the Egyptian striker Mido and the Republic of Ireland captain Robbie Keane in the Spurs attack, though only if he was available at a similar price to the £7m paid to West Ham for his services in February 2004.

Benitez, however, views Stoijic's intervention as an attempt to weaken Liverpool's position in any future negotiations and, despite claims to the contrary, does hope to recoup some of the club's outlay on Cissé this summer.

However, the striker, who was signed from Auxerre in 2004, said last night: "Part of my motivation is to prove to the manager that I should still be here. I am someone who likes a challenge, needs a challenge.

"Every time the transfer window has been open I have read 'Cissé will leave, Cissé will leave'," he added, "but I am still here. I have three more years on my contract and at the moment I am still here."