Sir Alex Ferguson has accused Tottenham Hotspur of manipulating the transfer market to avoid paying Manchester United compensation for their former 20-year-old left-back Zeki Fryers.
Ferguson suspects that Tottenham deliberately encouraged Fryers to move from Manchester United to Standard Liège in the summer so they could buy him back from the Belgian club in January and save themselves anything up to £6 million in compensation. Tottenham, who yesterday agreed a deal with Schalke to sign the Germany Under-21 captain, Lewis Holtby in July, rejected Ferguson's accusations.
"I am disappointed in Tottenham, I really am," said Ferguson. "I think it has been a blatant manipulation of the system. They tried to buy him from us at the end of last season but we couldn't agree terms.
"Then, they had him on trial and took him to Portugal with the Tottenham squad but, when they came back, they said they couldn't afford him. All of a sudden, he signed for Standard Liège and, from the moment I heard that, I expected him to go to Tottenham."
In the summer United had been prepared to do a deal with Spurs, who would have had to pay a significant compensation fee, even though Fryers was out of contract because he was under 23. The compensation Standard paid United for Fryers is determined by a different formula to the one calculated by the Professional Footballers' Association in England – and would have been considerably less.
In 2009, Chelsea were ordered to pay £3.5m when Daniel Sturridge moved to Stamford Bridge from Manchester City. They will also have to give City £1.8m or 15 per cent of the £12m fee for Sturridge they have just agreed with Liverpool. Standard will only have to pay United five per cent of the fee, believed to be less than £1m, they receive from Tottenham.
Ferguson called upon the Premier League to block Fryers' registration until the matter is settled and demanded that evidence, including mobile phone records, be examined. Tottenham argued that Fryers, who was born and brought up in Manchester, could not settle in Belgium. "The Premier League should look into it and I think they should stop his registration until they examine it."
A Tottenham spokesman said: "Zeki chose to go to Standard Liège who paid compensation to Manchester United. Zeki enjoyed his time in Liège. However, when they sacked their manager [Ron Jans] in November, Zeki was not part of the new manager's plans.
"Unfortunately, a combination of this and the fact that he had become homesick, meant he wanted to return to England. His representatives made contact with clubs in England and this afforded us a second opportunity to sign the player."
There will be fewer complications over Holtby's arrival. The deal with Schalke was sealed in a meeting with his agent, Marcus Noack, in Qatar, where the German club is spending the Bundesliga's winter break.
The midfielder, who has an English father, had been offered terms by Liverpool, Internazionale and Valencia, while Arsenal were also very interested. Although Holtby was out of contract in the summer, Schalke had offered him a new deal worth €3m (£2.43m) a year. However, Tottenham comfortably bettered that offer by around 50 per cent and, according to reports in Germany, included a signing-on fee of €615,000 (£530,000).
Manager thinks Ferdinand will stay at United
Alex Ferguson is confident Rio Ferdinand will not be lured abroad with a pre-contract. Ferdinand is out of contract in the summer and has been able to negotiate terms with foreign clubs since 1 January.
But Ferguson said: "I don't think the contract issue comes into it at all and it wouldn't have had – even if he had another three years – we would still be negotiating a deal as best we can. I don't think Rio wants to leave – I don't think we are panicking about that. We are comfortable with that."
The Manchester City fan who ran on the pitch to confront Ferdinand in the derby last month has been from football matches for three years.