Tottenham Hotspur have told Dimitar Berbatov that he is running the risk of "rotting in the reserves" for a season unless Manchester United pay the transfer fee being demanded for the striker.
The stark warning was delivered yesterday to Berbatov and his agent, Emil Dantchev, by the club, who are adamant that the minimum transfer fee they will accept for the 27-year-old is £30m. Spurs say they will not budge on that figure.
If United refuse to pay the fee, then Spurs insist they will not sell and Berbatov will remain their player, even though he has handed in a transfer request and spoken openly about his "dream" of moving to Old Trafford. If he then continues to be disruptive, he will be consigned to the reserves for the rest of the campaign. Before Saturday's Premier League match against Sunderland Berbatov claimed he was not "psychologically" fit and was dropped from the squad.
Similar threats have been made to players in the past and are rarely carried through, not least because of the legalities surrounding such moves and the risk that is run in the player's value plummeting. But Spurs insisted yesterday that they were determined to stand their ground and would punish Berbatov if they had to.
The irony for United is that it was claimed over the summer that Sir Alex Ferguson was given the backing by the Glazer family, the club's owners, to take a similarly hard-line stance with Cristiano Ronaldo – a parallel which has probably not been lost on Spurs which is why they may want the same message to be broadcast about Berbatov.
What is certain is that Spurs are particularly angry that United have continually indicated they will raise their bid of £20.5m for Berbatov, which was rejected earlier this summer, but have not done so while suggesting they are not prepared to go beyond £25m. As of yesterday there still had not been an official confirmation that, with the transfer window closing at midnight next Monday, United had submitted a new bid.
Spurs are also annoyed that United have suggested that they must drop their complaint that they made an illegal approach for the Bulgarian. Spurs regard this as a ridiculous demand, especially as they secured an apology, and a donation to charity, from Liverpool after a similar complaint over their courting of Robbie Keane, who eventually left for £19m.
The Spurs board has investigated whether there are grounds for fining Berbatov because of his behaviour but the sanction has not been carried out as the player has not refused to train or play. It was, ultimately, the club's decision to leave him out of the squad to face Sunderland.
Berbatov reported for training again yesterday, just as he did on Sunday, when he was called in for talks with head coach Juande Ramos. The Spaniard (below) is angry and embarrassed by the situation and wants Berbatov to leave but accepts that, with the structure he agreed to work under when he arrived last season, that the club's board are handling negotiations.
Of more immediate concern to him, after losing the first two league games of the season and with Chelsea their next opponents this coming Sunday, is the failure to sign any replacement strikers. Darren Bent is the only available option, although club representatives again watched the Colombian international striker Falcao play and score for Argentinian club River Plate at the weekend. The 22-year-old is available for €15m (£12m) and Spurs may also consider a move for Ajax's Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, even though they believe the Dutch international is overpriced.
Spurs insist they are no longer interested in signing Andrei Arshavin. But both the player's representatives and his club, Zenit St Petersburg, still believe that a deal can be struck especially as the asking price for the 27-year-old has been dropped to £20m. Spurs offered £16.5m to Zenit, who have signed Portuguese playmaker Danny, but claim he is not Arshavin's replacement, insisting they wanted £24m.
There have been claims that Berbatov is considering going on strike to try and force through his sale but this has been denied by those close to the player. They make no secret of his unhappiness, and his desire to leave, but are also frustrated that United have not made a decisive move having courted Berbatov for more than a year.
United sources continue to claim that a bid will be submitted before the deadline and it may be that a compromise can eventually be reached if, as with the transfer of Michael Carrick between the two clubs, Spurs' valuation is met by add-ons and incentives.
The £30m fee is itself a revaluation, as Spurs had initially insisted they would not accept less than £32m. But that was when they had hoped United would face competition from other clubs, specifically Barcelona, for the player, who arrived only two years ago for £10.9m from Bayer Leverkusen but who has proved to be one of the stars of the Premier League.
Other summer transfer sagas
* Barry to Liverpool
The Gareth Barry soap opera has dragged on since early summer and does now appear to have hit the wall after Liverpool's American owners refused to stump up £18m for a half-decent Villa midfielder. It has caused rifts between Rafa and Rick, Rafa and the owners and Rafa and the supporters. Barry and Martin O'Neill have also had a tiff, with Barry accusing his manager of loving the BBC more than him. Only Stevie G and Gareth are still best buddies. You could crawl from Barry to Liverpool in the time this one has gone on and it would be more fun.
* Arshavin to Spurs
The Russian playmaker had one good game at the Euros and Zenit St Petersburg have been rubbing their hands together ever since and holding out for maximum cash. A few clubs toyed with the idea and Spurs have thrown in a few serious bids, but nothing in the region of Zenit's asking price. We've all forgotten that one stellar performance against the Dutch anyway, and just keep thinking: 'If he's that good, how come he's 27 and still playing in Russia?'
* Alsono to anyone
The Spaniard first flirted with Juventus at the start of the summer before Claudio Ranieri, the Italian club's manager, pulled the plug. Since then Alonso has been linked with a move to Arsenal but his move has seemed to depend on Barry replacing him at Anfield. Now the deal appears to have fallen through, Alonso must feel about as welcome in Liverpool as Boris Johnson.