United under spotlight for alleged 'poaching'

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Clubs found guilty of poaching talented young footballers face the prospect of losing League points or paying heavy fines in a crackdown by Premiership authorities. New rules are being drawn up in the wake of allegations that Manchester United have enticed three teenagers away from other clubs.

Arsenal have made an official complaint to the Premier League after Matthew Wicks agreed to a move to Old Trafford. The Gunners are furious that having spent six years working with the player, he should leave them for one of their fiercest rivals.

Leeds United are also unhappy after losing their young striker, Andrew Wright, while Oldham have complained after David Brown refused an apprentice contract, having spent five years at their School of Excellence.

The conflict is indicative of the emphasis which is now being placed on the recruitment of the next generation, following the rapid rise in transfer fees.

Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, who has transformed his club's youth policy so that season after season new players emerge into the first team, yesterday defended the signing of the three young players. There is no suggestion that his club made cash inducements to tempt them away.

"We have done nothing outside the rules," Ferguson said. "With young players it's a case of some you win and some you lose. Nick Barmby slipped through our fingers. He went to Tottenham. As for these boys, one approached us, another had not been contacted by his club for a year, and a third felt that we offered better prospects after his club changed manager and were relegated."

At present, the Premier League has no legislation controlling clubs which have offered inducements. However, it is an area that will be covered in the current overhaul of its rulebook, so regulations are in place for next season. Rick Parry, the League's chief executive, intends that clubs are left in no doubt what the repercussions might be.

A legal working-party is looking into the possibility of deducting points, and the kind of fines being considered are in the region of "hundreds of thousands of pounds." The League is also looking at the question of compensation, and it is understood that Arsenal are demanding £500,000 for losing Wicks, 16.

Tottenham were yesterday cleared of any improper payments in connection with their purchase of the Romanian midfielder, Ilie Dumitrescu, from Steaua Bucharest. Steaua yesterday admitted that they had declared only £1.6m of the fee to the Romanian authorities, with the balance going to the player and foreign go-betweens.

The Football League Managers' Association is seeking urgent talks with the Football Association about increasing protection for managers, players and backroom staff. It is angry at the leniency of the £50 fine given to the Sheffield United fan, Robert Hollister, for spitting at the Wolves manager, Graham Taylor, last month.

Halifax Town, who were due to fold at the end of the season with debts of £170,000, has been given a reprieve by their fans. They have raised the £30,000 which the taxman had demanded as a down-payment on a debt of £85,000. The rest will be paid in instalments over next year.