Manchester United youngster Zeki Fryers from Standard Liege, but with Sir Alex Ferguson calling for the move to be blocked after a ‘blatant manipulation’ of the rules, has this potentially opened a can of worms with regards to deals of this sort being conducted in the future?
It has to be said that Ferguson’s main bone of contention above all else appears to be at having been quite so clearly out-manoeuvred by Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy over the deal. When the north London club were interested in taking Fryers in the summer, given his status in the England U-19 side and worth to United, had the deal gone to tribunal, then the move was likely to cost them around £5-6m. Instead, Fryers moved abroad to Belgium with Standard Liege for £250,000 and Tottenham forked out the best part of £900,000 for his services this month, which is significantly less. In short, everyone has benefited hugely from the deal apart from United.
This isn’t the first time that United have been stung in such a manner either, with Juventus poaching midfielder Paul Pogba in the summer and the compensation that you are awarded is much lower if the youngster goes abroad for some reason than if he stays in England. It all dates back to pre-season when Fryers trained with Tottenham ahead of a permanent move, but with the two clubs unable to agree a fee, under league rules for players under the age of 23 who have rejected the offer of a new contract, compensating United is the logical, if expensive next step, but there’s also a second option available; you can move abroad for a smaller compensatory fee under Fifa rules.
This led Ferguson to go on the offensive, telling reporters: “I am disappointed in Tottenham, I really am. I think it has been a blatant manipulation of the situation. They tried to buy him from us at the end of last season but we couldn’t agree terms. They then took him on trial and took him to Portugal with the squad and came back and said that they couldn’t afford him. And then all of a sudden he signed for Standard Liège and at that moment in time, when I heard that, I expected him to go to Tottenham in the January window. I’m disappointed in Tottenham. The Premier League should look into it and I think they should stop the registration until they examine it. There will be a trail, mobile phone [records] or something. It is obvious to me [what has happened].”
He went even further later on within the comforts of his own domain, telling MUTV: “It’s a Daniel Levy deal. You know, it’s his fingerprints all over it. It’s the kind of thing we expected he was going to do.” To be fair to the 71-year-old boss, he does have a point, there’s something very odd about this deal and while technically not illegal, or at the moment it hasn’t been declared as such anyway, it does seem an underhand, even sneaky way of doing business.
Having read varying accounts of Fryers time in Belgium, reports range claiming that the 20-year-old was average to disinterested, yet Standard released a statement on the matter denying any wrongdoing: “The young defender felt homesick and had difficulty acclimating to life away from home and family. So when the London club became interested we understood the situation and were not opposed to the return of the player in England.”
Tottenham have also denied any impropriety with their own statement: “Zeki enjoyed his time at Standard – however, when Standard sacked their manager in November Zeki wasn’t part of the new manager’s plans which he accepts and understands happens in football. Unfortunately, a combination of this and the fact he had become homesick meant he wanted to return to England.His representatives made contact with clubs in England. This afforded us a second opportunity to sign the player and as per Fifa’s solidarity contribution mechanism, Manchester United will receive 5% of the transfer fee we have paid.” That 5% should see United pocket just £45,000, hardly the £6m windfall they were hoping for just six months ago.
With United still unsure as to whether any actual laws have been broken, they seem reluctant to make a formal complaint, instead using Ferguson to have a pop in the media but it all smacks of the deal that took Robert Jarni from Real Betis to Real Madrid back in 1998 by detour of Coventry.
Having impressed at full-back on his way to helping Croatia finish third at World Cup 98′, Jarni moved to Highfield Road for £2.6m, but without even making a single appearance for the Sky Blues, he moved within a month to Real Madrid for £3.4m. Coventry had made a tidy profit as a sort of go-between in the deal, with Real Betis refusing to do business with Real Madrid at the time. The deal that saw Clive Allen and Kenny Samson switch between Crystal Palace and Arsenal in 1980 also serves to highlight that there’s precedence over this sort of behind-closed-doors, cloak and dagger deal, with the Gunners only agreeing to take Allen as go-betweens in a deal involving QPR and Palace, with the Tottenham legend lasting just two months at Highbury as a result.
Fryers hinted in an interview with the Manchester Evening News after completing his move to Standard that he didn’t foresee that he would be enjoying a long stay in Belgium: “My first goal is to grow as a player, not to get international recognition directly. In football, everything changes very quickly. Today I’m at Standard in the first year of my contract (having signed a two-year deal) and I want it to be as good as possible. Maybe after that I can go one step higher.”
It could just be as simple as Fryers wanting to test himself in a different country, a different league and environment and finding it not to his liking, but the way that United have been played over this will certainly leave a sour taste in the mouth. As ever, Daniel Levy looks ahead of the curve and finding a way around potentially expensive compensation packages to other English clubs could be common practice in the years to come. Just so long as there is a way to work around the rules and even bend them to suit a particular club’s needs, there will always be those that will continue to exploit them and that above all else is the true lesson here.