United probe - Premier League to investigate the champions-elect

Manchester United's dream of

their first Premiership title for four

years was under a cloud last night with

the revelation that they face a Premier

League investigation into goalkeeper

Tim Howard’s £3 million transfer to Everton.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s team beat derby

rivals Manchester City 1-0 yesterday to

go eight points clear at the top and

they will clinch the title if Chelsea fail to

win at Arsenal today.

Scroll down to read more:

{2}

{R}

But United face seeing a season of triumph

descend into chaos. In the

worst-case scenario, they could have

points deducted if they are found guilty

of breaking the same Premier League

rules under which West Ham were

massively fined last week.

Howard,the 28-year-old American, had been on

loan at Everton since last May and,

under Premier League rules, was not

allowed to play against United for the

duration of the loan.

It was announced in February that

the move was to become a permanent

transfer. But it is understood that Everton

agreed not to play Howard against

United this season, and when the two

sides met at Goodison a week ago, the

American’s place was taken by second choice

goalkeeper Iain Turner. The 22-

year-old made a crucial error, allowing

United to start the fightback which led

to their 4-2 victory.

The Premier League are now set to

investigate whether an agreement over

Howard’s availability existed and, if so,

whether it breached the same rules

which saw West Ham suffer a £5.5m

fine over the transfers to Upton Park of

Javier Mascherano and Carlos Tevez.

Those rules, U18 and B13, ban clubs

from entering into agreements which

allow a third party to influence

another club’s selection policy and

dictate that clubs must act with good faith towards each other

and the Premier League.

The League have confirmed to The Mail on

Sunday that no such agreement regarding

Howard was included in the transfer documents

lodged with them by the clubs and that if United

had requested it through official channels, they

would have been refused.

A Premier League spokesman said: "There is

no such clause in the transfer contracts of the

player and we are contacting the clubs to try

to clarify the situation."

Documents lodged with the Premier League when

the transfer was agreed between the clubs make it

clear that the permanent deal ran from February

and that it was no longer a loan.

Reports at the time suggested the permanent deal would begin in June and the loan would continue until the end of the season.

Both clubs declined to comment on the issue last

night.

But Everton will be questioned by Premier

League secretary Mike Foster this week after their manager, David Moyes,

appeared to confirm that there was an agreement

between the clubs when he

explained before the game against United why Turner was playing.

Moyes was reported as saying: "While Tim

Howard was on loan he would not have been able

to play against his parent club, United.

{3}

"Although we have now signed him ourselves,

United wanted the loan clause to remain in

operation. It was partly the reason we were able to tie up the deal for next season as early as we did. We have abided by their wishes."

United, managed by Sir Alex Ferguson, and

Everton will be given a chance to explain the

circumstances of Howard’s transfer and his availability for his new club.

It is understood that Everton will claim a

‘gentlemen’s agreement’ existed over Howard’s

availability and they were at liberty to pick him

against United if they chose to. But such an argument may not satisfy the Premier League.

Premier League sources say that last season

Birmingham attempted to insert a clause into a

transfer deal forbidding Robbie Savage playing

against them for his new club, Blackburn Rovers.

Birmingham were refused permission to do so.

West Ham were fined a total of £5.5m because they

had allowed offshore companies to retain

influence over Mascherano and Tevez.

The Premier League commission ruled

that this represented a

clear breach of rule U18.

West Ham were also found to have breached

rule B13, stipulating that clubs must act in good

faith, and the club’s former chief executive, Paul Aldridge, was accused of telling the Premier League a ‘direct lie’ when asked

about the agreements over the players.