London:So who does own Carlos Tevez?
While Manchester United bids to push through a deal to hire the talented Argentina striker, it's far from clear if the Red Devils are negotiating with the right people.
According to the Premier League, his registration is held by West Ham. Kia Joorabchian, an Anglo-Iranian businessman who set up Tevez's move to the Hammers from Brazilian club Corinthians, believes he still holds the contract.
While this sounds like a nitpicking piece of soccer business, it's a major headache for the parties involved, and it could have far reaching consequences in the English game.
The fact that Tevez's contract was owned by a third party led to a huge fine for West Ham for breaking Premier League rules. Its relegation rivals were furious, however, that the Hammers weren't docked points and, when they survived on the last day of the season with Tevez scoring the goal that kept them up, there was outrage, especially from the team that went down instead.
Sheffield United is taking its legal battle to the High Court while the Tevez contract tangle remains unresolved. Manchester United doesn't yet know for sure whether the striker will be lining up at Old Trafford next season and doesn't want to take any chances.
"The essential parts have been agreed and we're just hoping to finalize it soon," manager Alex Ferguson said Monday. "I thought it would be done by the weekend, but there has been a delay.
"I'm sure the outcome will be we will take him with complete clarity with the deal without suspicions or anything dodgy about it. There is no way we can be involved in anything that's underhand."
Tevez, in Venezuela with the Argentina national side for the Copa America, for the first time on Monday confirmed discussions between his representatives and Manchester United.
"There has been some contact," he said succinctly while singing autographs after a training session in Barquisimeto, where La Albiceleste is preparating for its Wednesday semifinal against Mexico.
United has every reason to leave it to the lawyers, possibly because they may have been talking to the wrong people. If Manchester United, one of the biggest and most famous clubs in the game, fields a player it is not entitled to have, then the Premier League will be forced to take action against its defending champion.
But the Premier League is also in a tight corner.
It backed the findings of the independent panel that only fined West Ham and also has said publicly that it now believed the Hammers to hold Tevez's registration. If Tevez moves to United, however, Joorabchian will likely demand that the payment goes to him and, if he wins that argument, the Premier League will be embarrassed again.
West Ham, Joorabchian and the Premier League all seem terrified to say anything on the record about the situation while Sheffield United - the innocent party in the Tevez contract dispute - is the team being relegated.
Blades chairman Kevin McCabe said the circumstances behind the proposed Tevez deal with Manchester United strengthens his club's argument that it was right all along and will argue the point when it appears before the High Court on Friday.
"If I understand correctly, the deal would involve a type of loan over two years with something like 3 million pounds payable per year," McCabe said. "Nobody can say, when you are talking about such a significant sum of money, that it isn't a transfer fee. It would go to show what we have believed all along if some of that money, or option payments, goes back to a third party."
When Tevez arrived in English soccer last September, he was a welcome addition to a league which has been attracting more and more big stars.
After going 19 games without a goal for the Hammers, he scored seven by the end of the season, including a game winner in the 1-0 victory at Manchester United to make sure West Ham stayed up.
His next goal could be for - rather than against - Manchester United when the season opens August 4.
Whether his contract conflict has been decided by then is another matter altogether.