Manchester United have initiated legal action against Lazio in a bid to recover £12 million they claim are owed to them by the Serie A club for the sale of Dutch defender Jaap Stam in August 2001.

United’s plc made the annoucnement to the London Stock Exchange, when it became known that Lazio’s major shareholders, the food group Cirio, were experiencing serious finanical difficulties.

Cirio confirmed it had been declared in default on a 150 million euro bond after missing two payment deadlines. The company’s shares have been suspended and analysts said its financial problems could force Lazio to sell some highprofile players.

United sold Stam to Lazio in August 2001 for £16.5 million but have yet to receive full payment of the transfer fee.

Explaining their decision to start legal proceedings, the United statement read: “Manchester United has received no further payments from SS Lazio in respect of the £12 million owed for the transfer to SS Lazio of the registration of Jaap Stam.

“Discussions have been ongoing to reach agreement for a rescheduling of the payment of this debt, and compensation for the delay, but these have still not reached a conclusion.”