City won't be bullied on transfer fees

CHRIS LAKEY Norwich City say they will not be bullied into paying over-the-top transfer fees as they seek a replacement for Dean Ashton.c

CHRIS LAKEY

Norwich City say they will not be bullied into paying over-the-top transfer fees as they seek a replacement for Dean Ashton.

The Canaries have a few million in the bank following Ashton's £7.25m sale to West Ham on Monday - but chief executive Neil Doncaster has insisted it won't be burning a hole in any pockets.

However, City will need to ponder three options.

Should they:

t Accept the likelihood that they will have to pay over the odds?

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t Refuse to be held over a barrel but miss out on potential targets?

t Wait until the end of the summer before buying?

The first point would reflect their ambition of making the play-offs, the second would be a matter of prudence with principle while the third would be tantamount to writing off this season and beginning again in four months time.

It's a dilemma the club have to address, but in the meantime it's a case of finding a gem among the names in the frame as possible successors to Ashton.

Although Cardiff's Cameron Jerome is said to be top of manager Nigel Worthington's hit-list, a new name emerged yesterday in the shape of MK Dons' hit-man Izale McLeod.

The 21-year-old is the League Two side's top scorer with a dozen league and cup goals this season. The six-footer has scored 27 times in 60 league starts since joining from Derby for £150,000 in the summer of 2004.

But while his success has come at a lower level than the Championship, reports suggest that the MK Dons are still likely to want at least £1m from City to persuade them to part with their man, having seen a £1.4m deal with Wolves fall through earlier this month.

The price for Jerome would be substantially higher, with Cardiff boss Dave Jones issuing a “pay up or shut up” warning to anyone wanting to prise his star man out of Ninian Park.

The hunt for Ashton's replacement, which started well before the England Under-21 international signed on Monday, could end this week, according to Doncaster - but only at the right price.

“Supporters shouldn't assume that work only starts now,” he said. “Work has been on-going for the last couple of months to identify suitable replacements and we have been talking to a number of clubs, a number of agents, about players who are available and we hope to be able to make progress this week.

“That said, we won't be held to ransom over the pricing of players and we won't be bullied into paying more than the players are worth and we'll take our time to do the right business for this club long term.”

Doncaster has refused to disclose how much of the £4m profit from Ashton's transfer would be available to Worthington, but if Jerome is a target any move would likely to take up a considerable portion of that.

“I understand the supporters would like to know how much money we have got to spend, equally so with the other clubs with whom we might do business, and it is not in our interests to announce a figure,” stressed Doncaster.

“What we should do is keep our cards close to our chests and take our time to do our business in private and then hopefully announce the right results and the club going forward.”

Word from south Wales suggests that Norwich are favourites to take Cardiff's leading scorer, and that possible path was eased a little yesterday when former Norwich striker Ade Akinbiyi moved from Burnley to Sheffield United, who were also interested in Jerome, for £1.75m.

The Blades had offered £1.5m plus add-ons, but baulked at Cardiff owner Sam Hammam's £3.5m take-it-or-leave-it demand.

The Canaries have yet to show their hand, although Cardiff are said to be expecting a firm offer any day. However, sources say that should City offer a package worth between £2m and £2.5m, cash-strapped Cardiff would find it hard to turn down.

The waiting game is clearly getting too much for Jones, who has had to endure Blades boss Neil Warnock bemoaning his club's demands.

“The only bid has been from Sheffield United,” said Jones. “All I hear is Neil Warnock moaning that it does not meet our valuation. That's not my fault. What can I do? My message to Neil is put up or shut up. Every player has a price, but nobody has got anywhere near that with Cameron Jerome so far.”

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