Hammers can close Ashton auction

CHRIS LAKEY Norwich City have refused to comment on claims they have slapped an £8m price tag on prize asset Dean Ashton.


Norwich City have refused to comment on claims they have slapped an £8m price tag on prize asset Dean Ashton.

The Canaries are said to be ready to bid for Cardiff teenager Cameron Jerome - word of which was inevitably coupled with rumours over Ashton's future, which in recent days has seemed increasingly likely to be at West Ham.

But national newspaper reports suggest that Norwich are standing firm in the face of pressure from Hammers boss Alan Pardew to sell for a fee they believe falls short of City's asking price by around £1m.

City declined to comment on whether any talks had taken place with West Ham or indeed whether there was an unofficial price tag on the player's head, referring to chief executive Neil Doncaster's comments in recent weeks that such a pricing policy would do the club no favours.

The ball is clearly now in Pardew's court: does he give up on Ashton, or does he come back with a revised bid which Norwich cannot afford to turn down?

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It could be a case of who blinks first.

The question of Ashton's future would appear to be at its most delicate stage, although if there is a price on his head it will undoubtedly sort the wheat from the chaff and enable City to know just which clubs seriously want to invest in one of England's brightest young talents.

Wigan and Charlton have already stated that Ashton is out of their price range, leaving just the Hammers and Manchester City with declared interest.

If a new, impossible-to-refuse offer, comes in and Ashton heads south just a year after moving to Norwich from Crewe, then City are likely to pursue their interest in the highly-rated 19-year-old Jerome.

Cardiff chairman Sam Hammam has done what Norwich won't do - put a price on his star man, and that means, unless you've got £3.5m to spend, you won't be doing business with the Bluebirds.

Hammam may be hoping to kick off an auction, with City and Sheffield United fighting it out for the England Under-21 player's signature. United manager Neil Warnock has had two offers for Jerome rejected by Hammam, who doesn't want to see his prize asset at a rival Championship club.

Warnock was forced to look elsewhere but, having had a bid for Burnley's ex-Norwich striker Ade Akinbiyi turned down, may just increase his offer - and that would suit Hammam down to the ground.

Norwich boss Nigel Worthington has publicly admitted his interest in the youngster, but there is the question of just how he could fund a bid: with the transfer budget already used up, majority shareholders Delia Smith and her husband Michael Wynn Jones and director Michael Foulger have already dipped into their pockets this week to facilitate the £50,000 signing of Carl Robinson.

Jerome would be a different kettle of fish.

City could make an initial bid that is much lower than the asking price but top it up with add-on clauses, such as club and international appearances.

Another option, of course, is to sell, with the sale of either Ashton or goalkeeper Robert Green - who celebrated his 26th birthday yesterday - likely to raise sufficient funds to at least set the bidding ball rolling.

Canaries scouts have received reports on Jerome, who is represented by Tony Finnegan, the same agent who conducted negotiations for Damien Francis during the midfielder's controversial exit to Wigan in the summer.

Finnegan is said to be not everyone's cup of tea in the corridors of power at Norwich, but declined to add grist to the rumour mill yesterday.

“Cameron Jerome is an excellent player who has done a great job at Cardiff and would do a great job elsewhere too,” was all he would say.