Branco strikes lucky permit lottery

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The arbitrary nature of non-European Union footballers gaining work permits in this country was demonstrated yesterday when Branco received his to play for Middlesbrough even though he failed to meet the Department for Education and Employment criteria.

Whereas the department rejected applications from Romania's Ilie Dumitrescu and Switzerland's Marc Hottiger, they accepted one from the 31-year-old Brazilian full-back despite his failing to meet the stipulation of playing in 75 per cent of his country's internationals over the past two years.

A spokeswoman for the Department would not comment on individual cases but explained: "The criteria are there as a guide and not written in stone... We look at all available evidence and treat each case on its merits before making a decision."

The decision will encourage West Ham and Everton, whose resective purchases of Dumitrescu (pounds 1.5m from Tottenham) and Hottiger (pounds 700,000 from Newcastle) have stalled because neither appeared in 75 per cent of their clubs' games last year. The cases are expected to be resolved soon.

Steve Claridge, the Birmingham striker, has been told he must see out the remaining 18 months of his contract after rejecting a pounds 1m move to Leicester. "Leicester have met Steve on three ocassions and have done everything in their power to secure his signing," his manager, Barry Fry, said. "We understand that he today walked out of talks with Leicester chairman Martin George after considering that the substantial offer was not enough."

Claridge was reportedly demanding pounds 5,000 a week and Leicester's manager, Martin O'Neill, said: "We offered Steve a super deal but he insisted he wanted more."

David Tuttle, Sheffield United's 24-year-old centre-half, could soon be on his way to QPR for pounds 1.2m.

Kilmarnock want to sign one of the two Ghanaian internationals, Sammy Adjei and Steve Baidoo, who have drawn almost 10,000 fans to two reserve games at Rugby Park while on trial. They have returned to Ghana while the club decides who they prefer and who they can afford.