Football: Arsenal's Hamman bid fuels Vieri effect

ARSENAL ARE set to fuel football's rapidly spiralling inflationary process as both buyers and sellers, launching a pounds 7m offer for Newcastle's Dietmar Hamman yesterday while they pondered a reported bid of pounds 22m from Lazio for Nicolas Anelka.

In contrast with Anelka's apparent eagerness to leave Highbury, Hamman quickly made plain his desire to join Arsenal less than a year after arriving on Tyneside for pounds 4.5m from Bayern Munich on a five-year contract. "Newcastle know what I want," said the German international midfield player, "and that is to leave. I can play Champions' League football for Arsenal and that's better for me and my career."

Arsenal, who may have to pay pounds 8.5m to land Hamman, have already lined up another ball-winning midfielder in Olivier Dacourt. The Frenchman is likely to cost pounds 6.5m from Everton 11 months after joining them from Strasbourg for pounds 4.3m. The arrival of one or both would increase speculation that Emmanuel Petit will play at the back next season, as well as eating into a sizeable chunk of the anticipated fee for Anelka.

Arsenal's readiness to invest such sums reflects a knock-on effect, crossing national boundaries, of Lazio's pounds 28m valuation on Christian Vieri when he joined Internazionale in a world-record deal last week. The size of that transaction clearly emboldened Arsene Wenger to seek a similar amount from the Rome club for Anelka, who had previously been rated at around pounds 12m during speculation over a move to Real Madrid or Juventus.

Now, even if Lazio were successful in beating Arsenal down to a compromise price of between pounds 18m and pounds 22m for the 20-year-old Anelka, it would not only represent a British-record windfall but also remarkable business for Highbury in purely financial terms. For it took a mere pounds 500,000 for Wenger to prise his fellow Frenchman from Paris St-Germain in 1997.

Senior officials from Arsenal and Lazio met to discuss the Italians' interest in Anelka in London on Wednesday. Lazio, pipped by Milan for the Serie A title, yesterday confirmed their offer without specifying a fee, promising developments when the president, Sergio Cragnotti, returned from holiday in South Africa. "Both clubs will communicate their respective decisions over the next few days," they announced in a statement.

Anelka said recently that he preferred to go "to Spain and nowhere else", adding that he did not like the Italian game. To the consternation of the London media, who long since learned not to ask for interviews with him, he has cited harassment by the British press as a reason for wanting to leave. Yet the scrutiny is, if anything, more intense in Italy.

The snag for Arsenal, quite apart from losing a hugely talented if somewhat sullen and solitary goalscorer, is that the knowledge of such fees having been banked tends to bump up the cost of recruiting players. As and when Wenger goes in search of a replacement, either in Europe or at home, he can expect would-be sellers to increase accordingly the amounts being sought for their most prized assets.

If, for example, the Arsenal manager were to pursue his long-standing interest in the pounds 7m-rated Robbie Keane, Wolves' 18-year-old Republic of Ireland striker, a third of the Anelka fee might be eaten up straight away on a player with no Premiership experience. Wolves, indeed, must be licking their lips at the prospect of the Gunners bidding for Keane in competition with Middlesbrough, for one, because that in turn would allow them to meet Bristol City's pounds 3m price for Ade Akinbiyi.

Meanwhile, the Vieri effect is already having an inflationary impact in Italy. In the wake of Parma's acquisition of Ronaldo's latest attacking partner with Brazil, Marcio Amoroso, for pounds 21m from Udinese, Juventus yesterday lavished pounds 12m on a striker who previously failed to hold down a place with Sheffield Wednesday.

Darko Kovacevic, who joined Wednesday from Red Star Belgrade late in 1995 as a 22-year-old, switched to the Turin giants from the Spanish club Real Sociedad, for whom he scored 33 goals in two years. "I believe I'm ready for a more tactical type of football," he said. "I wasn't in good form in England so I came here to prove myself, which I've now done."