Newcastle United's pounds 6.7m purchase of Faustino Asprilla was in doubt last night when the Colombian striker flew back to Italy without putting his signature to a contract estimated to be worth pounds 15,000 a week.
Asprilla, 26, whose Italian season has been disrupted with a knee injury, had been in Newcastle to complete the formalities of a move from Parma that would have taken the Premiership leaders' spending to pounds 40m since Kevin Keegan became manager in 1992. These included a medical which, perhaps significantly, was not mentioned as being successfully completed when the club issued a press release.
Delivered by the chief executive, Freddie Fletcher, it read: "Faustino Asprilla is now returning to Italy and we will be making an application for the appropriate work permit. The player was here to have his medical and to finalise other details, all of which has been done."
The lack of the usual after-medical news conference was in keeping with the cloak-and-dagger atmosphere in which this whole episode has been undertaken. Asprilla flew in to Teesside Airport on Thursday to avoid those expecting him at Newcastle and he slipped away from St James' Park without facing journalists or supporters.
"I want to do my best for Kevin Keegan," he said in a statement. "Newcastle are a great club who can give me a chance to play in the European Champions' Cup. That is why I am so excited to be joining them."
Refering to the allegations about his past that have surfaced in some newspapers, he added: "I don't care about what is in the past, the slate is wiped clean."
Newcastle's chairman, Sir John Hall, also played down Asprilla's history which includes a shooting incident, a pornographic film star and an alleged argument with a bus driver resulting in a leg injury, as well as several car crashes.
"I think at times we expect an awful lot of young people," he said. "Kevin rates him very highly and other people believe he is one of the top three players in the world."
Another Newcastle target, David Batty, was yesterday thinking over his options, while insisting that he is not on strike and had not gone absent from training. The unsettled Blackburn midfielder had a pounds 3.5m move to Newcastle blocked by the owner of Rovers, Jack Walker. In contrast, Steve Stone has settled his differences with Nottingham Forest and agreed an improved three and a half year contract.
Phil Neal has been appointed manager of Cardiff City 11 months after leaving Coventry. Neal's former Liverpool team-mate, Ronnie Whelan, has emerged as a front runner for the vacant Republic of Ireland manager's job after being given permission by Southend United to speak to the Association of Ireland. Whelan will first have to oversee the sale of full-back Chris Powell to Derby for pounds 750,000.
Wales begin their World Cup qualifying campaign away to San Marino on Sunday 2 June.
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