Football; Blockbuster deal that carries an extra significance: Can any player be worth pounds 5m? Is Chris Sutton? Matt Tench on the implications that arise out of a stunning move

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THE British transfer record was obliterated yesterday after a now- familiar ritual. The selling club had insisted their man was not for sale, the player said it was not about money and everyone (player included) agreed that he was not worth the fee.

For all that, and despite the move being the subject of speculation for a number of months, Chris Sutton's arrival at Blackburn Rovers for pounds 5m still takes some believing. Sutton is 21 and, having made his debut in May 1990, has played 127 times for Norwich, scoring 43 goals. He has yet to play for England, indeed has never been in an England squad. Is he really the most valuable player in the history of the British game?

Doubtless similar questions where asked 89 years ago when Alf Common become Britain's first pounds 1,000 footballer. They certainly were in 1979 when Trevor Francis broke the pounds 1m barrier. Every time a new mark is established there is a certain amount of soul-searching.

But Sutton's move prompts more questions than usual. For a start it represents the biggest single hike in the transfer record, beating Roy Keane's fee for joining Manchester United by pounds 1.25m and Duncan Ferguson's for joining Ranger by pounds 1m.

It also seems to set a new level for the market. After Francis broke the pounds 1m barrier, Bryan Robson's pounds 1.5m move to Manchester United in 1981 was the upper limit for seven years. Even when the pounds 2m mark was breached in the late Eighties there was no sign of a dramatic move upwards. It took four more years for a club to pay pounds 3m - Blackburn - yet we now have the pounds 5m player. In three years values have almost doubled.

The move upwards will almost certainly affect prices throughout the market. It has been a familiar cry for some time now that 'ordinary players' cost a million. After Sutton they will probably cost a million and a half. Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, expressed reservations about the fee earlier in the week. 'If the fees for British players continue to go up like this, only the richest clubs will be able to compete and the other clubs will have to look abroad for cheaper options,' he said.

The case of Bryan Roy, Nottingham Forest's recent signing, may be significant. A regular Dutch international with considerable experience of the Italian League, Roy cost exactly half what Blackburn paid for Sutton.

The move also reinforces the impression that British clubs - or rather a small group of them - have become among the most powerful financially in Europe. A glance at the biggest transfers throughout the continent in the last 12 months (see table) shows that once the fee goes above pounds 2.5m the buyer is more likely than not to be British. Actually it is most likely to be Blackburn. Only the biggest of the Italian and Spanish clubs seem willing or able to compete.

The current activity on the British front coincides with something of a lull in the Italian market, following their own outbreak of summer madness a couple of years ago when Gianluigi Lentini joined Milan for pounds 13m. Since then values have fallen sharply and the same club's latest superstar, the Frenchman Marcel Desailly, joined for what now appears a bargain pounds 3.5m.

In some ways Sutton's premium price is easy to explain. Being young, English and a goalscoring striker, he falls neatly into the three prime catagories required for adding value in these nationality- conscious days.

Kenny Dalglish is also entitled to treat criticism of his spending habits with a certain disdain. He has a good record when it comes to big-money purchases for Rovers and for all the money spent on Alan Shearer, David Batty and Tim Flowers, none appear to have been seriously overpriced. Indeed Shearer, who broke the transfer record himself two years ago, now seems almost a snip at pounds 3.3m and Blackburn can expect a healthy profit if he fulfils his ambition to play in Italy in a year or two's time.

Whether Sutton can emulate his new team-mate remains to be seen. His liking for the nightlife, and appearances on news pages as well as sports pages in the last few days, suggest he has a quite a way to go. Then again it did bring a whole new meaning to the question of which club he was going to.

----------------------------------------------------------------- LANDMARKS IN BRITISH TRANSFER FEES ----------------------------------------------------------------- Fee Player Date pounds 1,000 Alf Common (Sunderland to Middlesbrough) Feb 1905 pounds 10,890 David Jack (Bolton to Arsenal) Oct 1928 pounds 20,000 Tommy Lawton (Chelsea to Notts County) Nov 1947 pounds 110,000 Alan Ball (Blackpool to Everton) Aug 1966 pounds 200,000 Martin Peters (West Ham to Tottenham) Mar 1970 pounds 516,000 David Mills (Middlesbrough to WBA) Jan 1979 pounds 1,180,000 Trevor Francis (Birmingham to Nottm Forest) Feb 1979 pounds 1,437,500 Steve Daley (Wolves to Man City) Sep 1979 pounds 1,469,000 Andy Gray (Aston Villa to Wolves) Sep 1979 pounds 1,500,000 Bryan Robson (WBA to Man Utd) Oct 1981 pounds 2,000,000 Paul Gascoigne (Newcastle to Tottenham) Jul 1988 pounds 2,250,000 Tony Cottee (West Ham to Everton) Jul 1988 pounds 2,300,000 Gary Pallister (Middlesbrough to Man Utd) Aug 1989 pounds 2,500,000 Keith Curle (Wimbledon to Man City) Aug 1991 pounds 2,900,000 Dean Saunders (Derby to Liverpool) Jul 1991 pounds 3,300,000 Alan Shearer (Southampton to Blackburn) Jul 1992 pounds 3,750,000 Roy Keane (Nottm Forest to Man Utd) Jul 1993 pounds 4,000,000 Duncan Ferguson (Dundee Utd to Rangers) Aug 1993 pounds 5,000,000 Chris Sutton (Norwich to Blackburn) Jul 1994 -----------------------------------------------------------------

----------------------------------------------------------------- EUROPE'S HIGHEST FEES IN THE LAST YEAR ----------------------------------------------------------------- Fee Player Date pounds 6,500,000 Luca Marchegiani (Torino to Lazio) cs 1993 pounds 5,200,000 David Platt (Juventus to Sampdoria) cs 1993 pounds 5,000,000 Chris Sutton (Norwich to Blackburn) Jul 1994 pounds 4,500,000 Karl-Heinz Riedle (Lazio to Borussia Dort) cs 93 pounds 4,000,000 Duncan Ferguson (Dundee Utd to Rangers) cs 93 pounds 3,750,000 Roy Keane (Nottm Forest to Man United) cs 93 pounds 3,500,000 Marcel Desailly (Marseille to Milan) Nov 93 pounds 3,000,000 Stefan Schwarz (Benica to Arsenal) Jul 94 pounds 3,000,000 Brian Laudrup (Fiorentina to Rangers) Jul 94 pounds 2,900,000 Brian Deane (Sheffield Utd to Leeds Utd) cs 93 pounds 2,750,000 David Batty (Leeds Utd to Blackburn) Oct 93 pounds 2,700,000 Andy Sinton (QPR to Sheffield Wednesday) Aug 93 pounds 2,700,000 Paul Warhurst (Sheffield Wed to Blackburn) Sept 93 pounds 2,700,000 Darren Peacock (QPR to Newcastle) Mar 94 pounds 2,700,000 Des Walker (Sampdoria to Sheff Wednesday) cs 93 pounds 2,500,000 Bryan Roy (Foggia to Nottm For) July 94 ----------------------------------------------------------------- cs = close season ----------------------------------------------------------------- Source: Brian Mellowship / AFS -----------------------------------------------------------------