Football: Chelsea lead pounds 12m chase for Sutton

CHRIS SUTTON is up for sale at relegated Blackburn Rovers at a price of pounds 12m - with Chelsea heading the chase to sign him.

Sutton has decided to activate a clause in his contract that allows him to leave, and most of the major players in the transfer market have shown their hands in the last 48 hours.

The Chelsea chairman, Ken Bates, wants to speak to Sutton before the weekend to talk him into joining the Stamford Bridge side.

Bates wants to make the first serious approach for Sutton and has put a move for Roma's Marco Delvecchio on ice until he knows the outcome of the summer's first major transfer chase.

Sutton's availability has sparked widespread interest despite his price, which is double what Blackburn paid for him in a record deal five years ago. The fee is based on an escape clause in his contract. Aston Villa, Tottenham and Manchester United are all interested, but their bids depend on other factors, unlike Chelsea's straight cash move.

Villa can only afford Sutton if they reluctantly trade their England Under-21 centre-half Riccardo Scimeca. Blackburn have already offered pounds 3m for him. Scimeca may have come off the transfer list, but the Rovers bid will still be put to him this weekend when he returns from a club holiday.

The Spurs manager, George Graham, is very keen on Sutton, but will have trouble raising the money and also matching the wages on offer elsewhere. Graham could offer one or more of several players in part exchange, with the striker Chris Armstrong probably the most attractive to Blackburn.

Manchester United are waiting in the wings, but the size of their transfer kitty reduces their hopes drastically. Their chairman, Martin Edwards, warned again yesterday that funds are low following the breakdown of Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB takeover bid.

Alex Ferguson's priorities are a goalkeeper and full-back plus midfield cover. Those deals may use up his limited funds. While the United manager would like Sutton in his squad, he would be an expensive signing at a time when his club is short of ready cash.

Edwards, however, has insisted that there will be no summer spending spree at United. The chairman Edwards is adamant that there will be no repeat of the pounds 28m splashed out on Jaap Stam, Dwight Yorke and Jesper Blomqvist last year.

United may claim to be the biggest and richest club in the world, but Edwards claims money is tight because of the pounds 44m earmarked for the redevelopment of Old Trafford and the new training complex at Carrington.

"We have a good squad and a big squad," Edwards said. "We have a lot of players and a lot of big-name international players who aren't featuring regularly in the team. We can look at the squad and, if the manager wants to change things around a little bit, that won't be a problem.

"But, as I keep on saying," Edwards added, "we can't go on spending the pounds 28m we spent last season on top of all the other things we're doing. Money doesn't grow on trees - and these things have to be paid for."

Ferguson said last week: "If we have some success this year, it is only right to go out and buy. I don't think you can ever stand still and you have to keep strengthening."

A United fans' spokesman, Andy Walsh, has criticised Edwards for "shouting his mouth off" at a lack of spending power this summer.

"It's not Edwards' decision. It's the board of directors who make the decision," Walsh, the chairman of the Independent Manchester United Supporters' Association, said. "I think it's extremely injudicious to make a statement like he has at this time of Manchester United's quest for trophies and I'd be surprised if the other directors didn't take the same view."

The German club Borussia Dortmund are rivals to Liverpool in the race for Blackburn's Swiss centre-half, Stephane Henchoz. Borussia are willing to offer the former Hamburg player a return to the Bundesliga, while Liverpool are also keen to speak to him about joining them.

Collymore verdict within a month, page 31

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