Football: Dublin's high price reflects high stakes

To pay pounds 6.75m for a 29-year-old may seem reckless but simply illu strates the cost of failure.
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The Independent Online
AS THE father of two young children, Dion Dublin will understand just why Blackburn Rovers are prepared to pay what appears an extravagant pounds 6.75m for his services.

After successive Christmases trying to lay their hands on a Buzz Lightyear toy, followed by a Teletubby doll, parents now know all about the laws of supply and demand and the occasional need for over-priced short-term expenditure.

While Buzz is now lying in bits at the back of the toy cupboard, and Laa-Laa and co are about to be superseded by the next big thing, they usually did the job they were bought for.

So it is with Dublin and Blackburn. The fee, one Premiership manger said, is "crazy money". Another respected figure, Tottenham's director of football, David Pleat, looked at Dublin's age (29) and said it was "dead money". "If you don't sell him within two years you'll get hardly anything back."

This would usually be Rovers' view but they are 17th in the Premiership with 10 goals and eight points from 10 matches. Of their forwards Chris Sutton is about to begin a three-game suspension, Kevin Gallacher has a broken arm, Kevin Davies has just returned from a debilitating illness and, in any case, is still learning the trade, and Martin Dahlin has failed to settle. Thus the move for Dublin.

The interest of Aston Villa and Newcastle is also easily explained, especially at the pounds 5m for which they are seeking to secure Dublin. Villa, although top of the Premiership, are short of strikers and goals and have already paid pounds 6.75m for the 30-year-old Paul Merson. They are also restricted by the preference of John Gregory, their manager, for English players. Newcastle, noted Ruud Gullit last week, are short of aerial power throughout the team.

For all three clubs Dublin's versatility is an important factor. He is accomplished enough at centre-half to have played there for England. Dublin prefers playing in attack but Gordon Strachan, his Coventry manager, is said to regard him as an "international class" prospect as a defender, but merely "decent" as a forward. John Gregory, the Villa manager, said: "It looks a lot of money but it's not if he goes on to play three years at centre-half for you after being up front."

So how good is he? Since the World Cup, Dublin has supplanted Les Ferdinand in Glenn Hoddle's pecking order but remains behind Ian Wright. As a central defender he is about seventh in line, though Hoddle continues to speak well of him.

His lack of pace cost him a World Cup place and and he can appear clumsy. So far he has struggled to adapt when playing in attack for England though his defensive 45 minutes, in Morocco, were promising. He is a regular scorer, a fine leader of the line and has an improving touch - indicative of his desire to continue working on his game. His equable temperament is better illustrated by his composure from the penalty spot rather than successive dismissals two seasons ago. He is also regarded as an excellent captain and a good man to have in the dressing-room.

This did not prevent him being embroiled in a very public contract dispute last season - settled when Coventry agreed a pounds 17,000-a-week deal - and refusing to play in the Worthington Cup on Tuesday. Coventry have ambitious plans but their struggles this season have probably convinced Dublin that he cannot wait for them to come to fruition. Having had his dream move, to Manchester United when 23 years old, ruined when he broke his leg in his third match, then saw Eric Cantona signed in his absence, he does not want to miss the opportunity of a second chance.

Villa, top of the League and conveniently located, should be favourites, though Newcastle will offer the largest salary and the opportunity to improve his international prospects by playing alongside Alan Shearer - though not necessarily for long.

The affair further illustrates that the Bosman ruling has failed to reduce transfer fees. It is now five years since Howard Kendall resigned as Everton manager after the board refused to sanction a pounds 2m fee for Dublin, and only 10 months since Coventry agreed a pounds 4m fee with Middlesbrough for Dublin. The reason for this inflation is simple. Should Blackburn go down they would lose around pounds 4m a year in television fees alone. Should Villa qualify for next season's revamped Champions' League, the benefits would be counted in millions.

As Pleat added: "You can never tell whether a signing is worth it at the time. It's only afterwards you can judge."