Football: Gullit takes his outlay to pounds 15m

RUUD GULLIT took his spending to pounds 15m in five months yesterday as he signed Croatia's influential World Cup midfielder, Silvio Maric, for pounds 3.3m.

The 24-year-old Croatia Zagreb player is due to fly to Tyneside today to undergo a medical and complete the deal - a three-and-a-half year contract worth pounds 20,000 per week, according to reports in Croatia.

The move is dependent on Maric receiving a work permit, but both clubs are confident that there will be no hitches. The deal includes a sell- on clause and the promise of a friendly between the two sides later this year.

Maric is Gullit's third major signing since taking over at St James's Park last August. The former Chelsea manager, who made it clear from the start that he would be looking to bring in new players, signed Duncan Ferguson for pounds 7m from Everton and then Didier Domi from Paris St-Germain for pounds 4.5m. Maric's signing indicates that Gullit is happy to keep looking abroad for new players - as he did at Stamford Bridge - even though this might not bode well for some established players at Newcastle.

Maric's arrival might cast doubt over the future of the club captain Rob Lee, who has been the subject of intense speculation in recent weeks.

The England international has not started a game since the 3-0 home defeat by Leeds on Boxing Day after suffering a troublesome Achilles injury. He has been linked with moves to his former club, Charlton, as well as West Ham and Southampton, and yesterday's signing will have done nothing to make him feel more secure in the north-east.

Zagreb's executive director Damir Vrbanovic said yesterday: "We have finished negotiations today and Silvio Maric will be a Newcastle player.

"He will join Newcastle tomorrow for a medical examination and for other formalities. We will wait until the work permit is issued by the UK and then sign the contract on the conditions which were agreed today."

Zagreb agreed the transfer reluctantly after Maric, who played four times in the World Cup as Croatia reached the semi-finals, took advantage of a clause in his contract which allowed him to move if the right offer came along. "We didn't want to lose him," admitted Vrbanovic. "We really didn't want to sell him.

"We're not happy, we're definitely not happy. Silvio Maric is absolutely one of the best players in the Croatian league."

Maric - who impressed during his club's two-leg European Champions' League qualifier defeat by Newcastle last season - is a strong running attacking player. He is likely to be given a creative role in midfield to create chances for Ferguson and Alan Shearer, whose partnership has yet to produce much evidence that it will be as devastating as touted.

"We have been watching Silvio Maric for three years," the Newcastle director Freddy Shepherd said yesterday. "We are very happy today to be here to sign him because he will be a valuable member of the squad."

Another player who is likely to remain in the Newcastle squad a while longer is John Barnes, who returned to the club after a brief trial at Charlton. A permanent move has not been ruled out but the Charlton manager, Alan Curbishley, has yet to decide whether to make a bid for the 35-year- old, saying that he would be watching a few matches this weekend before making a decision.

Tim Sherwood finally completed his move to Tottenham from Blackburn yesterday, in a four-year deal for a fee believed to be around pounds 3m. He is likely to go straight into the squad for tomorrow's home game against Coventry.

Sherwood, 30, is ineligible to play for Spurs in the Worthington Cup semi-finals, having turned out for Blackburn in the competition earlier this season, but is available for the London team's FA Cup campaign, which reaches the fifth round stage against their manager George Graham's old club, Leeds United, at Elland Road a week tomorrow.

Graham said: "I'm delighted to get a quality player who will be a tremendous asset to the club. I believe he will form a great partnership in the middle of the park with Allan Nielsen and my other recent signing, Steffen Freund."

Bolton's Arnar Gunnlaugsson will join Leicester City in a pounds 2.5m deal today after requesting a transfer because of a contract dispute. The Icelandic striker is expected to accept terms and sign for Martin O'Neill's team in time to be eligible to face Sheffield Wednesday tomorrow.

Gregory ruled out, page 28

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