Football: pounds 2.6m Bowyer signs for Leeds

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The Independent Online
The takeover money now available for players at Leeds United was yesterday put to use with the signing of Lee Bowyer, the 19-year-old Charlton Athletic midfielder. The fee, said Leeds, was pounds 2.6m. Not so, said Charlton, who insisted that pounds 3.25m was the correct figure.

Howard Wilkinson, armed with pounds 12m after the club's sale to the media group Caspian, beat off Premiership rivals Liverpool, West Ham, Coventry City and Sheffield Wednesday to make Bowyer the most expensive teenager in British transfer history.

Wilkinson, in his inimitable style, likened Bowyer, who hassigned a five- year contract, to Denis Law. "He's got the look of Denis Law about him, although I don't want to give Lee a specific tag because he is an individual talent," he said. "But he is the best young player I've seen for a long time."

The new cash is also financing Wilkinson's move for the pounds 2m-plus Nigel Martyn, the Crystal Palace goalkeeper who is wanted just as much by Everton.

Wimbledon also spent heavily, parting with nearly pounds 2m for Millwall's "uncut diamond" Ben Thatcher. They were prevented from shelling out a further pounds 1.5m for Manchester City's Steve Lomas when the midfield jewel turned down the Don's wage offer.

The fee for Thatcher, the England Under-21 defender, more than doubled Wimbledon's previous transfer record of pounds 920,000 paid to Norwich for Efan Ekoku in October 1994.

"He's an uncut diamond, but we'll turn him into a polished gem," Sam Hammam, the Wimbledon owner, said . "He'll play for the full England team - or I'll eat my hat."

The Derby County chequebook was also flapping open with pounds 1.2m being lavished onDanny Griffin, the 18-year-old St Johnstone defender/midfielder, who won his first cap for Northern Ireland against Germany at the end of last season.

Chelsea paraded their pounds 2.5m French defender Franck Leboeuf yesterday and then confirmed they are on target to buy the Italian midfielder Roberto Di Matteo from Lazio, but not for the pounds 6m which has been reported.

Manchester United kept the pot - and Blackburn Rovers' blood - boiling regarding Alan Shearer with Alex Ferguson again saying (in Malta, of all places) that United were interested. Rovers responded with yet another "no way" rebuff.

United are closing in on the Norwegian international duo Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ronnie Johnsen. Solskjaer, the Molde striker, has been in Manchester to open negotiations, while the defender Johnsen will cost United pounds 1.5m to prise away from Besiktas.

Manchester City are to offer Keith Curle at a cut-price pounds 650,000 in return for a quick sale of their former captain who cost pounds 2.5m from Wimbledon five years ago. Sunderland and Leeds are believed to be interested.