Football: Rocastle's move to Leeds leaves room for Thomas

LEEDS UNITED, who have taken the League championship from Highbury to Elland Road, will today secure the influential Arsenal midfielder, David Rocastle, for a fee approaching pounds 2m. Arsenal, in turn, may simply replace one England international with another; they yesterday faxed Crystal Palace a pounds 2.5m bid for Geoff Thomas.

Rocastle's position at Highbury had been weakened by the arrival of the Dane, John Jensen, and the growing possibility of Thomas donning the Arsenal red. With Gordon Strachan increasingly sidelined by injury and Trevor Steven, who Leeds had hoped to sign, caught up in Marseille politics, Rocastle, another right-sided player, was an obvious target for Howard Wilkinson, who is currently building a side capable of competing in the European Cup. With new Uefa restrictions on 'foreigners', good English midfielders are at a premium.

Rocastle flew to Dublin yesterday where Leeds are on tour. After talks with Wilkinson, the 25-year-old Londoner said: 'I will not be putting pen to paper until tomorrow as first of all I must go through the routine medical examination.' Rocastle, wearing a Leeds tracksuit, watched the English champions beat their League of Ireland counterparts, Shelbourne, 4-1 at Tolka Park last night. With two goals from Rod Wallace, and one each from Gary McAllister and Lee Chapman, Leeds ran out comfortable winners.

Thomas, Rocastle's expected replacement at Arsenal, has long interested George Graham. The Arsenal manager had tried before to sign the 27-year-old former Rochdale and Crewe Alexandra player and renewed his offensive yesterday. 'Our midfield is an area we are looking to strengthen,' Graham said. 'If we can get Geoff it will be a big boost.' Ron Noades, the Palace chairman, insisted that Thomas would 'stay a Crystal Palace player', but if he does go for the same price Graham paid Palace for Ian Wright it would see the sort of inflationary jump which would terrify the Treasury. Thomas's previous two moves were: free transfer, pounds 50,000.

Tottenham Hotspur are determined to hold on to their England midfielder, Paul Stewart. Terry Venables, the club's chief executive, admitted yesterday Stewart has been tempted to return north to be with his family, but that they hoped to keep him at White Hart Lane. 'There is a problem with Paul and his family,' Venables said. 'It's not that big a problem and it may be resolved.' If the problem proves insuperable, both Manchester City and United would be interested in bringing Stewart back to his home town. Vinny Samways, Stewart's midfield colleague, has been taken off the transfer list at his own request.

The bargaining continues in the Alan Shearer saga, with Blackburn Rovers offering David Speedie as part of the package to prise the England striker away from Southampton. The attraction to the Saints manager, Ian Branfoot, is the prospect of Speedie teaming up with his old hunting partner, Kerry Dixon, newly installed at The Dell. Shearer is mulling over Blackburn's terms after six hours of talks with Kenny Dalglish. Shearer's agent, the ubiquitous Mel Stein, said: 'As far as I am aware the clubs have agreed terms. It is now up to Alan.'

Chelsea, where the Dixon-Speedie axis was so successful, are rivalling Aston Villa for the signature of Ray Houghton, the Liverpool midfielder. 'We have agreed terms with Liverpool,' Chelsea's managing director, Colin Hutchinson, said. 'We haven't yet talked to the player - we hope to organise that over the next few days.' Villa have also agreed a fee in the region of pounds 900,000 for the Republic of Ireland international.

The former Liverpool midfielder, Jimmy Case, who since leaving Anfield has been working his way along the south coast from Brighton to Southampton to Bournemouth, has decided to head north and join Halifax as player- coach.

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