Football: Shearer in Blackburn talks

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ALAN SHEARER, Southampton's highly prized England striker, had talks with Blackburn Rovers yesterday and is close to becoming the most expensive player to move between English sides. The Premier League club have already offered pounds 3.2m for Shearer and have the financial backing to go higher if the Saints stall or Manchester United and Liverpool pursue their interest.

Bob Coar, the Rovers chairman, said: 'We had a meaningful meeting but it is unlikely any decision will be made until after the weekend.' The previous English record was the pounds 2.9m Liverpool paid to Derby County for Dean Saunders.

Sepp Blatter, the secretary-general of Fifa, said in Barcelona yesterday that officials of the game's governing body were hurriedly meeting to clarify the new back- pass rule before it comes into force on Friday, when Italy meet the United States in the first match of the Olympic tournament.

The amendment to Law XII states that goalkeepers will be punished with an indirect free-kick for handling a back-pass kicked to them. The outfield player can use any other part of his body, which has led to German professionals bending down and kneeing the ball back; this ruins the rule's aim of preventing time-wasting. 'We will discuss the wording to make it clear and take away any loopholes that may be against the spirit of football,' Blatter said.

Blatter's superior, Joao Havelange, is to intervene in the Diego Maradona-Napoli dispute. Fifa's president said he was trying to organise a meeting in Barcelona tomorrow between the Argentinian, who says he will not honour the final year of his Napoli contract, and officials from the Italian club.

The bargaining between London Weekend Television and the capital's Football League clubs over live coverage next season continued yesterday with Lee Walker, the League's controller of broadcasting, making the clubs an improved offer. An LWT spokesman said the offer was worth 'substantially more than pounds 10,000' per game.

Cambridge United's players, disillusioned by the long-ball game, are continuing to vote with their feet. Three more Cambridge men announced they had the blues yesterday. Richard Wilkins, the 27-year-old midfielder, has pulled out of Cambridge's tour to Sweden, saying that he does want a change of scenery, but with another club, not in another country. Two of his team-mates, Andy Fensome and Michael Cheetham, have rejected new contracts.

Ron Atkinson, the Aston Villa manager, has talked to Graeme Souness, his Liverpool counterpart, about signing Ray Houghton, the Republic of Ireland international. Villa's offer for the 30-year-old midfielder falls short of Souness's valuation and discussions will be reopened after Liverpool return from their summer tour. Villa are not short of money - the club yesterday reported a record pounds 3.5m profit.

Neil Ruddock became a Tottenham player again yesterday, completing his move from Southampton after a League tribunal ruled that Spurs should pay pounds 750,000. Uefa, the European game's governing body, has halved the pounds 4,350 fine imposed on Spurs after supporters burnt a flag following a European tie in Rotterdam in March.

Clubs fail asset test, page 31