FOOTBALL: Smith stokes Ferguson transfer fire

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The Independent Online
THE EVERTON manager, Walter Smith, aimed a fresh broadside at his chairman, Peter Johnson, yesterday - and put his job on the line. Smith has been angered by suggestions that he had prior knowledge of Duncan Ferguson's pounds 8m transfer to Newcastle United.

Smith's latest statements will put Johnson on the spot as the pair grow further apart. "At no time was I consulted about Duncan's transfer," Smith said.

"Last week I was made aware by a number of people that attempts were being made by the club to attract offers for Duncan Ferguson. I ignored this because the chairman had indicated to me that there was interest but it did not constitute any kind of transfer. On Monday morning I received the same information and with the rumours going around I felt it necessary to talk to Duncan as his manager.

"I spoke to him and told him that I felt moves were afoot to try and sell him and that I would speak to the chairman before the game [with Newcastle] to try and clarify the situation. That meeting never took place and unknown to me Duncan was transferred to Newcastle during the match. I stress at no time was I made aware that Newcastle had made an official bid and more to the point that the club had accepted it and Duncan was in talks with a view to a transfer."

Johnson's desire to balance the books ahead of selling the club has left Smith in a hopeless position. He pulled back from resigning on Tuesday, but his future looks doubtful as a new owner would probably want to bring in his own man.

Smith was yesterday forced to sell midfielder Gavin McCann as a further cost-cutting measure. The 20-year-old Blackpool-born player, who joined Everton as a trainee, was expected to complete a pounds 500,000 move to Sunderland last night.

The Scotland coach, Craig Brown, has paved the way for Ferguson to return to international football - less than a year after the striker said he would not play for his country again.

Ferguson has hinted at a change of heart following his transfer from Everton. "I am delighted that Duncan has given us another option and I will be monitoring his progress over the coming months," Brown said.

Alan Shearer has refuted suggestions that Ferguson's arrival on Tyneside has clouded his future at the club. "It is a fantastic signing for Newcastle," he said, "and if we can play together - which I am sure we can - then there should be one or two goals. I am certainly looking forward to playing with him."

Lens are to send a videotape of their 1-0 Champions' League win over Arsenal to Uefa in an attempt to prove that their striker Tony Vairelles should not have been sent off. Vairelles, known in France as a model of fair play, was dismissed for apparently elbowing Lee Dixon. Lens officials said the tape showed Dixon had feigned injury.

Champions' League

verdict, page 30