Football: United ready to pay pounds 10m for Shearer

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The Independent Online
Manchester United last night opened negotiations to make Alan Shearer Britain's first pounds 10m player.

The deal would smash the transfer record - currently held by Liverpool's Stan Collymore and make Shearer the Premiership's highest-paid British player. It signifies the first step in the creation of a Manchester United side capable of challenging in the Champions' League.

The newly crowned Double winners were saying nothing officially last night but a United insider admitted: "It is at a difficult stage, we are trying to keep things quiet."

Negotiations are hampered by Shearer's presence with the England squad at Bisham Abbey - Terry Venables does not like players to be involved in transfer negotiations while on international duty - and United's own contract negotiations with their manager, Alex Ferguson.

However, since Ferguson will clearly be at Old Trafford in the immediate future, and Shearer is likely to leave his side of negotiations to his agent, Tony Stephens, there is nothing to prevent the two parties reaching a broad agreement before Shearer is free to talk on Sunday morning before England's departure to China the following day.

Whilst the move is as sensational as United's capture of Andy Cole from Newcastle 16 months ago it is less surprising. Cole has failed to match up to expectations since his pounds 7m transfer - while his all-round game has improved he has become hesitant in front of goal. Shearer, meanwhile, would be happy to leave Ewood Park as Blackburn's rise appears to have peaked with last season's championship.

They are not in Europe next season whilst United are contesting its premier competition. Although United fans have viciously barracked Shearer since he chose Blackburn ahead of United four seasons ago they would undoubtedly warmly welcome him if he moves. Shearer himself would be able to stay in the North-West where his family have settled - a prime reason for his reluctance to follow Paul Ince and play in Italy.

Shearer has three years left on a four-year contract with Rovers but the club may feel that the money would allow manager Ray Harford to rebuild his team, especially if Shearer has set his heart on a move elsewhere.

Although Shearer has not scored for England since September 1994 and rarely impressed for Rovers' in the Champions' League, he is still accepted as England's best striker having scored more than 100 goals in just three Premiership seasons. At 25 he is young enough and yet mature enough to get even better.

Meanwhile United seemed to be moving closer to an agreement with Ferguson over his new contract. While the club are anxious to avoid Ferguson becoming so dominant that it will be impossible for his successor to manage - as happened when Wilf McGuiness took over from Sir Matt Busby - there is recognition that it is Ferguson who has restored the club to the pinnacle of English football.

Speaking on ITV last night Ferguson, who is thought to want a six-year deal, said: "Hopefully I'll have it resolved before I go on holiday. It's one of those situations where you get to my age of 54 and hope to plan ahead a bit. There's no question I would love to stay at United."

Martin Edwards, the United chairman, said: "I hope very much Alex Ferguson is Manchester United's manager in six years. Whether you go for that in one contract or take a couple to get there is another matter.

"I'm not actually involved in the negotiations with Alex. It is done by a committee of the board. Let me state categorically that the board are anxious to keep Alex Ferguson and we hope he wants to stay. But in all negotiations with players, staff or whatever, it is a negotiation."