Football: Walker's misery ended by Francis

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The Independent Online
THE inflation rate may have fallen yesterday - but no one told the football world. Rangers broke the British transfer record by agreeing to give Dundee United pounds 4m for their temperamental striking tyro Duncan Ferguson. Sheffield Wednesday made Des Walker the most expensive defender in the land by paying pounds 2.7m to Sampdoria, who promptly prised David Platt from Juventus for pounds 5.2m.

A relieved Walker became a former Sampdoria player courtesy of a former Sampdoria player. Trevor Francis, who enjoyed a far happier sojourn in Genoa than Walker, was delighted to bring the 27-year-old England international home. 'I've always been a great lover of pace and Des has certainly got that,' the Wednesday manager said. 'There's only Linford Christie who is quicker than Des.'

Despite his famed speed Walker looked increasingly ill at ease in Serie A - a situation exacerbated by Sampdoria occasionally fielding him out of position. 'I think it could have gone better out there but it could have gone worse,' Walker said philosophically after agreeing a four-year contract.

Sampdoria's affection for British products remains, Platt following in the footsteps of not only Walker and Francis but also Liam Brady and Graeme Souness. Platt, released on a free by Manchester United eight years ago, has now been involved in moves totalling pounds 17.4m. 'When I first joined Crewe (from United) I never dreamed for a moment that my career would develop in this way,' Platt said. He now teams up with such attacking spirits as Mancini, Lombardo and Gullit.

While the careers of Platt and Walker started slowly (Walker was rejected as a teenager by Tottenham Hotspur), Ferguson's has taken off at astonishing speed. The tall target man has long been coveted by Ibrox's board but their interest had hitherto been repelled by Dundee United, who were loathe to sell their prize asset to Scotland's most dominant club. United were close to a pounds 3.5m deal with Leeds United but the 21-year-old international failed to agree terms.

Ivan Golac, the new manager at Tannadice, explained the change of heart regarding Rangers. 'We had to take the money,' he said. 'We might have gone a couple of months into the season and found that interest in Ferguson had dropped. How often do you get offered money like that?' The deal eclipses the pounds 3.4m Blackburn paid for Alan Shearer.

Neil Ruddock, Spurs' transfer- seeking centre-half, claimed yesterday that Ossie Ardiles had agreed to release him. Ruddock said: 'He (Ardiles) said if someone came in with a reasonable offer he wouldn't stand in my way. They are asking pounds 2.7m but are open to negotiations.' Liverpool, Blackburn and Newcastle may balk at the initial evaluation. Ruddock's departure could be accelerated by a Spurs move for Colin Calderwood of Swindon, who have told the defender he must decide today.

European draws, page 37