Lazio eye £39m Rivaldo bid

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Lazio were reported yesterday to be ready to thwart any British attempt to secure the services of the European Footballer of the Year, Rivaldo.

Lazio were reported yesterday to be ready to thwart any British attempt to secure the services of the European Footballer of the Year, Rivaldo.

According to reports in Italy, the Serie A giants are ready to pay a world record transfer sum of £39m to sign the 27-year-old Brazilian from Barcelona. The Gazetta dello Sport reported that the club president, Sergio Cragnotti, is ready to pay such a fee to acquire Rivaldo, despite opposition from the player's present coach, the Dutchman Louis Van Gaal.

Lazio played down the reports last night. "Rivaldo is a great player," the president, Sergio Cragnotti, said. "But the reports that we want to buy him are just fantasy market talk."

If it were to go ahead, the transfer could be financed by the sale of the Chilean striker Marcelo Salas and the Italian defender Alessandro Nesta. The current world record transfer fee is the £29m paid by Internazionale to buy the Italian striker Christian Vieri from Lazio in June.

Rivaldo has fallen out with Van Gaal, who claims that the Brazilian tries to have his own way over his role in the side and attempts to sidestep the coach's authority.

Rivaldo, who has the Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, as an admirer, is believed to favour a central midfield role and has refused to remain out wide.

"He told me, to my great surprise, that from now on he was no longer going to play on the left wing," said Van Gaal. I was very happy to see Rivaldo take the title of player of the year and to date he has been a good professional. But when a player places himself above the philosophy of the club you have to act.

"It's a pity because I believe he was a deserved winner of the title of best player - even if that was down to playing for Barcelona," the Dutchman added.

Rivaldo was not in the Barcelona squad for the final match of the year at Rayo Vallecano last night.

"I like to do things off the cuff. The system is still important but a quality player must be able to perform his own special tricks," Rivaldo insisted.

Rivaldo, speaking on Spanish television yesterday, said that he wanted to continue playing for Barcelona, but said he wanted a more central role in the team.

"It's true I did say in the dressing-room that I don't want to play on the left any more," he confirmed. "I spoke with all due respect to my team-mates and the coaching staff but I did it because it came from the heart.

"I've spent the two years I've been here playing stuck out on the left, sacrificing myself. But now I'm 27 years old and I want to enjoy my game so that I can help Barcelona win the Champions' League, which is the principal objective. I don't want to leave Barcelona. I'm very happy here and I want to stay on."

Rivaldo revealed that he made the decision after Saturday's 2-1 victory over Atletico Madrid, when he was substituted in the second half to the jeers of the Nou Camp fans.

"That was a sad day for me and I had trouble sleeping," he said. "I did a lot of thinking and I took the decision, which had been in my mind for a long time."

Rivaldo is on a three-player shortlist for the title of World Footballer of the Year - along with Manchester United's David Beckham, who was runner-up to Rivaldo in the European contest, and the Argentinian striker Gabriel Batistuta of Fiorentina.

The decision will be announced in Brussels on 24 January. The award is voted on by 140 national coaches. Rivaldo lifted his European trophy on Monday and 24 hours later was dropped by the Van Gaal for yesterday's league match.

Batistuta, the Fiorentina striker, has almost single-handedly kept the Italian club's Champions' League hopes alive.

Brazil will receive the award for the year's best team while Slovenia won the most improved team prize after qualifying for Euro 2000.

Fair-play awards will go to the New Zealand football community and to China's women's World Cup finalists.