Birmingham look to lure Smith in £7m record deal

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The Independent Online

The Birmingham City manager, Steve Bruce, has made a club record £7m bid for the Leeds United striker, Alan Smith. Bruce, who wants to pair the England striker with Mikael Forssell next season, wants a speedy answer from Leeds, who have brought in an agent to sell Smith and his big-earning team-mates.

Bruce thinks his offer, which includes further installments of almost £1m, will persuade Leeds to sell. Although Smith has been linked with other so-called bigger clubs, headed by Newcastle United, Birmingham have put the money on the table.

This move is part of Birmingham's ambitious plan to reach the Champions' League and they have also taken Forssell on loan from Chelsea for another year in a bargain deal.

Bruce has tried to lure other leading players, like Manchester United's Nicky Butt, only to be turned down, but he has a realistic chance with Smith. The Newcastle chairman, Freddy Shepherd, does not want to pay £7m for Smith, while rivals like Middlesbrough are also reluctant to take the bidding that high.

Meanwhile, Leeds have defended their decision to bring in agent Philip Morrison to handle the sales. The club's managing director David Richmond said: "We are looking around the market place. We have never made any secret about the fact that we have to reduce the wage bill. We will not be selling players for knockdown prices. But it is very important that we are prepared, particularly if the worst comes to the worst and we are relegated.

"We're not actively looking to sell at this stage, but we are looking to see what is what. Whatever we do, we have to do it early to give us the best possible opportunity of building a strong squad for next season that is in place by the summer."

The Leeds board will hold a summit meeting next Tuesday should the club be relegated this weekend. Leeds stand on the brink of the drop as a Manchester City victory at home to Newcastle on Saturday, combined with a Leeds defeat at Bolton on Sunday, will see Leeds back in the second tier for the first time in 14 years.

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