Peter Crouch last night looked set to join Tottenham Hotspur after the club finally agreed to match the terms offered to him by Sunderland and Fulham. Spurs have long been Crouch's first choice but only yesterday did they make serious moves for the striker.
Fulham have not yet given up hope of signing the 28-year-old England international but Sunderland, whose manager Steve Bruce met Crouch last Thursday, said yesterday they had withdrawn their bid of £12m. Spurs will have to match that amount if they are to make Crouch their first major signing of the summer.
Harry Redknapp's renewed pursuit of Crouch would suggest his first choice, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar of Real Madrid, is out of his grasp, with the Dutch striker seemingly heading for Stuttgart. Crouch's wages of £70,000 a week make him the top earner at Portsmouth and out of reach for all but a handful of clubs. Crouch signed associated schoolboy terms with Spurs at the age of 14, but left in 2000 for Queen's Park Rangers, without having been given a chance in the senior team.
This will be his seventh major move, plus one loan spell at Norwich, and it will be the fourth time he has played under Redknapp (at Portsmouth twice and Southampton). Bruce's fears over Crouch's willingness to relocate to the North-east were realised when the player informed Sunderland he would prefer to stay in the South.
Bruce had included Crouch among six key targets when he presented his wish list to Sunderland's chairman, Niall Quinn. The club had agreed a £12m fee with Pompey and personal terms with the player, whose agent Jonathan Barnett had rubbished claims he was looking for £90,000 a week, but could not seal a move.
"Naturally this is hugely disappointing for us as Peter was one of our primary targets," Bruce said. "I know he was impressed with the set-up here when he came for talks, but it's simply a matter of geographical location and that's not something we can affect.
"What's pleasing, however, is that it shows the intent of the club going forward that we are trying to bring in players of his calibre, and we will continue to pursue other targets.
"We have a number of irons in the fire at present and we will be looking to make several additions to our squad in the coming weeks."
Sunderland have been linked with the Spurs striker Darren Bent, a player they have previously tried to sign on at least two occasions and whose future at White Hart Lane appears limited if Crouch arrives.