O'Leary leads race for striker

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The Independent Football

The Leeds United manager David O'Leary is ready to make a £12m bid for Liverpool's unsettled striker Robbie Fowler. O'Leary wants cash backing from his chairman Peter Ridsdale to pull off the major coup and plans to swoop for the Kop idol immediately.

Fowler's future is in doubt and O'Leary thinks the time is right to bring in a player who could fulfil his aim of reaching the Champions' League this season. He said that he needs to strengthen his strike-force and behind-the-scenes moves have already begun to lure Fowler to Leeds.

The striker's problems at Anfield are now common knowledge. He has been more out than in and there is no sign of a new long-term contract being signed to keep him at his one and only club. However, the Liverpool manager Gérard Houllier faces a dilemma as he has to decide whether he can lose Fowler now while Michael Owen is injured.

But the Leeds interest may not last and Houllier may also deliver a damning verdict on Fowler by leaving him out of the Champions' League clash with Dynamo Kiev tonight.

Leeds's entrance into the manhunt has squeezed out rivals Blackburn Rovers, who cannot compete at the price.

Houllier admits Liverpool must learn to live without Owen. "Michael doesn't have a big (hamstring) tear, but it needs to be treated the right way. We will have to be patient, but he's strong enough to come back as good as he was.

"I think it will be between three or four weeks, hopefully, before he's back. I'm not going to say that we don't miss him because we do," added the Liverpool manager. "We miss him in training, we miss him everywhere because he's a very joyful and enthusiastic character."

Aston Villa have been dealt a blow ahead of their return Uefa Cup clash away to Varteks, with their skipper and key midfielder Paul Merson admitting that he faces around three weeks on the sidelines with a calf strain. Merson was left out of Monday's 3-1 win at Southampton – the first Premiership game he had missed for 19 months – with the hope that he would be fit for Thursday's game in Croatia.

But he is ruled out of the second leg plus Sunday's home Premiership encounter with Blackburn and the Worthington Cup tie with visiting Reading on 10 October.

The long-awaited verdict on the crisis-hit Wembley national stadium project has been put back by another month. The Government have ordered troubleshooter Patrick Carter to carry out a second report and make a final recommendation in four weeks' time.

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