Middlesbrough spend pounds 7m on Ravanelli

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The arrival of Fabrizio Ravanelli at Middlesbrough for pounds 7m yesterday was another pointer to the growing power of the Premiership on both the home front and in Europe.

At 27, the silver-haired Italian international is a gilt-edged striker, who may have been surplus to requirements at over-staffed Juventus, but was coveted by other Italian clubs. That he chose the Premiership - along with a string of other front-line players in what is turning out to be a golden summer for overseas signings - shows that the game here is now operating on the same exalted level as Serie A - the big-money league of Europe.

Two years ago Ravanelli swapping Turin for Teesside would have been laughed at. Then came the Brazilians Juninho and Branco, coupled with a new stadium, a flood of cash from a share of satellite television with pots more to come, and Middlesbrough start looking less like Hartlepool United and more like Manchester United.

The change has not gone unnoticed in the City. Newcastle United are poised for a floatation that would value the club at pounds 160m, second only to Manchester United at pounds 268m. Tottenham Hotspur are valued at just under pounds 100m and Chelsea pounds 60m. Leeds United have just been bought for pounds 20m by a media group and could follow Newcastle on to the Stock Exchange with a pounds 16.5m valuation. Blood was spilled at the Premiership newcomers Leicester City, whose chairman had to step aside in favour of a consortium of hard-nosed businessmen with money to burn.

The new prosperity means that Ravanelli - said by his manager, Bryan Robson, to be "one of the best strikers in the world" - can be given a four-year deal worth pounds 1.3m a year.

"You have to pay a lot of money to get this type of player," said Robson, whose close-season spending has reached pounds 11m following the pounds 4m he spent in May to capture the 24-year-old midfielder Emerson from Porto.

The fee for Ravanelli, who promised Boro supporters "100 percent commitment in an effort to win trophies", is the third largest in English history behind Stan Collymore's pounds 8.5m transfer to Liverpool and Faustino Asprilla's pounds 7.5m move from Parma to Newcastle.

Ravanelli, who made two appearances in Euro 96, has scored five goals in 11 appearances for the national side. His record in the Italian League is formidable with 118 goals in 301 games for Perugia, Avellino, Casertana, Reggiana and Juventus. The Turin club paid pounds 3m for his services in 1992 and last season he scored 22 goals, including the winner in the European Cup final against Ajax.

Ravanelli's arrival could also help bring another member of the Italian team into the Premiership, with Chelsea trying to lure the midfielder Roberto Di Matteo from Lazio for pounds 6m.

West Ham United, not to be outdone by the goings-on further north, broke their own transfer record by sealing the pounds 2.4m signing of Florin Raducioiu from Espanol. They also made Michael Hughes the first British player to be signed on a free transfer under the Bosman rules. The Northern Ireland winger has moved from Strasbourg, following a loan spell at Upton Park.

The Hammers' third signing was the full-back Mark Bowen, 33, who was given a free transfer by Norwich to help reduce their wage bill.

Raducioiu, who scored Romania's only goal in Euro 96, revealed that he did not enjoy his last year in Spain. "I don't want to speak about that," he said. "It is the present and the future that is important. I am here to score goals."

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