Amir urged to cash in on his talent

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The Independent Online

Win or lose against Mario Kindelan, the Cuban ringmaster they say is unbeatable, this afternoon, Amir Khan should turn professional on 8 December this year. That is the advice of Britain's leading promoter, Frank Warren, and the date is significant because it is Amir's 18th birthday, when he officially becomes eligible to hang up his headguard and box for money. Big money.

Win or lose against Mario Kindelan, the Cuban ringmaster they say is unbeatable, this afternoon, Amir Khan should turn professional on 8 December this year. That is the advice of Britain's leading promoter, Frank Warren, and the date is significant because it is Amir's 18th birthday, when he officially becomes eligible to hang up his headguard and box for money. Big money.

Warren, of course, would not be alone in offering Amir a Don King's ransom as a birthday present. Naseem Hamed has been trying vainly to get through to him here and, somewhat belatedly, wish him well but also to suggest he would like to "get involved" with his fellow Muslim. Playing the Islamic card is likely to get short shrift from the Khan clan. Hamed, who claims to be making a comeback early next year, may be Amir's style in the ring, but not out of it.

Others, too, have left messages on his answerphone but there are none from Warren. "I haven't spoken to him and I certainly haven't made any approach," he says. "But I would advise him to go pro as soon as he can, and that's not just because I would love to handle him.

"He is probably as hot now as he will ever be, especially if he wins the gold. Why go on to Beijing? In four years' time he could be a world professional champion at 21 and set up for life as a multi-millionaire.

"He is made for pro boxing and he would have easier fights in his early stages as a professional than he would by staying amateur."

Warren expects to arrange a meeting with Amir and his father Shah next week. "From what I've seen of him he really is the business. He has everything. He's Hamed without the crap. But he needs knowledgeable people to guide his career. He must not go down the Audley Harrison route."

However, the BBC may have other ideas. Their lapsed interest in boxing has been rekindled by the level-headed kid with fast fists and nine GCSEs, who has captivated the viewers at home and crowds here. Although their deal with Harrison ended sourly, a similar £1 million 10-fight offer could be forthcoming should he decide to go pro, as will almost certainly be the case if the world junior champion wrests the Olympic light-weight title from the world senior champion who is regarded as the best amateur on the planet.

Actually, the boy from Bolton has already turned down a million - rupees, that is. I understand this was the sum (worth around £10,000) offered to him by Pakistan to box for the land of his ancestors rather than Britain in these Olympics.

Now Britain has an even tougher fight on its hands than Amir does against Kindelan to keep him until the next Olympics. My own guess is that he will go to Beijing - though not to the Olympics, but the world amateur championships that are being held there next year, before linking up with Warren.

But right now his future is, quite literally, a lottery. For tomorrow week he will sit down with Sport England and the ABA to decide on what funding he is to receive as a result of his performances here.

At present he gets around £13,000, which is at the lower end of the intermediate B band of lottery funding. He is certain to be upgraded to the A stream but even this is unlikely to top more than £18,000. Even a silver medal would be worth 10 times that amount as a pro.

His Bury club trainer Mick Jelley says: "It is up to the people who deal with the Lottery funding to come up with something attractive. Amir's future could depend on the outcome of this meeting." But all Amir has on his mind at the moment is his eight minutes of attrition with Kindelan, who outscored him by a substantial margin when they met in a pre-Games tournament here three months ago. Since then his mind has become as sharp as his fists. "I'm a different fighter now. My strength, my speed and my tactics have all improved."

Britain's national coach Terry Edwards predicts a tough, tight contest. The 60-year-old former South London cabbie, who has forged a delightful relationship with Amir, says of Kindelan. "He is old enough to be Amir's father. He has been magnificent, a dream fighter, but he has reached his plateau while Amir is on the up and up. He has showed here he can not only be technical but very physical. He can smack a bit hard now."

The third round that Khan fought against Kazakhstan's Serik Yeleuov, coming from behind for the first time to register seven points in succession, was probably the most crucial couple of minutes in his career.

Kindelan, the fourth southpaw Amir has faced here, is 33 and fights like a wizened old pro, slipping, sliding and cutely counter-punching. This is his last tournament and he intends to go out on a high.

But there is a real indication that suddenly the grand old man has acquired respect for the lad from Lancashire. "Every time he sees me in the village he says 'good morning, how are doing?' " says Amir. "Last time he was quite arrogant and completely ignored me. Maybe he's a bit worried."

Gold for Amir is improbable but not impossible. "If Khan can't do it, no one Khan" is the slogan on the T-shirts worn by the bevy of Amir fans from Bolton. Well, let's see if he can. His teenage precocity has confounded everyone, so he just might.

Kindelan is one of the traditional fistful of Cubans to reach the finals, whereas the Americans have had only one, light-heavyweight Andre Ward, the best of a dismal bunch whose attitude seems typified by their not-so-super-heavyweight Jason Estrada. Asked what it felt like not to get a medal, he shrugged: "I don't give a shit. I'm turning pro next month."

Hardly the sort of sentiment you would get from Amir Khan. But who knows. Unlike Estrada, by this time next year he could be both Olympic champion and a millionaire.

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