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FOOTBALL: HIT-MAN LEE'S ON HIS WAY; Sky Blues' pounds 5,000,0001 swoop for Baggies hero.

Byline: ALAN POOLE

LEE HUGHES is set to sign for Coventry City today - but West Bromwich Albion are desperately trying to salvage a slice of any future profit if he moves on from the Sky Blues.

The Baggies reluctantly agreed to let their prolific striker talk to City last night when a pounds 5,000,001 bid from Highfield Road triggered the escape clause in his Hawthorns contract.

And West Bromwich chairman Paul Thompson admitted: "If Lee decides he wants to go we have to accept the offer. Lee's contract includes a clause that states the club is prepared to grant the player the opportunity of a transfer providing the offer received exceeds pounds 5million and we have to honour that clause.

"But I think we should have a 15-per-cent sell-on clause in any offer that we accept."

As exclusively revealed in The Evening Telegraph 10 days ago, the Sky Blues moved in for Hughes when John Hartson confirmed his about-turn switch to Celtic.

They pitched their offer at a fraction above pounds 5m to force Albion's hand - mirroring the contractual sting that saw Aston Villa snatch Dion Dublin in 1998.

And yesterday evening City - notoriously publicity-shy these days - broke their silence to announce: "A fee has been agreed. The player is now in talks with Coventry and both sides are confident of reaching an agreement."

Minutes later Thompson countered: "I believe Lee is worth more than pounds 5million and we have therefore rejected the offer."

But West Brom quickly bowed to the inevitable, chief executive John Wile conceding: "The ball is in the player's court and we are just waiting to see how things develop.

"Even if Coventry had offered us pounds 5million and one penny, under the terms of Lee's contract he must be allowed the opportunity of a transfer."

West Brom must now hand over pounds 750,000 to Kidderminster Harriers as part of the deal that saw Hughes move from Aggborough for pounds 350,000 in 1997 - but it seems unlikely that City chairman Bryan Richardson would soothe the Baggies' disappointment by volunteering a similar sell-on clause.

Since joining the club he supported from childhood, 25-year-old Hughes has become a terrace idol at the Hawthorns, proving his match-winning credentials with 86 goals in 176 appearances.

And his arrival at Highfield Road to form a potentially explosive partnership with former Villa striker Julian Joachim will be a huge boost to City fans disillusioned by Hartson's sudden departure.

In a frantic day of pre-season activity, City were also tying up the arrivals of Middlesbrough's Republic of Ireland winger Keith O'Neill and Youssef Safri who, as exclusively revealed by the Evening Telegraph, is joining Moroccan team-mate Youssef Chippo at Highfield Road.

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HOT SHOT: Lee Hughes notched 86 goals in 176 outings for West Brom FOILED: West Brom chairman Paul Thompson
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Aug 8, 2001
Words:473
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