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Albion planning crisis talks with want-away strike king Hughes.

West Bromwich Albion are torn between cashing in on a multi-million pound asset or sticking to their guns in refusing to let Lee Hughes leave the Hawthorns, in response to his written transfer request on Saturday.

The club's chief executive, John Wile, will meet with Hughes and his agent tomorrow in an effort to resolve the crisis which saw Albion's popular 32-goal striker demand a move after the 1-0 win over Bury.

The club could transform its fragile finances with anything between pounds 3 million and pounds 7 million if they granted his request to seek fame and considerably more fortune elsewhere, but Wile made it clear last night that they had no intention of letting him go.

"Lee Hughes handed in a written request after the game against Bury and it came as a total surprise," Wile said.

"But I have recommended to the board that it should not be granted and I know that the directors are totally in agreement on the issue.

"I will be talking to Lee and his agent on Tuesday and obviously, there is a lot to discuss."

Wile refused to speculate on what prompted the country's top goalscorer to turn his back on a contract which has another three years to run after this season.

Although he is not the highest-paid player at The Hawthorns - arguably, he deserves to be - Hughes made it clear several months ago that he was happy with the deal which rewarded his leap from the Conference with Kidderminster Harriers in the summer of 1997.

An Albion fan from the day he first stood on the Birmingham Road End terraces at the age of six, Hughes regarded his move to the First Division from Aggborough as the realisation of a dream when former Albion manager Ray Harford came in for him.

But with 32 goals to his name this season, to go with 14 last year and little sign that Albion are destined for Premiership football in the foreseeable future, it appears that Hughes has set his heart on the big time.

Albion's chairman, Tony Hale, was shocked by his transfer request, which came out of the blue after Denis Smith's men had ended their home campaign on a high note.

"Lee is one of our better players and we have no intention of letting him go," Hale confirmed. "We have said that all along. The transfer request will definitely be turned down."

If Hughes has made his mind up that he wants to play Premiership football, and Bryan Robson's Middlesbrough are one of several clubs ready to grant his wish, a long history of itinerant players suggests there is nothing they can do to deter him.

The directors are likely to issue a unanimous directive tomorrow that their most marketable asset stays and if so, they will order him to see out the remaining three years of his contract.

But football, in an era when Premiership football means as much to aspiring players as their agents, is not like that. The bottom line is that Lee Hughes, like every other player determined to leave his club, has his price.

Albion are about to find out how much.
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Author:Ward, Michael
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 3, 1999
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