BLACKBURN Rovers issued an angry denial today of a national tabloid story which claimed striker Chris Sutton was set to leave for Arsenal at the end of the season.

The story in the Sun said Rovers were aiming to cash in on Sutton, rather than lose out under the Bosman rulings. But there hasn't even been any contact between the club managers.

And, incredibly, it also claimed that they intended to use the money from the sale to finance a deal for Lazio's Pierluigi Casiraghi - again at the end of the season.

Rovers have already confirmed their interest in Casiraghi but Lazio were not prepared to release the player.

They retain an interest in him but not at the expense of losing Sutton.

And they laughed off the suggestion they need to sell to buy.

Their angry reaction to the "unsubstantiated" report, stems from the fact that it could have a disruptive effect on their great start to the season.

Manager Roy Hodgson made the position clear when he said: "Despite having known Arsene Wenger for many years, I have not spoken to him once since my arrival in this country." Money can surely not be a factor at Ewood as Hodgson is already more than £10 million in pocket from his transfer dealings.

That's apart from any cash which was available for him when he arrived.

Chief Executive John Williams confirmed: "Any inference that the club has to sell players in order to enter the market as buyers could not be further from the truth."

As for the suggestion that they don't want to lose out financially because of Bosman, the club aren't stupid.

Some time ago they set up an ongoing process of talking to players about new contracts, in order to sign them on long-term agreements.

Sutton's present contract runs out in 1999 and I am sure they will already have had preliminary talks with him about a new deal.

But, with him under contract for more than 18 months yet, there is no need to rush things, as long as both player and club know the position.

Arsenal, of course, wanted Sutton at the same time that Rovers were trying to sign him from Norwich. The striker opted for Ewood Park instead of Highbury and has a championship medal to show for his first year with Rovers.

Injuries and illness plagued his next two seasons but he still scored goals and he has now returned to full fitness and form and is thoroughly enjoying himself at the club.

Sutton is happily settled with his family in the area and has told me many times that he is simply concentrating on doing well for Rovers.

The arrival of Hodgson has clearly given him a major lift and he has responded by shooting to the top of the Premiership scoring charts.

"Roy's a good coach and he wants to get the best out of the players," he said only this week.

"He motivates the players very well and we all respect him because he's got such a tremendous record.

"After what happened last year, we realise how close we were to relegation and we want to be successful."

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