HARTLEPOOL United have a fight on their hands to keep star striker Luke James after he handed in a transfer request.
The £1million-rated 19-year-old – who has been heavily linked with a big -money move to Peterborough United – made his written request yesterday.
The club confirmed the news at teatime, while reminding James he remains under contract at Pools.
Ambitious League One Posh have been strongly linked with a bid of upwards of £750,000 for James.
If he does depart it would be a hammer-blow to lose a striker who netted 16 goals last season.
James finished as top scorer and went on to be named Supporters and Players’ Player of the Year.
That led to him signing a new contract this summer, with manager Colin Cooper keen to reward his good form.
But it would be hard for Pools to turn down the sums of money rumoured, especially for a player that wants to play in higher leagues.
At least with James under a new contract then the Clarence Road club are in a strong bargaining position to get a fair price for their star asset.
A club spokesman said: “Pools striker Luke James has today [Monday] handed in a written transfer request.
“The club has acknowledged the request but advised Luke that he remains under contract to Hartlepool United.
“There will be no further comment at this time.”
James has scored 22 goals in 98 appearances since coming up through the youth ranks.
His departure would be another massive set-back to a Pools side currently winless after three successive defeats, two in the league and one in the Capital One Cup.
It would also leave an already-struggling Pools desperately short of firepower and Cooper would need to bring in added reinforcements, although likely to be free transfers and loan recruits.
The club has already been monitoring Mikael Mandron, of Sunderland, and Bradley Fewster, of Middlesbrough.
Firm interest from Posh first surfaced on the eve of the new season before Pools’ trip to Stevenage in League Two.
Speaking after the game Cooper confirmed there had been interest – but no bids had been received at that stage.
The intense speculation that Peterborough had made a £750,000 bid for the striker led Cooper to personally speak with boss Darren Ferguson.
After the game, Cooper told SportMail: “All I would say is there has been interest.
“I have spoken with Darren and he has not expressed any interest.
“That doesn’t mean he doesn’t like him and doesn’t mean he doesn’t watch him, or hasn’t watched him.
“I had a conversation manager to manager and he has not made a bid for Luke James.”
The interest from Posh has not gone away though, including two rumoured bids, and it would appear the star striker has had his head turned, resulting in him putting in a transfer request.
Posh have not publicly denied their interest either – so a deal is possible before the summer transfer window closes on Monday, September 1.
Ferguson, who said at the weekend his club had made bids for four players, is certainly in need of a new striker after the shock departure of last season’s top scorer Britt Assombalonga to Nottingham Forest for a club record fee in excess of £5m.
James certainly fits the bill of the type of players they recruit –young, talented prospects of huge potential from the lower leagues that they sell a decent profit.
Peterborough – who Pools sold Jack Baldwin to on transfer deadline day in January for £500,000 – have money in the coffers following the sale of Assombalonga.
Championship side Sheffield Wednesday have also been strongly linked with James, who has courted interest ever since breaking into the first team.