HIGHLY-rated Hartlepool United striker Luke James has been linked with a £750,000 move to Peterborough United.
The 19-year-old - who signed a new contract in the summer - was the star turn at Pools last season, scoring 16 goals which led to him being crowned Supporters and Players’ Player of the Year.
Despite a lack of pre-season goals James remains highly sought after and Pools will do well to keep hold of their prize asset before the transfer deadline window closes on September 1.
There had already been rumblings this summer of interest from Sheffield Wednesday and Peterborough - who Pools sold Jack Baldwin to in January for £500,000 with several other clubs from higher up the league pyramid keeping tabs on him.
On Thursday, Peterborough United manager Darren Ferguson declined to comment on the speculation and insists he is no rush to sign a new striker despite the shock departure of last season’s top scorer Britt Assombalonga to Nottingham Forest for a club record fee in excess of £5m.
Ferguson declined to comment specifically on Amble-born James at his pre-match press conference.
“We will be linked with a lot of players,” Ferguson told the Peterborough Telegraph.
“And that list will get longer as each day passes without us signing someone, but I won’t be commenting on players under contract at another club.
“I’m in no rush to sign anyone anyway and I will make that clear to the chairman when I see him.”
Ferguson added: “In the past I’ve had targets like Dwight Gayle and Britt Assombalonga that were no-brainers for me - they were always going to do well for us.
“But it will get harder to find that sort of talent.
“We will be looking, but we won’t have anyone in the building before the game at Rochdale and if we did they wouldn’t play as I’ve done all my preparation.”
Earlier this summer Pools manager Colin Cooper issued a “hands off” warning to clubs looking to sign his star players insisting it will be him and the club who decide, if and when, players leave.
James remains a Pools player though and his manager has backed him to start scoring - starting with the weekend trip to Stevenage in Sky Bet League Two.
Cooper, speaking before news of Peterborough’s reported interest broke, said: “I have spoken with Luke and his father about what he is capable of.
“He’s signed a new contract here and got a pat on the back from me as his manager for what he achieved last year.
“For a boy of 19, he had only played a few games the season before but enjoyed last season immensely.
“But that is in the past. Now the challenge is to do it again.
“Luke looks you in the eye, wants to work and learn and is a great kid. If he can get us some goals and that will benefit him and us.
“But he was way out on his own last season and our aim this season is to get other people up at that level.
“If he gets another 16 and others anywhere around that, then that gives you half a chance.
“He’s worked hard all summer, done well, but hasn’t scored in pre-season.
“A good time to start is this weekend.”
James was the main attacking threat of a youthful Pools side last term and Cooper’s intention this summer was always to add more experience to his side.
That has been achieved with new signings Matthew Bates, Stuart Parnaby and Tommy Miller, with the Pools manager praising their impact around the training ground.
Cooper added: “After the lads who left this club by choice or by not having their contracts renewed, my aim was to add experienced to the ranks.
“Tommy, Matthew and Stuart are good people and good technical footballers.
“They set an example each day in the dressing room and around the club and if the younger players can’t learn from people of that ilk then they have a problem.
“It was a conscious effort on my part to bring in more experience.”
With the added experience among the Pools ranks there are a number of candidates to be handed the captain armband, with Bates, Miller and last season’s captain Neil Austin all contenders.
The Pools manager wasn’t giving anything away at the club’s training base though, ahead of the trip to Stevenage.