HARTLEPOOL United have a fight on their hands to keep star striker Luke James at the club after he handed in a transfer request.
The 19-year-old - who has been heavily linked with a big money move to Peterborough United - handed in the written request to club officials yesterday.
The club confirmed the news at teatime, acknowledging the request but telling Amble-born James that he remains under contract at Pools.
As things stand he remains a Pools player but 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 an already struggling Pools side 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 leave the club.
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.”
Amble-born James has scored 22 goals in 98 appearances since coming up through the youth ranks.
His departure would be a major blow to a Pools side currently winless after three successive defeats, two in the league and one in the Capital One Cup.
Although the teenager has yet to score himself this season, with perhaps the speculation over his future contributing to that.
One thing is for sure though, an already struggling United side will be desperately short of firepower and Cooper would have to be given the freedom to bring in added reinforcements, although likely to be free transfers and loan recruits.
The club was already monitoring Mikael Mandron, of Sunderland, and Bradley Fewster, of Middlesbrough, before James handed in his transfer request.
And it also remains to be seen whether James will be in the squad for tonight’s match at home to Dagenham & Redbridge - meaning he could have already played his last game for the club.
Firm interest from Posh, managed by Darren Ferguson, 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 Ferguson.
After the game, Cooper said: “All I would say is there has been interest.
“I have spoken with Darren Ferguson 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 with Darren Ferguson 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 - something they often do quickly if there is no genuine interest.
It would, therefore, seem a deal is likely before the summer transfer window closes on Monday, September 1.
Ferguson, who said at the weekend his club had made bids for four players last week, 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 players of huge potential from the lower leagues that they usually sell on for 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 on a regular basis.
Cooper even issued a “hands off” warning to interested clubs in July and said while it may be flattering, players won’t be going anywhere unless he decides.
But speaking after the end of season awards, Cooper acknowledged both James and midfielder Brad Walker would go on to enjoy a career at a higher level.
He just hoped they would be at the club a while longer yet.
“Ever since Jack Baldwin left us in January, people know we have a pool of talent here,” said Cooper.
“But if anyone wants to try to prise either of these two lads away from us, it will cost millions of pounds.
“From my point of view, I’m chuffed to bits our club can produce talent like this but also that Luke and Brad are delighted to pull on a Pools shirt.
“At some point they will have big and successful careers.
“The longer we can hold on to them gives us an opportunity to get to a level that all Pools fans want this club to get back to.
“We need players like these two to do that.”
However, it would seem James may be leaving Hartlepool United sooner than Cooper would have liked.