Town boss Jim Magilton looked all set to spark a transfer tug-of-war across the great East Anglian divide after reports today that Newcastle United had accepted a ?3.5 million bid from Ipswich for long-time Glenn Roeder target Shola Ameobi.
It could prove to be the first example of Town's reclusive owner Marcus Evans flexing his financial muscles in the summer transfer market.
He has, after all, just relegated long-standing Portman Road supremo David Sheepshanks down to the role of 'non-executive chairman' – a naked signal of Evans' intent, say insiders, to personally take this promotion bull by the horns this season after the Suffolk side's play-off challenge faded last time out.
Ameobi, 26, has long been the subject of Championship interest and recently rejected the chance to stay in the Premiership with newly-promoted Stoke, where he played six games on loan ? without managing to score a goal ? towards the end of last season.
What is not in doubt is that Roeder is a fan of the player.
As recently as his end-of-season press briefing the Norwich boss stated: “Shola Ameobi is a player that I like ? whether Shola Ameobi is prepared to drop into the Championship, I don't know.”
Middlesbrough were said to be interested – at the ?4 million mark. But Roeder added: “All paper talk; all paper talk. And, to be honest, I don't even want to really talk about what Newcastle might meant to be getting or not meant to be getting. I don't think Kevin Keegan would enjoy me talking about one of his players, so we'll drop it there.”
Ipswich's move will certainly test Roeder's liking for the player – and, indeed, Norwich's own financial resolve.
Are the Canaries willing to match Town's ?3.5 million offer in the knowledge that they have other aces up their sleeve? Not least Roeder's own relationship with the player – as well as his deep, Tyneside connections with the likes of City No2 Lee Clark, Canary midfielder Matty Pattison and Colney motivational guru, Steve Black.
Three more powerful reasons for Ameobi to look in Norfolk's direction – provided the money was right for Newcastle. And Ameobi.
Magilton managed to keep secret his move for the tall, powerful striker until myfootballwriter.com was first to hear the news today.
The Portman Road boss was known to have several players on his summer shopping list but that he is prepared to spend such a large chunk of his budget on the Newcastle front man will take a lot of supporters on either side of the Waveney by surprise.
Ameobi, who is due to get married this summer, has made 230 appearances and scored 46 goals for the Geordies, whom he joined straight from school. After graduating from their famed Academy he was given his senior debut by ex-Ipswich manager Sir Bobby Robson in September, 2000.
Sir Bobby – now Ipswich's honorary president – will not be the only Portman Road insider to likewise know the player inside-out. Ex-Newcastle chief scout Charlie Woods, now a trusty lieutenant of Magilton's, will in every likelihood have had his say, too.
Ameobi is clearly surplus to requirements for current boss Kevin Keegan. The very fact that Keegan allowed Ameobi to join Stoke on loan suggested his St James' Park days were numbered and today's news confirms he will be on his way. One way or the other.
The big question now is whether Magilton can sufficiently impress Ameobi to throw in his lot with Ipswich – no doubt trying to convince the player that his time out of the top flight will be kept to a minimum.
Or whether Roeder will deem that ?3.5 million price tag too rich for a player he has long coveted. Or, indeed, whether the Carrow Road board have both the willingness and wherewithal to take on the Evans purse for a player that the City chief admitted would “blitz” the second tier of the English game.
“I believe he is a Premiership player full stop,” said Roeder earlier this summer, who – the records suggest – brought the best out of Ameobi in his spell in charge at St James' Park.
“I don't believe – I know he is,” added the City boss. “When I was at Newcastle, he was knocking in a goal every three games. He'd blitz the Championship.
“If I was Shola Ameobi I would only want to play in the Premiership. But who knows? Let's wait and see…”
The ball has clearly popped into the court of Newcastle's two transfer chiefs – director of football Dennis Wise and vice-president (player recruitment) Tony Jimenez – with Keegan likely to be sidelined in terms of the more precise discussions.
Whether Ipswich's ball is the only one in play will be the next big question as this summer's transfer merry-go-round suddenly fired into life.