Niculae is awarded permit and vows to repay Inverness

JUBILANT Marius Niculae has vowed to repay Inverness Caledonian Thistle with goals after winning an appeal to play in Scotland. The Romania international will be free for selection at Motherwell on Saturday after succeeding at his work permit hearing at Hampden Park.

Home Office officials had snubbed Niculae's initial application because he had failed to take part in 75 per cent of his country's games in the last two years.

But the Highland club argued that the 26-year-old, with 12 goals from 28 caps and a 2005 UEFA Cup final appearance, was an exceptional talent who would enrich the game. Officials also stressed the failed efforts they had made to identify and sign suitable strikers from closer to home.

Niculae said: "To have to go to an appeal was very nerve-wracking - worse than a penalty shoot-out. But I'm absolutely thrilled to get the go-ahead to play for Caley Thistle, who have been terrifically supportive throughout.

"I can now concentrate on doing my best for the club and I can't wait to pull on the jersey and get playing with my team-mates. So far, all I've been able to do is take part in training games which has been very frustrating.

"I'm also very grateful to all the supporters who have backed me and voiced their support on the internet and in the street. I hope to repay them with goals for Caley Thistle. I feel fit and raring to go now and I hope I can play a part soon."

Niculae's good news came after a one-hour hearing at Hampden Stadium at which the player himself was quizzed on his reasons for coming to Scotland. He made it clear his immediate target was to make enough of an impact to win back his place in the Romanian national squad.

The tribunal featured former Scotland internationals Ray Stewart, Pat Nevin and Peter Cormack, along with Fraser Wishart of footballers union, FIFPRO, and two officials from the Home Office.

Caley Thistle chairman Alan Savage said: "We felt we had a very good hearing but were told to go away and await a decision within two hours. As you could imagine, that was a very nail- biting period indeed as we waited on the outcome.

"But all our efforts have been worthwhile and Marius can be available for the Motherwell game on Saturday if selected. Manager Charlie Christie spoke very well as we outlined the club's case that this was a player of proven quality who we could not source in Scotland.

"I felt Marius made a favourable impression, too, with his good command of English and his emphasis that he did not see Inverness as a short-term destination. He made it clear that it was one in which he could play well enough to wear Romania's colours again."

Niculae is the biggest signing in Caley Thistle's 13-year history.

As a prolific teenager in his homeland, Niculae was keenly sought by most of Europe's biggest clubs before opting for Sporting.

And, despite his career waning since moving to Germany,

his earnings will eclipse anything Caley Thistle have paid in the past.

Although his club wage fits within the top end of Inverness' structure, the total package, topped up by sponsors and with various incentives, is understood to be a significant multiple of that limit.