Hibs net £3m as Fletcher joins Burnley in record deal

STEVEN Fletcher last night left Hibs to sign a four-year contract with Barclays Premier League newcomers Burnley in a deal that has netted the Easter Road club £3 million.

The Scotland striker, voted the football writers' young player of the year for the past two seasons, had attracted a bid from Celtic in the January transfer window which was rejected by Hibs, and with no further interest forthcoming from Celtic under new manager Tony Mowbray, the 22-year-old has opted to link up with Owen Coyle at Turf Moor. After completing his move to the Lancashire club last night, Fletcher, who has four Scotland caps and scored the winning goal in the recent 2-1 World Cup qualifying win over Iceland at Hampden, said he believed he would continue to grow as a player under former St Johnstone manager Coyle.

"I am absolutely delighted to sign for the club," said Fletcher, who scored 52 goals in 190 games for Hibs. "It is a great feeling to be here and I am just looking forward to getting the season started now. As soon as I heard that Burnley were after me, and knowing Owen Coyle as I do from my time in Scotland, I thought this was the right place to come and develop my career.

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"The opportunity came along in January for me to join Celtic, but Hibs did not think it was the right time to move on.

"When the chance arrived to come to the Premier League and play for a club like Burnley, I was glad they accepted that and let me come down."

The loss of Fletcher comes as a blow to new Hibs manager John Hughes, who immediately spoke of his admiration for the forward when he took over from Mixu Paatelainen last month. Hughes, however, was in all probability resigned to losing Fletcher, and he will hope that a portion of the sizeable transfer fee will be made available to him to freshen up his squad.

Before the deal went through, Hughes confirmed Burnley's interest and revealed how he had spoken of the player's attributes in a telephone call to Owen Coyle. The Hibs manager added: "I am a great admirer of Fletch and I'd love to have the opportunity to work with him.

"I am a manager and a coach and I work with the players at my disposal. But I also understand football is a business and Hibs run a very good business."

The Hibs supporters, too, will be desperate to see some of the windfall reinvested in the team, having seen the club rake in more than 13m in recent seasons through the sale of Garry O'Connor, Steven Whittaker, Kevin Thomson, Scott Brown, David Murphy and now Fletcher.

Hughes, whose side returns to training today after the close-season break, now faces a battle to persuade captain Rob Jones to stay, with Nottingham Forest still believed to be keen on taking the central defender to the City Ground.

The 3m fee represents a club record for Burnley, who made Fletcher their second signing within a day having earlier snapped up full-back Tyrone Mears from Derby County.