McCormack stays home as Fulham prepare to swoop on Leeds star

Ross McCormack.
Ross McCormack.
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FULHAM are leading the race to sign Leeds United captain Ross McCormack and could finalise a deal to sign the Scottish international this week.

The United captain did not travel out to northern Italy with his team-mates for the start of United’s two-week training camp in Santa Cristini yesterday, prompting renewed speculation over his future, with Fulham expected to win the race to sign him.

BIG FEE ... Ross McCormack.

BIG FEE ... Ross McCormack.

Both the Cottagers and United are not commenting on speculation suggesting that the 27-year-old – top-scorer in the Championship last season with 28 goals – is poised to join, but it is understood a deal, rumoured to be worth around £10m, is close to being finalised.

Fulham saw a £5m offer for McCormack turned down by Leeds in the middle of last month, but have maintained their interest in the Scottish international and were fully expected to increase their bid with boss Felix Magath keen to add some proven Championship experience to his squad.

United owner Massimo Cellino insisted that the club would only sell McCormack if a ‘big team’ in the top-flight came calling, but he and McCormack are believed to have held a face-to-face meeting last week in which the Scot expressed a desire to leave Elland Road.

Norwich City are also known admirers of McCormack, who has also been linked with Derby County this summer, with the striker also linked with several other clubs including Newcastle United and West Ham this calendar year.

The Hammers saw a bid for the frontman turned down towards the end of the January transfer window, while the Magpies were forced to deny talk they had tabled an offer earlier this summer after Cellino stated the club had rejected a bid from the north-east club.

News that McCormack is set to join a growing list of leading United players in recent seasons to head elsewhere, with the likes of Jonny Howson, Luciano Becchio, Robert Snodgrass and Jermaine Beckford having all left since the club returned to the second tier, would represent a further blow to Whites fans.

Meanwhile, McCormack’s strike partner last season, Matt Smith, admits he would be devastated if the Scot left the club, with the big targetman rating his colleague as the best player in the Championship.

Speaking at the club’s kit launch on Saturday, he said: “I don’t think there is anyone more desperate for me than him to stay. As a fellow strike partner, he’s nothing but an absolute pleasure to play up front with.

“For me, he’s the best player in the division and an absolute magician to play up front with. So I would be devastated if he was to leave as I’d love to have another season with him because I think we are a good foil for each other.

“It’s the traditional big-man, little-man combo. The more we got used to each other, the more

rewards we got out of it. We got something like 42 goals between each other and 15 or 16 assists between us. It worked well.

“Ross is a very experienced Champonship footballer who has been at this level for a number of years now and is very established.

“As well as that, we were very close friends away from the pitch as well and I think that’s a massive help.

“He didn’t necessarily put an arm around me, but was brilliant for me and I was always be grateful for that, with it being my first season at this level.”

United also flew out to the continent for training yesterday minus goalkeeper Paddy Kenny, who is expected to also leave for pastures new later this summer.

Kenny, who has stayed behind in West Yorkshire, has a year left on his United deal and will consider his options fully in the coming weeks before deciding upon his next move.

Meanwhile, sources close to the club have suggested that Cameron Stewart will not be joining United, who say the player has declared himself as a free agent after his deal expired at Hull City yesterday – with no full contract awaiting him at Leeds.

The club have confirmed that a total of 20 players made the trip to Italy on Monday morning, with the other significant absences alongside McCormack and Kenny, former skipper Rudy Austin and defender Marius Zaliukas.

Due to administrative issues, the Jamaican international has not yet joined up with his team-mates in Santa Cristini but is expected to do so in the coming days. Also missing from the trip are injured duo Alex Mowatt and Scott Wootton who will be working on their rehabilitation back at Leeds.

Included in the travelling group were youngsters Lewis Cook, Jake Skelton, Chris Dawson and Lewis Walters.

Hull have signed Scotland international Robert Snodgrass from Norwich.

The clubs agreed a fee for the 26-year-old former Leeds United winger on Thursday, understood to be a one-off payment of £7million, and personal terms have now been settled on the winger’s switch to the KC Stadium.

It is the second major signing of the close season for the Tigers, after last week’s £8m capture of Jake Livermore.