Lampard out 'a few weeks'

Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard is out for 'a few weeks' after suffering a torn thigh muscle.

Lampard picked up the injury during the 4-4 draw with Aston Villa on Boxing Day and was replaced by Michael Ballack after 26 minutes.

Walcott is the only doubt for North London derby

“The injury news is quite good compared to last week,” Arsène Wenger told Arsenal TV Online on Thursday afternoon. “The only one who is problematic is Theo Walcott. He is not fit to practice. He has had flu and has not recovered completely. Everybody else is available.”

Therefore Emmanuel Eboue is fit despite being stretchered off against Avram Grant’s side.

Castillo hopes for City bow

The City boss added: "He's a very good player, he's quick, has good technique and can play wide midfielder or can play second striker, so I think he will fit in very, very well with our style of playing and how we're trying to play.

Larsson open to offer

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson could again turn to Henrik Larsson when the transfer window opens in January.

...Ferguson is now weighing up his options and will consider a second call to Larsson.

The former Celtic and Barcelona star's contract has expired at Helsingborgs and he is keen to bring the curtain down on his much-decorated career with one last hurrah in either England or Scotland.

Eriksson: Hart is my number one

Sven-Goran Eriksson admits he would not be surprised if Andreas Isaksson asks to leave Manchester City after being told Joe Hart is number one.

After switching the two men around over the past month, Eriksson vowed to make a final decision on his first-choice in the aftermath of Tuesday's Carling Cup defeat by Tottenham.

Although Hart was beaten twice by Spurs at Eastlands, Eriksson saw enough ability in the England Under-21 star both this week and in his eight previous first-team appearances for the Blues this term to place his trust in the former Shrewsbury man.


It was planned for Castillo to make his debut in the January 2 meeting with Newcastle at St James' Park.

Instead, red tape could delay his official signing by 24 hours, meaning he would not be able to play until the following weekend's FA Cup tie at West Ham.

Meanwhile, Eriksson has confirmed young midfielder Michael Johnson is unlikely to figure against Aston Villa on Saturday.

The England Under-21 international has reported some discomfort from the abdominal surgery he had last month and while Eriksson is confident Johnson will not require another operation, the player has been advised to rest for a couple of days.

Spurs linked with Dutch ace

Ajax defender Urby Emanuelson is a target for Tottenham, according to the player's agent.

Spurs boss Juande Ramos is weighing up his options as he ponders bolstering his squad when the transfer window reopens next month.

Ramos could be in the market for a new left-back with Gareth Bale facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines through injury.

Emanuelson is regarded as one of the best young players in Europe having come through the famed Ajax youth ranks.

City complete loan deal for striker Castillo

Manchester City have confirmed the capture of Nery Castillo from Shakhtar Donetsk on a year-long loan deal.

The Mexico forward only signed for the Ukrainian outfit in the summer in a lucrative £15million deal from Olympiacos, but after failing to impress he will now join Sven-Goran Eriksson's squad in January.

Preview: City v Bolton

Rolando Bianchi, who, after his confidence-boosting goal at White Hart Lane, is set to start a league game for the first time in three months.

Bet the Under

Wenger unsure over trio

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger admits he is unsure if any of Cesc Fabregas, Mathieu Flamini and Alexander Hleb will be fit to face Chelsea in Grand Slam Sunday.

Star midfielder Fabregas has been out of action since picking up a hamstring injury against Sevilla last month, while Flamini and Hleb have missed the last three games after suffering knocks at Aston Villa.

The midfield trio are back in light training, but Wenger insists they are all still doubtful for Sunday's tussle with title rivals Chelsea.

Robin van Persie could start against Chelsea after making a successful return to action against Steaua Bucharest on Wednesday.

The Dutchman has recovered from the knee injury which sidelined him for two months and he is keen to feature against Chelsea.

However, Wenger will wait on the advice of his medical staff before making a decision on Van Persie's involvement.

"At the moment, he does not have the green light medically," added Wenger.

"Once he gets that, we have to test him on the pitch with the other players and then we can make a decision."

Fulham's McBride suffers injury setback

Fulham captain Brian McBride has suffered a minor setback in his recovery from a knee injury and is unlikely to return until the New Year.

Cottagers boss Lawrie Sanchez had provisionally pencilled in the American striker to make his comeback against Wigan Athletic before Christmas.

But the 35-year-old will not play until January after having a cortisone injection following a visit to the specialist.

Lehmann to risk Euro 2008 place

Jens Lehmann looks all set to remain at Arsenal until next summer despite not playing regular first-team football.

The German goalkeeper has stated his desire to remain in London until the summer of 2008 so as not to disrupt the lives of his young family.


Arsenal keeper Jens Lehmann is being linked with a loan move to Manchester City.

The Evening Standard says that City are looking for an experienced custodian and will look to bring in the German.

Lehmann has been told he has no future at Arsenal but he needs first-team football to keep his place as Germany's number one at Euro 2008.

Wenger admitted: "I can't guarantee he will be here for the second half of the season but I can't make that guarantee about anybody.

Out of favour Lehmann to return for Arsenal

Veteran German goalkeeper Jens Lehmann is set to return to the Arsenal team for Wednesday night's final Champions League Group H clash against whipping boys Steaua Bucharest at Emirates Stadium.

Striker Robin van Persie will also be in the squad, having recovered from a knee problem which sidelined him since October, while midfielder Abou Diaby is fit again following a back problem.

Elano back to boost City

Sven Goran Eriksson will be able to call on the services of Elano again when Manchester City face Bolton on Saturday.

The influential Brazilian has missed the last two games with a hamstring problem and without his creative influence City have only picked up one point from a possible six...

"Elano is almost sure to be fit for the Bolton game," the Swedish boss told the Manchester Evening News.

"The plan is that he will return to full training today (Tuesday)."

Hobbs set for first start

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez is set to give Jack Hobbs his first Premiership start against Reading if Jamie Carragher fails to make it.

Centre-half Carragher appears to be losing his race to be fit enough for the trip to the Madejski Stadium on Saturday following his clash with Pepe Reina during the 4-0 win over Bolton which left him with bruised ribs.

If there are any doubts over the defender's fitness then Benitez will not risk him, with massive games coming up against Marseilles in the Champions League and Manchester United in the Premiership.

Hobbs looks set to start although Benitez may opt to push Alvaro Arbeloa to centre-back should Steve Finnan recover from a calf injury in time to face Steve Coppell's men.


"No Fabregas, no Hleb, no Van Persie, no Flamini will be back for the weekend," admitted Wenger in his post-match press conference at St James' Park.

Cech eyes Black Cats return

Petr Cech has set his sights on a return to action against Sunderland this weekend.

The Czech Republic international has missed the last four games with a calf injury.

However, Cech is back in training and he is hopeful of being available for the clash with Roy Keane's Sunderland...

"I couldn't make it against West Ham last weekend but hope to play on Saturday."

Chelsea rocked as scan shows Drogba needs knee operation

Didier Drogba requires surgery on a knee problem which could keep him out for several weeks although the club have yet to decide when the operation will go ahead. The Ivory Coast striker had a scan yesterday, which showed that the injury to his left knee, first picked up while on international duty last month, has not healed. Chelsea's medical team will now examine the scan and talk to the player before making a decision on what action to take.

Due to return this week

Mario Stanić -- the biggest tease in fantasy football history. Scored this AMAZING goal against West Ham on the opening week of the season. Promptly got injured, but each week his return was teased in the team news. I don't think he ever did make it back.

Everton v Zenit St Petersburg

Everton have fitness doubts over defender Joseph Yobo and goalkeeper Tim Howard ahead of their crucial UEFA Cup group A clash with newly crowned Russian champions Zenit St Petersburg.

Yobo has an ankle injury while Howard has been suffering from sickness this week, leaving boss David Moyes with concerns as he plans for a match that sees Everton needing just one point to qualify for the next stage.

Chelsea Striker Drogba Admitted To Hospital

Chelsea striker Didier Drogba is suffering from severe swelling of the knee so bad that he was admitted to hospital on both Monday and Tuesday.

The Ivorian has experienced troubles with his knee since the early part of this season, although it is not yet known what exactly has caused the inflamation.

Drogba was many people's man-of-the-match in Chelsea's 1-0 win over West Ham on Saturday, but his knee troubles returned soon after the game...

Chelsea's medical staff fear that the swelling could be down to a tiny piece of floating bone or cartilage rubbing against the muscle - the same problem suffered previously by Blues captain John Terry.

Drogba is due to undergo a scan at the hospital on Wednesday, but if keyhole surgery is deemed necessary the Ivorian faces three weeks on the sidelines. In any case, he is rated highly doubtful for Saturday's game with Sunderland.

Injury blow for midfield duo

Alexander Hleb and Mathieu Flamini have been ruled out of Arsenal's trip to Newcastle on Wednesday, live on Sky Sports 1.

Arsene Wenger's side will now be without the services of four international midfielders. Cesc Fabregas and Abou Diaby both missed the 2-1 victory over Aston Villa on Saturday with hamstring and back injuries respectively and will not be fit in time for the journey to Tyneside.

The impressive victory at Villa Park may have maintained the Gunners' three point lead at the top of the Premier League, but it came at a price.

Hleb picked up an Achilles/hamstring problem while Flamini has suffered a recurrence of a thigh injury. Wenger is likely to bring young Brazilian Denilson back into the first team squad after injury, whilst Lassana Diarra and Gilberto Silva also provide experienced midfield options.

Hleb and Fabregas are also unlikely to be back in contention for Arsenal's game at Middlesbrough on Sunday, but there is optimism over Flamini's chances of making a swift return. Striker Robin Van Persie will not feature in either of the North East games as he is still a couple of weeks away from recovering from a knee injury.

Pompey fight early release of Nigerians

Pompey's current African Cup contingent [Nigeria's Kanu and John Utaka, Ghana's Sulley Muntari and Senegal's Papa Bouba Diop] are so far pencilled in to miss the Fratton Park clashes with Derby on January 19 and Chelsea on February 2.

They could also miss trips to Manchester United (January 30) and Bolton (February 9), as well as a potential FA Cup fourth-round tie on January 26.

But Benjani will be available after Zimbabwe failed to qualify for the finals.

Flamini set to miss out Newcastle game

Premier League leaders Arsenal have seen midfielder Mathieu Flamini added to their absentee list with a reoccurrence of his thigh problem ahead of Wednesday night's game at Newcastle

Winger Alexander Hleb (Achilles), Cesc Fabregas (hamstring) and Abou Diaby (back) are also out, so Brazilians Gilberto and Denilson are set to come into contention.

Keane suspension stands as appeal fails

Robbie Keane will miss the north London derby with Arsenal after Tottenham's appeal against his red card for serious foul play against Birmingham was rejected.

The striker, 27, will now serve a three-match domestic suspension as a result of the dismissal for a challenge on Birmingham's Fabrice Muamba... Keane will also miss games against Manchester City and Portsmouth.

Meanwhile, Spurs have been boosted by the return of Ledley King for the reserve team clash with Fulham.

Spurs vs Birmingham - The post-mortem

[I]t surprised me initially to see the aerial presence of Bent sacrificed for Jermain Defoe, though finding out later that Bent had suffered a thigh strain cleared things up. What it didn't clear up is our ever-increasing injury crisis, which was hit even harder when Bale limped off with fifteen minutes to go.

Lasagna-gate, redux?

Ferguson... confirmed both Patrice Evra and Rio Ferdinand had been forced off after a stomach virus hit the United camp this week.

Hleb doubt for Toon clash

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger reveals that midfielder Alexander Hleb is a major doubt for the match against Newcastle United on Wednesday. "Alex had a hamstring problem before the [Aston Villa] game but we decided to play him. He had a recurrence and I'm not sure he will be available for Newcastle."

Toon defensive crisis ahead of Gunners clash

Newcastle defenders Abdoulaye Faye and Steve Carr are doubts for the home clash with Arsenal after limping out of the Blackburn defeat... Boss Sam Allardyce is already without Claudio Cacapa and also sweating on the return of England Under-21 star Steven Taylor, who will not make his comeback until he receives clearance from a specialist after a back problem suffered on international duty.

New Old Home


After returning to this, our new old home, Neal and I are happy to announce that we're moving back to our old new home with of Yahoo! UK. Be sure to join us over there as we have lots of fun in store for the new season.

Man United suffer Park injury blow

FOOTBALL 2006-2007 Premiership Man United-Aston Villa Park Ji-Sung - 1

SEOUL (Reuters) - Manchester United midfielder Park Ji-sung will miss the first half of next season following knee surgery, media reported on Monday.

Park, who underwent an operation in the United States in April, arrived on Sunday in his native South Korea and will join up with the United squad on their pre-season tour later this week.

"I will be able to be back playing in January of next year," Park was quoted saying in local sports daily Sports Seoul.

Nani moving up one spot in the pecking order.

Bridge Injury New Headache For Jose

Chelsea will be forced to start the new season without a recognised left-back after Wayne Bridge underwent surgery for a mystery pelvis injury.

In a worrying echo of the defensive crisis that undermined the Blues last season, Bridge has been ruled out for three months while Ashley Cole has not yet returned to training following an ankle operation.

According to The Daily Mail, Chelsea initially believed Bridge, who broke down in training last week, was suffering with a hip injury but he was sent to see a specialist when his condition did not improve.

Bridge will be unable to resume ball work for two months.

New signing Tal Ben Haim is poised to fill in until either Cole or Bridge return.

"Without Bridge and Cole for a few more weeks, I think Tal is my first option for left back," said boss Jose Mourinho. "I will play him in one of these matches at left back because I want to give him some routine, but I know he's a player I can trust."

Anyone remember how much Ben Haim was cost by the end of last season? Might be a bargain whatever the price.

And speaking of Chelsea fullbacks, everyone see Alves come in for Brazil yesterday and finish a textbook counter-attack? Just a thing of beauty, as was, to be honest, Baptista's opener.

Weekend round-up

Blackburn Rovers

A free-kick from David Bentley was swung into the penalty area where Ooijer arrived to head home.

Stephen Warnock limped off with an injury after 18 minutes and was replaced by Bruno Berner.


[John Terry] struck in the 84th minute when he collected a pass from new signing Malouda and beat America goalkeeper Armando Navarrete with a powerful strike.

It proved an eventful debut for the former Lyon winger, who also netted the equaliser to mark his Chelsea bow in impressive fashion.

Defender Sam Hutchinson found Malouda and the midfielder managed to sneak a shot past America goalkeeper Armando Navarrete to level the encounter before having a hand in Terry's late winner.

Tottenham Hotspur

Tottenham's Egypt internationals Mido and Hossam Ghaly are being linked with transfers to Middlesbrough and Birmingham respectively.


Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has confirmed that defender Fabio Aurelio will miss the start of the season after failing to recover in time from a ruptured Achilles tendon.

The Brazilian full-back sustained the knock during the Reds' Champions League tie against PSV Eindhoven back in April, but could be out for a further four weeks with the niggling injury.

Derby County

Derby midfielder Giles Barnes is set to miss the start of the new season as he continues his rehabilitation from a broken foot.

Barnes, who suffered the injury during the play-off final victory over West Brom, has been ordered to rest until the end of the month, delaying his return to training.


Brazilian midfielder Denilson suffered an injury scare as Arsenal claimed a 2-0 friendly win at Barnet on Saturday.The Gunners' win over the League Two outfit came courtesy of goals from Emmanuel Adebayor and Nacer Bazarite.

The victory looked set to be overshadowed by Denilson's exit on a stretcher, but a statement on the club's official website said: "Later his injury was reported to be minor."

Healy in Fulham move

FOOTBALL 2006-2007 Championship David Healy Leeds United - 0

Northern Ireland striker David Healy has joined Fulham on a four-year deal from League One side Leeds United. The 27-year-old former Preston man is believed to have cost in the region of £2.5 million.

Healy, who learnt his trade at Manchester United, has the Northern Ireland goalscoring record of 29 goals in 56 games and nine so far in their Euro 2008 qualifying campaign, making him the top scorer in Europe.

He is reunited with his former national team manager Sanchez and joins compatriots Steven Davis, Aaron Hughes and Chris Baird at Craven Cottage.

At Leeds, Healy was an enigmatic figure, often criticised for inconsistency at club level and scoring many of his goals from the bench. He hit 29 in three seasons but could not help the Elland Road club avoid relegation to League One.

Eriksson ties up Bianchi transfer

FOOTBALL 2006-2007 Reggina Rolando Bianchi - 0

Sven-Goran Eriksson has sealed his first signing as Manchester City manager by clinching the transfer of Reggina striker Rolando Bianchi.The Italian has moved to Eastlands for an undisclosed fee which the Serie A club had previously claimed to be £8.8million.

Bianchi, 24, was the fourth highest scorer in Serie A last season with 18 goals, helping to keep Reggina in the top flight.

Eriksson told the club's website: "He scored nearly 20 goals last season in Serie A, which is a lot of goals in such a difficult league.

"He's young, and I think it's a very important signing because he should have a great future. He's a good footballer as well as a good goalscorer, which is what we need.

"He's very hardworking, very strong and he can score - if you can score nearly 20 goals in Serie A and you are not with one of the top clubs like Milan or Juve then you must be talented. It's a good record, and let's hope he continues with it.

"Let's hope he continues with it" indeed. Maybe come the end of the season we'll be talking about Ronaldo and Rolando as opposite sides of the Manchester coin. But I doubt it.

Sunderland sign ex-Magpie Chopra

Sunderland have signed Michael Chopra from Cardiff City on a four-year deal.

The former Newcastle striker joins the newly promoted Mackems for a fee believed to around £5 million, after scoring 22 league goals for Cardiff last season.

He becomes Roy Keane's third signing for Sunderland in the close-season, following the capture of defensive duo Russell Anderson from Aberdeen and Greg Halford from Reading.

"He's a natural goalscorer who will bring competition with our other quality strikers to the side," said Keane.

"I'm very confident he will score goals for this football club."

Keane doing a bit of squad building. I wouldn't expect Chopra to be a top of the line guy as he never showed that he has what it takes when he was at NUFC, and because I think Sunderland will be happy just to stay up this season. Regardless of whether or not Chopra is ready to make the leap, Keane showed last year that he likes to play a lot of players, keeping the fresh, and on their toes.

All that being said, let's not forget about Dean Whitehead. Great (relatively speaking) season in the Premiership when Sunderland were just HORRIBLE around him. And he didn't let up last year even though he was once again playing in the Championship. Depending on his price tag (and as he is a player with Premiership history, you never can tell how Yahoo! will value him) he could be a fantasy sleeper again this season.

Cottagers Snap Up Konchesky

West Ham United's Paul Konchesky is sent off by referee Chris Foy

Think Dailly is wishing him a happy birthday?

Paul Konchesky became new Fulham manager Lawrie Sanchez's fifth signing of the summer after he penned a four-year contract and ended his anguish at West Ham.

Konchesky's future at Upton Park looked uncertain when his former Charlton boss Alan Curbishley arrived last season and he made just four appearances after Alan Pardew's exit in December.

Konch has always been a bit of a fantasy gamble. He's a good crosser of the ball, good at set pieces, and will (surprisingly unwillingly) play in midfield. However he has a horrible disciplinary record. At his best with Charlton he was good for an assist and a yellow per match. At West Ham it just got worse.

This move doesn't make much sense unless he's going to be asked to play in midfield. Fulham already have Bocanegra and Queudrue on the left side of defence. However they never replaced Boa Morte, who made that side of midfield his own since going to Fulham from Arsenal. And after releasing Jensen, Radzinski, and Pembridge, they may be looking to Konch for his attacking, not his defending, skills. If he does end up in midfield, and if he does end up taking dead balls for Fulham, and if he can stay out of the referee's notebook, he may be a real fantasy bargain.

Yossi joins Reds

Yossi Benayoun, West Ham United

[Yossi Benayoun] completed his protracted transfer by committing himself to the club until 2011.

The two Premier League clubs spent several weeks haggling over the value of the 27-year-old, who had held off signing a new contract at Upton Park once he learned of Liverpool's interest.

However, a fee - believed to be �5million - was finally agreed on Wednesday and the formalities of the deal were completed with the player on Thursday.

Viva la Rafa-lution!

Duscher Gets Magpies Chance

Newcastle manager Sam Allardyce is stepping up his summer rebuilding programme by handing Argentinian midfielder Aldo Duscher the chance to win a move to Tyneside.

The 28-year-old - out of contract with Deportivo La Coruna - has arrived at St James' Park for a trial as Allardyce considers another free transfer.

Duscher, who achieved notoriety for fracturing David Beckham's metatarsal ahead of the 2002 World Cup finals in a Champions League clash between Deportivo and Manchester United, has been dubbed "the butcher" by fans in Spain.

Wow. Duscher and Barton in the same midfield. Forget two referrees... these guys will need an on-pitch police escort!

Babel signs for Liverpool

FOOTBALL 2007 European Under-21 Championship Netherlands Ryan Babel - 0

Ajax and Netherlands Under-21 star Ryan Babel joins Liverpool on a five-year deal in a £11.5 million transfer.

The Dutch Eredivisie runners-up announced the deal - which had been expected today - on their website.

"The striker, who had a contract until 2010 will sign a five-year deal with the Champions League finalists," Ajax declared.

"I've spoken to Rafa Benitez and that was when I knew everything would be signed," Babel told the Mail.

"He has a clear vision of what he wants and said I'd be competing with six others for four positions in the forward line."

A 4-2-4? Or a 3-3-4? Either way, four stikers seems a novel formation.

Why do I get the feeling that Rafa's rotation policy is going to kill any chance of Liverpool providing quality fantasy options? They are going to field Torres, Voronin and Babel as new, cheap fantasy players, and we won't know when or if to pick them. What a despicable sitution!

Alves demands Chelsea move

FOOTBALL 2006-2007 UEFA Cup Sevilla Dani Alves - 0

Daniel Alves' agent has asked Sevilla to lower their valuation of the Brazilian full-back to pave the way for a dream move to Chelsea.

The highly-rated defender is keen on a switch to the Premiership next season and Chelsea have already reportedly tabled a £14 million bid.

But Sevilla are thought to be holding out for a fee closer to £20 million.

And agent Jose Rodriguez Baster has called on the UEFA Cup winners to lower their valuation of Alves in order to push through the 24-year-old's dream move.

This is the one I've been waiting for!

Fulham Clinch Baird Deal

FOOTBALL 2006-2007 Championship Southampton Chris Baird - 0
Fulham have completed the transfer of Chris Baird in a £3.025million deal from Southampton, beating Sunderland to the signature of the Northern Ireland defender.
Passing this along more out of obligation than excitement.

Pompey finally get Nugent

FOOTBALL David Nugent 2007 - 0

Portsmouth have completed the signing of David Nugent from Preston North End for a fee of around £6 million.

The England striker has signed a four-year contract and will be officially presented at a Fratton Park press conference at 5pm.

At the same time, Pompey will announce the signing of a second, as yet unknown, player.

Leave it to 'arry to bring the drama. But the player we know, Nugent, is a good signing for them. Young, but lots of experience in the First Division, and even an England goal to his name. Should go right into the team and contribute. The only question is, is he +10 material?

UPDATE:The "player-to-be-named-later" was is John Chukwudi Utaka.

FOOTBALL 2005-2006 Ligue 1 Rennes John Utaka - 1

Utaka, an international team-mate of Pompey striker Kanu, made waves at Rennes with consecutive hat-tricks against Lens and Lyon last year. He ended his time in France with a tally of 22 goals in 62 appearances for Rennes and has netted four times in his 21 caps for Nigeria. Before Rennes he played for three seasons at Lens, who he joined following a season in Saudi Arabia after rising to prominence in Egypt with Ismailly.

The one-in-three goal ratio is encouraging. But probably another wait-and-see player. Will he be a starter? Will he be effective?

Week 1 Lineup

How quickly things change!  3-5-2:

Malouda's and Koumas' deals get finalized, so they come into the team. The potential reshuffle on the right side of Arsenal's squad lands Sagna and Eboue in the team. But as Eboue is a bit pricey, we're going from Cech down to VDS to save some cash.

Who's in your eleven?

Koumas Seals Wigan Switch

Jason Koumas, Wales.

Jason Koumas has completed a £5.3million move to Wigan, the club have confirmed.

Koumas had already passed a medical, and the Wales international agreed terms on a four-year contract.

The deal represents a £3million profit for West Brom on a player who cost them £2.25million from Tranmere in 2002.

Koumas has since made 141 appearances for the Baggies, scoring 23 goals, while he netted a further 13 during a season-long loan with Cardiff in 2005-06.

As we wrote back in May, "Jason Koumas is an old-school blog favorite from his earlier stint in the Premiership with West Brom. We would certainly look forward to his return, and would hope that he has improved his all-around game without sacrificing his wicked left foot and skill at set pieces."

All hail the new Jimmy Bullard.

Hammers Clinch Bellamy Deal

FOOTBALL Craig Bellamy 2007 Liverpool Barcelona - 0

West Ham have confirmed the signing of Liverpool striker Craig Bellamy for a club record fee of �7.5million.

Bellamy, 28 on Friday, agreed a five-year deal at Upton Park after it was made clear he had no future at Anfield following the arrival of Spain international Fernando Torres.

The transfer was agreed on Friday but was delayed over the weekend as Bellamy thrashed out contractual issues with Liverpool.

And the hits just keep on coming.

Malouda Completes Chelsea Move

FOOTBALL 2006-2007 France Florent Malouda - 0

Chelsea have confirmed their long-anticipated capture of France winger Florent Malouda.

The 27-year-old successfully completed a medical on Monday and has signed a four-year deal at Stamford Bridge after the Blues agreed an undisclosed fee with French champions Lyon.


Sagna Close To Arsenal Move?

Arsenal could complete the signing of Bakary Sagna from Auxerre today, according to reports in France.

French daily L'Equipe say the 24-year-old right-back is currently in London and is ready to complete a medical once the two clubs agree on a fee.

The highly-rated defender, who is expected to cost the Gunners around £7.5million, is tipped to become Willy Sagnol's long-term replacement at right-back in the France side.

Would this move Eboue up into the midfield? I've heard that possibility mooted before - that he's a better attacker than defender and his future lay further up the pitch. That would be interesting for fantasy managers because even with a 9 or 10 unit price tag, Eboue listed as a defender but playing in midfield would be a must have. And then you have a new starting right-back for Arsenal. A fantasy win-win!

(For arguements sake, say Hoyte now goes out on loan to another Premiership club. Then you could have all Arsenal right-back fantasy defenders.)

Week 1 Lineup

Can we do this yet?
That's probably half the budget on CRon and Cech and the rest spread out amongst the new arrivals.

Who's in your eleven?

Milner Set To Pen New Magpies Deal

FOOTBALL 2006-2007 Premiership Newcastle James Milner - 1

He was Aaron Lennon before Aaron Lennon was cool.

Newcastle boss Sam Allardyce has received a double boost with James Milner ready to commit his future to the club.

Geremi's free transfer from Chelsea was officially completed on Friday when he was granted a work permit after agreeing a three-year deal earlier this week.

The news marks a remarkable turnaround for the player, who was within hours of completing a permanent move to Aston Villa last summer.

Milner was actually at Villa Park when the Magpies' bid to sign Mark Viduka from Middlesbrough fell through and scuppered the transfer.

Ironically, the two men will be in the same team next season after the Leeds-born midfielder proved himself a valuable asset to then-manager Glenn Roeder during an intensely difficult campaign.

Three cheers (and five years) for BFJM! NUFC's side is coming together, and if they would just move Owen and Martins, they would realize my dream of a Duff-Viduka-Milner front line. Now we see how it would work with Butt-Barton-Geremi in the midfield, and defenders to be named later. Like a cheaper version of Chelsea, or a more expensive version of Bolton.

Voronin Completes Reds Switch

Liverpool soccer clubs new signing Andriy Voronin participates in a press conference at the Melwood training ground, Liverpool, England, Friday July 6

Liverpool have officially announced the capture of Ukraine striker Andriy Voronin.

It was already known the former Bayer Leverkusen star, 27, would move to Anfield and he now joins record signing Fernando Torres in beefing up the Reds' attack.

Let's not forget about Liverpool's other signing. He has a 1 in 3 goals to games ratio over the last three years w/ Leverkusen, which isn't half bad. I'm not sure he'll be +10 material, especially if he's fighting with Kuyt and Crouch for playing time. But might be another option up front for fantasy managers. After all, Ukranian strikers have a long and distinguished history in the Premiership. Well, that is if you discount Rebrov and Shevchenko.

Naysmith Joins The Blades

Gary Naysmith, Everton

Sheffield United have completed the signing of Scotland international Gary Naysmith for £1million from Everton.

Naysmith, 28, has signed a three-year deal at Bramall Lane - ending a six-and-half-year stay with the Toffees.

It is the second piece of business between the sides in as many days, after the Blades yesterday agreed to sell Phil Jagielka to David Moyes' side for £4million.

I'll be sad to see Naysmith leave the Premiership. He's always been a blog favorite as he's been a great option when ever he's gotten playing time. Unfortunately, with injuries and competition for places (Nuno Valente and Joleen Lescott taking turns this season at left-back for Everton) that hasn't been too often lately.

As for Jags to Everton, Neal and I have gone over this before. He thinks it's a good move. I could care less.

Taylor hit by new injury blow

Ryan Taylor, Wigan Athletic
Wigan defender Ryan Taylor has been ruled out of pre-season training with an ankle injury and may need to undergo surgery.The England under-21 international has endured a difficult 18 months after suffering a broken leg and a broken foot - and is now hoping a sustained period of rest will help him overcome his latest injury.

Not that you're looking to Wigan defenders, especially given what Taylor's price tag will likely be next season (and the number of interesting defenders coming into the Premiership) and how bad Wigan are likely to (continue to) be, but Taylor had a good second half of the season playing in midfield on occassion, taking kicks, and having almost as many big fantasy games as he went missing, fantasy-wise.

Spurs Swoop For Kaboul

FOOTBALL 2006-2007 Ligue 1 Auxerre Younes Kaboul - 0

Tottenham have announced the signing of France Under-21 defender Younes Kaboul from Auxerre.

Spurs fought off competition elsewhere in Europe to sign the 21-year-old, who was rated at around £8million.

I don't think anyone would be surprised if Kaboul is a started sooner rather than later. Certainly at the beginning of the season he will be needed to partner Dawson as King recovers. But if King can stay healthy, Dawson just might find himself on the bench.

And the way Spurs are looking, Kaboul might just join Bale on the +10 list come the new fantasy season.


Session Start: Fri Jun 22 07:34:51 2007
[07:35] Jeremy Spitzberg:: one of these week, one of us will hit on the right player(s)
[07:35] Jeremy Spitzberg:: barrett worked out nicely for you
[07:35] Jeremy Spitzberg:: but big brad!
[07:35] Neal Thurman: yeah, I sent you a text last night bemoaning the fact that this was the first week HOU had a good match-up where I didn't go with him - very disappointed
[07:36] Jeremy Spitzberg:: my phone acting up
[07:36] Jeremy Spitzberg:: lost the response
[07:36] Jeremy Spitzberg:: basically it was "b/c we're idiots"
[07:36] Neal Thurman: no worries - figured you had dropped from programming fatigue
[07:36] Neal Thurman: maybe HOU should trade Ching to LA (they're picking up everyone else and Lando loves him)
[07:37] Neal Thurman: clearly they've been better w/out him than with
[07:42] Jeremy Spitzberg:: i bet houston would take jaqua + somebody for ching
[07:44] Neal Thurman: probably - question is whether LA could afford Ching

Well, we were half right.
July 3, 2007 -- CARSON, CALIFORNIA (TICKER) -- The Los Angeles Galaxy completed yet another trade on Tuesday, sending former All-Star forward Nate Jaqua to Houston for midfielder Kelly Gray and a second-round pick in 2008.

Davis Completes Cottagers Switch

FOOTBALL 2006-2007 Premiership Steven Davis Aston Villa - 0

Fulham have signed midfielder Steven Davis from Aston Villa.

Davis, a former player of the year at Villa Park, agreed terms with the Cottagers after passing a medical and finalising personal terms this morning.

The Northern Ireland international was a first-team regular at Villa under David O'Leary but when Martin O'Neill took over, bringing in Stiliyan Petrov from former club Celtic, he lost his place and played only a peripheral part last season.

Latest domino.

So at the end of all this everyone has a new central midfielder, and no one is better off. Except the agents. Fun.

Eriksson meets City stars

FOOTBALL 2007-2008 Premiership Manchester City Sven-Goran Eriksson - 0
Sven-Goran Eriksson arrived at Manchester City's training ground on Wednesday to have his first meeting with the club's players.

I wonder to what "stars" they are referring... a 19-year old right back and Sweden's number 1?

Update: So this isn't unexpected.

After just one look at the Manchester City squad he is being asked to inherit, Sven-Goran Eriksson has demanded the funds to finance ten new signings.

Although he is yet to be officially confirmed as the club's new manager, Eriksson made a brief appearance at City's training ground on Wednesday.

According to The Guardian, Eriksson 'wants four strikers, two wide players, a central midfielder, a goalkeeper and two defenders'. The Times suggests that his blueprint features 'two forwards, two wingers, two central midfield players, up to three defenders and a goalkeeper.'

Six-year Anfield deal for Torres

FOOTBALL 2006-2007 La Liga Atlético de Madrid-Racing de Santander Fernando Torres, muy combativo, va a por todas jornada20 - 1

Fernando Torres has completed his move from Atletico Madrid to Liverpool after signing a six-year contract at Anfield.The 23-year-old striker, whose transfer has been reported to have cost the Anfield side up to £26.5million, passed a medical at the club's Melwood training ground on Tuesday.

He briefly flew back to his homeland to say an emotional goodbye to fans in Madrid before arriving back on Merseyside on Wednesday to complete the formalities of the transfer.


Rams Tye Up Mears Deal

Tyrone Mears, Derby County

Derby have signed Tyrone Mears on a three-year permanent contract from West Ham.

The Barclays Premier League newcomers initially took the full-back on loan in January but have paid the Hammers £1million to keep the player at Pride Park.

A good, attacking full-back to pick next season. I wouldn't expect too many clean sheet points though. Now we just need to get John Paintsil (Pantsil) out of West Ham and onto another Premiership team. Let WHU have Neill. In the immortal words of Christopher Walken, "I want Mears Paintsil!"

John Pantsil, West Ham United

Update: For those who don't get the reference, and those who just need "more cowbell":

Blues Seal De Ridder Deal

Newly-promoted Birmingham have added Holland Under-21 winger Daniel de Ridder to their squad for the new Barclays Premier League season.

The 23-year-old, who was part of his country's successful European Under-21 Championship campaign, was out of contract with Spanish side Celta Vigo.

Don't know much about de Ridder. It was Rigters, Babel, and Drenthe who received most of the attention during Holland's U-21 tournament victory. But it looks like de Ridder set up two of their four goals in the final match. So maybe he's someone to watch out for next season. But someone correct if I wrong in thinking that Sebastian Larsson already plays on the right side of Birmingham's midfield.

Four-year Villa deal for Reo-Coker

FOOTBALL 2006-2007 West Ham Nigel Reo-Coker - 2
Nigel Reo-Coker will sign a four-year contract when he finally completes his move to Aston Villa from West Ham in an £8million deal.The clubs have agreed on a compromise fee after Villa made an initial £7million offer while the Hammers were looking for £8-9million for a player who cost them £500,000 when he joined from Wimbledon three and a half years ago.
I'll admit to having a soft spot for NR-C ever since the opening weekend of the 2005-2006 season when he was listed as a defender and kick-started my fantasy triumph that year. But now he's the next domino to fall after Parker to WHU and McCann to Bolton.  Good bit of business for WHU as they make a ton of money on NR-C, selling him for even more than they spent on his replacement, Parker, who is probably the superior player. But perhaps a change of scenery and the chance to work with Martin O'Neill will help NR-C who didn't have a stellar sophmore season in the Premiership.

Arsenal made to sweat on Da Silva

[Eduardo da Silva] has since made 12 appearances for Croatia, scoring seven times, including one against England in a Euro 2008 qualifier in October last year.

But Home Office regulations stipulate that a player has to have played in 75 per cent of their national team's games over the last two years to win a permit; Croatia have played 25 times in the past 24 months, meaning Da Silva does not even come close to meeting the criteria.

Arsenal will instead have to rely on proving the 24-year-old possesses "exceptional talent", much in the same way that Manchester United did to cut through the red tape and pave the way for the signing of Brazilian youngster Anderson earlier in the week.

I would assume that this will be just a formality. But still makes you hold your breath just a bit. Though maybe not as much as when Wenger says something like, "although he is predominantly a striker, he is a very adaptable player."I can't imagine that we're looking at anything but the new TH (boy is that unfair or what?) and not the new Reyes (who was himself an adaptable striker and the new Pires). I have +10 hopes for EdS.  And yes, he already gets coveted acronym status. For £16 he'd better be that good.

Ballack back under the knife for more surgery

FOOTBALL 2006-2007 Premiership Chelsea Michael Ballack - 1

As usual when there are ugly doings, Bramble is involved.
Germany captain Michael Ballack will undergo more surgery on his problem ankle on Tuesday, his club Chelsea said on Monday.

The 30-year-old midfielder missed Chelsea's victory over Manchester United in the FA Cup final and two German Euro 2008 qualifiers in June, following a major operation on the ankle at the beginning of May.

Chelsea said on their Web site ( that the operation would take place in Germany, adding: "The operation is related only to a complication in the healing of the wound from previous surgery in May."

Probably good news for anyone interesting in investing their TH fantasy monies in BFFL come August.

Bullard back in Fulham training

Fulham's Jimmy Bullard

Good news:

Jimmy Bullard returned to pre-season training with Fulham on Monday and is aiming to be back in action as quickly as possible.The 28-year-old midfielder, a £2.5million signing from Wigan last summer, has not played since dislocating his kneecap against Newcastle at the beginning of September.

Bad news:

"Hopefully it won't be too long before I'm kicking a ball around again.

"As I've said before, I don't want to set a specific date for my return but hopefully it won't be too long into the season and I can't wait to get back out on the pitch and thank the fans for all their support in the best way possible - by putting in some good performances.

Bullard began last season like a house on fire and looked to be a not only a great signing for Fulham - bringing energy and offering a real scoring threat from midfield - but a blossoming fantasy stud. Here's hoping he comes back soon. Kamara could use the service.

Blackburn Sign Rigters

FOOTBALL 2007 Netherlands - Maceo Rigters - 0

In-demand Dutch striker Maceo Rigters has signed for Blackburn for an undisclosed fee.

Rovers had been following the progress of the 23-year-old for some time and the NAC Breda forward agreed a four-year deal after a passing a medical at Ewood Park.

Rigters' arrival however could be an indication that Blackburn expect to lose Benni McCarthy.

The free-scoring South African striker has made no secret of the fact he would like to be at a club playing in the Champions League.

Now things get interesting.

Sounds like a good signing, and I'll always look forward to picking someone named "Maceo". Not the mention that "Rigters" should make the tabloid headline writers job that much easier. Regardless, Righters should push Matt Derbyshire for the "first striker off the bench" role, um... (sorry) right away. But if Benni can now leave then one of Maceo or Matty becomes a starting forward on a decent side. The other, Jason Roberts, may be dirt cheap too despite his end-of-season form because of his end-of-season red card.

As for McCarthy, there aren't that many clubs playing in the CL, and one of them just spent a lot of money on a striker and another is about to. That leaves Chelsea, who probably don't want another striker who will be away for the African Nations Cup, and Manchester United who are a very interesting proposition. They've already spent a ton of money and have options in attack with Rooney, Saha, Giggs, Ole, and Anderson (and even CRon) available to play in a central role. But McCarthy gives them something a little different. A pure poacher who just might complement all of the more creative elements of this ManU side.

Gunners announce da Silva deal

Arsenal have announced they have agreed a deal to sign Croatian international striker Eduardo da Silva.

The Dinamo Zagreb star will move to Emirates Stadium for an undisclosed fee, subject to a medical, after agreeing a four-year deal in North London.

Da Silva, who moved from Brazil to Croatia at the age of 15, enjoys a prolific record at international level with seven goals from 12 games for his adoptive country, including a header against England in their 2-0 Euro 2008 qualifying defeat in October.

The 24-year-old has six goals in total in the qualifying campaign - three behind top scorer David Healy.

Last season for his club, da Silva scored a remarkable 34 times in 32 games, netting 71 goals in total in 100 appearances for Dinamo before earning a move to the Premier League.

This year's Berbatov?

Birmingham net midfielder Kapo

FOOTBALL 2006-2007 La Liga Olivier Kapo Levante - 0

Birmingham have followed up Thursday's signing of Garry O'Connor by buying France international Olivier Kapo from Juventus for £3million.O'Connor signed for £2.7million from Lokomotiv Moscow on Thursday and Blues boss Steve Bruce has continued a busy week by bolstering his midfield with 27-year-old Kapo.

The Ivory Coast-born player has agreed a three-year deal at St Andrews with an option for a further two years.

Kapo had interested the likes of Everton and Fulham, while Spanish clubs Real Betis and Real Mallorca were also thought to be interested.

Kapo represented his adopted country at under-21 level before making a senior debut in 2002.

He has scored three times in nine appearances for France to date.

After impressing during a stint at Ligue 1 side Auxerre, he moved to the Stadio delle Alpi but he never settled in Turin and spent spells on loan at Monaco and Levante - for whom he scored five times in 30 appearances last term.

Spurs seal Bent deal

FOOTBALL 2006-2007 Premiership Charlton Darren Bent - 0
Tottenham have confirmed the signing of Darren Bent from relegated Charlton for a club record fee. The England international arrives at White Hart Lane on a six-year £16.5million deal, beating the £11million paid for Sergei Rebrov.
No need to bang on Rebrov.

This deal has been in the works for a while now, and it is a doozy! Berbatov and Bent are a tantalizing strike-force. Berba King's skill, vision, and ability to link play paired with Bent's speed... and both good finishers! Spurs are going to be fun to watch, and a nightmare to play against.

The only problem for fantasy manager is that both are likely to be expensive come the new season.

Derby splash out on Earnshaw

Robert Earnshaw, Norwich City

Newly-promoted Derby County have made their first major signing of the summer, buying Robert Earnshaw from Norwich for a club record £3.5 million.

The Welsh international has Premiership experience, having played for West Bromwich Albion between 2004 and January 2006, when he was sold to Norwich.

Despite being considered a failure at top-flight level for the Baggies, Earnshaw has a good goals-per-minute ratio, and subsequently boosted his reputation with 27 goals in 45 outings for the Canaries.

Derby manager Billy Davies said: "We are delighted to have a new striker on board with a fantastic track record in terms of goals scored at every level he has played, including the Premier League and international.

Earnie had a strange time with WBA. He was their super sub, and seemed to deliver goals when given the chance. But he was never given a regular run of games, and if I remember correctly, he wasn't shy about pointing that out. Maybe he make the step up this time around.

Paraguay 5 - Colombia 0

Paraguay's Roque Santa Cruz, center, celebrates with teammates after scoring against Colombia during a Copa America Group C game in Maracaibo, Venezue
Copa America: Group C
Final - José Pachencho Romero
Paraguay 5 - 0 Colombia
Roque Santa Cruz (30)
Roque Santa Cruz (47)
Roque Santa Cruz (80)
Salvador Cabañas (85)
Salvador Cabañas (88)
Alvaro Domínguez (pen miss 26)

With the arrival of both Toni and Klose, methinks RSC sees the writing on the wall and realizes that the Copa America is his chance to earn a new contract away from Bayern Munich. And he's certainly off to a good start.

Hibs land Chelsea keeper

FOOTBALL 2006-2007 SPL Hibernian Yves Makabu-Ma-Kalamby - 0
Hibernian boss John Collins has signed Chelsea goalkeeper Yves Makabu-Ma-Kalamby on a three-year deal.

The Belgian shot stopper, 21, will arrive at Easter Road on July 1st, and is Collins' second premiership capture this week, following the signing of Irish international Alan O'Brien from Newcastle on Monday.

Makabu-Ma-Kalamby had been lined up for a switch to the Edinburgh club in January, but he was kept on at Chelsea to provide cover for Hilario, who was deputising for the injured Petr Cech and Carlo Cudicini.

So much for my dreams of fielding Yves Makabu-Ma-Kalamby as part of an "all-name" dream team.

Cottagers Complete Hughes Transfer

Aaron Hughes, Aston Villa

Fulham have signed versatile defender Aaron Hughes in a £1million transfer from Aston Villa.

The Northern Ireland international has agreed a three-year deal with the Cottagers and moves to Craven Cottage after spending two years at Villa following his switch from Newcastle.

Does this move Liam Rosenior to the left, and Moritz Volz permanently into midfield (assuming Michael Brown goes)?  Or does Hughes go to center back to be the latest in a long line (Bocanegra, Pearce, Christianval, etc) of partners for Zat Knight?  Looking at it, most likely he'll continue to be an option off the bench. Sigh.

Geremi Set For ST James' Switch

Geremi, Chelsea

Tastefully named. Oddly spelled.

Newcastle manager Sam Allardyce is closing in on a deal to take Chelsea utility man Geremi to St James' Park.

It is understood the Magpies are hopeful of securing the 28-year-old Cameroon international on a Bosman free transfer as he approaches the end of his four-year deal at Stamford Bridge.

Geremi, who spent a season on loan at Middlesbrough from Real Madrid earlier in his career, made 23 starts and five substitute appearances for the Blues last season.

However, with Paulo Ferreira and Lassana Diarra competing for the right-back spot and Jose Mourinho boasting an embarrassment of riches in midfield, his future chances look limited.

Ironically, the right-back spot is one in which they have cover, although midfielder Nolberto Solano was used as an emergency defender in that position last season when Stephen Carr was either injured or having to play on the left.

However, Geremi's versatility could prove invaluable as Allardyce re-shapes his squad.

Can't say I get this signing unless Big Sam is going to convert Geremi into a central midfielder, or use him as cover across the pitch. Unless he thinks he can convert Carr into a left-back. Curious, but not impossible.

Eriksson Keeps City Waiting

Manchester City supporters will have to wait a little bit longer before finding out whether former England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson is to become their new manager.

Eriksson is understood to be very likely to commit himself to a three-year deal shortly but the club attempted to play down rumours of the Swede's impending arrival.

City insist they will not announce any appointment until prospective new owner Thaksin Shinawatra has a 75% stake in the club. That situation could take place later in the week.

You just know that he wouldn't take the job unless he were being promised a ton of money for new signings.  S-GE isn't the type to relish bringing along the careers of Ireland, Johnson, Onuaha.  Nor would he waste his time with Samaras, Corradi and/or Vassell as his first choice strikers.  If this deal goes through, there are going to be a lot of new, Blue faces in Manchester come the fall.

Toon Reach Owen Settlement

FOOTBALL Michael Owen - 0

"My liver! My liver!

Newcastle will receive a total compensation package of around £10million for the injury that kept Michael Owen sidelined for more than 10 months, according to the Evening Chronicle.

Owen, 27, suffered knee ligament damage against Sweden in the World Cup last summer and only returned to action in the Magpies' Premiership clash with Reading on May 1 this year.

Well, between this and the £9million he'll sell for (if they're lucky), Newcastle could actually make a profit on the £17million they spent on Owen. And if he sold a couple of jerseys along the way, even better.

Duff, Viduka, and Milner up front for NUFC, please!

Henry moves to Barca for £16m

If I Were Running Things

Well, it would appear that we have reached the end of the Thierry Henry era at Arsenal. Really a sad day. First Vieira, then Highbury and Bergkamp, and now Henry (and rumors of Wenger to follow). Quite a sad day to be a Gooner but time to brush aside the sentiment and start thinking about what they should do to ensure that while some of the names have changed, the legacy continues to live on. In that vein, here's what I'd do if I were Arsene Wenger...

1) Get on with the business of selling off the rest of the spare parts...the combination of Reyes, Ljungberg, and Hleb probably drives the total influx of cash to £30M. Get those deals done!

2) Exercise that buy-out clause in Obafemi Martins' contract and bring him to London rumor has that price tag at £13M...

3) Throw £8M to £10M at West Brom for Curtis Davies.

4) Finish the job by pipping Chelsea and Liverpool to Malouda for about £14M.

That's a total of approximately £35M of which £30M would be coming from the sale of existing players. It would probably make sense to acquire at least one additional striker to make up for the fact that both Martins and Adebayor will be out for the African Nations Cup. Maybe the displaced Javier Saviola who is looking for a home.


Is she pointing to the exit?

Barcelona are in talks with Arsenal with a view to signing Thierry Henry, BBC Sport understands.

Officials for the Spanish club are in London negotiating with the Gunners over a reported £16m transfer fee.

Barcelona hope to close the deal by next week for Arsenal's record goalscorer who has long been linked with a move to the Nou Camp.

Update: First Impressions

[11:48] JSpitzberg:
[11:49] Neal J Thurman: so, who is next?
[11:50] JSpitzberg: well, that's you're job
[11:50] JSpitzberg: your
[11:50] Neal J Thurman: lol
[11:50] Neal J Thurman: oba
[11:50] Neal J Thurman: oba
[11:50] Neal J Thurman: obafemi
[11:51] JSpitzberg: oba/rvp?
[11:51] Neal J Thurman: interesting
[11:52] JSpitzberg: i'm already excited for the Oba era at Arsenal
[11:52] JSpitzberg: 1. it's fun to say
[11:52] JSpitzberg: "oba era at arsenal"
[11:52] JSpitzberg: and 2. he's going to score a TON of goals
[11:52] Neal J Thurman: definitely fun

Big Sam Wins Race For Smith

Newcastle are believed to have beaten Middlesbrough, Aston Villa and Tottenham to the signing of Manchester United striker Alan Smith.

Magpies boss Sam Allardyce has been a busy man since taking the reins at St James' Park, and is now reported to have added Smith to his list of new recuits, which includes Mark Viduka and Joey Barton.

The Toon chief has moved for Red Devils hitman Smith after discovering that strikers Michael Owen and Obafemi Martins have get-out clauses written into their contracts.

And 26-year-old Smith, who signed a five-year deal in 2004, is ready to leave Old Trafford after being told he will not be offered a new contract.

The former Leeds forward has many admirers, with Gareth Southgate, Martin O'Neill and Martin Jol all keeping tabs on his situation.

But he is believed to have been lured to the North-East by the promise of regular first-team football, which he is unlikely to get at the Theatre of Dreams due to the summer arrivals of Portuguese ace Nani and Brazilian star Anderson.

First Viduka, now Smith. Kewell is available from Liverpool. Danny Mills is persona non grata at Man Citeh (nil). Ian Harte wants to return from Spain. David Batty... well, I guess he already paid his dues at NUFC. "Bakke and Brann have a "gentlemen's agreement that Bakke can leave Brann if a big club want to sign him." (Insert your own joke about "does NUFC qualify" here.) Gary Kelly is still at Leeds who are now in the second (third) division, and NUFC do need a new fullback.

It's all falling into place for David O'Leary... I mean Sam Allardyce.

So does this mean that Owen and Martins are likely to leave, and not just available to leave?

Oops, that's Rowan and Martins. Either way, it's a comedy duo.

Mikel banned from Nigeria duty

FOOTBALL 2005-2006 Nigeria - John Obi Mikel - 0

The last time you'll see Mikel in the green of Nigeria's Super Eagles?

Chelsea's Mikel John Obi has been indefinitely suspended from representing Nigeria after pulling out of a recent African Nations Cup qualifier.The 20-year-old, who moved to Stamford Bridge a year ago, pulled out of the African Nations Cup qualifier against Uganda three weeks ago citing a hamstring injury.

Chelsea confirmed the player was undergoing treatment in London in a letter to the Nigerian Football Association but failed to release him for independent assessment by Nigeria's doctors.

NFA spokesman Ademola Olajire said on the BBC's website: "Mikel's gross act of indiscipline and lack of commitment towards national call-ups is totally unacceptable.

"Since Mikel prefers his club over his country, we can only wish him the best of luck."

This will be good news for Chelsea when January and the African Nations Cup rolls around.  They are sure to be without Drogba and Essien and will be able to use Mikel, especially if he continues to improve his play as he did towards the end of last season.

But what is it about the Super Eagles?  From Kanu to Okocha (I'm sure there are more examples) they seem to have a hard time convincing star players to commit to the national side.

Martins Shock For Big Sam

Newcastle United's Obafemi Martins heads in the first goal of the game
Do the kids still say "mad hops"?

Newcastle striker Obafemi Martins reportedly has a £13million get-out clause in his contract.

The Nigerian striker signed for the Magpies just last summer for £10million, but new boss Sam Allardyce was shocked to discover a similar clause in Martins' contract to that of strike partner Michael Owen, according to The Evening Chronicle.

Owen could quit the club if someone offers £9million for his services, leaving Allardyce in the nightmare position of not knowing if his top two strikers will be at the club for the beginning of next season.

Martins recently said he was happy at Newcastle, but the north-east newspaper claims Arsenal will make a move if they lose Thierry Henry.

I don't know about Oba to Arsenal, but I'm still pushing for Big Sam to utilize his 4-3-3 with Duff, Viduka, and Milner.

Now HERE is some summer gossip worth reporting on...

Adding insult to injury? US Women's National Team defender, occasional ESPN commentator, and all-around hottie Heather Mitts is apparently single again after she and long-standing boyfriend AJ Feeley (back-up quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles) broke up.

For those of you wondering why this is newsworthy, I'd guess the picture to your right should be sufficient evidence. If not, well, maybe it's time to get your pulse checked.

Oh to be the physical therapist in charge of her rehab from ACL surgery.

One final thought, if the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce wants to attract visitors to the city this summer, maybe they should ensure that this story gets posted in as many magazines, newspapers, and websites as possible along with a schedule of appearances by Ms. Mitts. Just a thought. Certainly beats a day standing in line to see the Liberty Bell.