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.

Early Bandwagoneering

Birmingham City's Gary McSheffrey scores the opening goal of the game

Gary McSheffrey
2006/07 Statistics
CoventryEnglish League Championship3010532500
BirminghamEnglish League Championship400131812751877061

Frank Lampard
2006/07 Statistics
ChelseaEnglish Premier League361111014062234530

Not too dissimilar. Certainly not enough that McSheffrey won't look at bargain at 6 units/pounds/dollars/linden. The number of fouls (given and drawn) and the resultant cards are a worry. But perhaps that is just the nature of the Championship, aspposed to the less rough-and-tumble Premiership.

Aliadiere joins Middlesbrough

Arsenal's Julio Baptista celebrates his third goal to complete his hat-trick with Jeremie Aliadiere
"'Who are two players who won't be at Arsenal next season?' Alex."
Jeremie Aliadiere has joined Middlesbrough from Arsenal on a three-year deal for £1.5 million, according to his agent.

The 24-year old former France Under-21 striker had been linked with a move to the Riverside since the January transfer window of 2007, with a proposed move vetoed by Arsene Wenger due to injuries suffered by fellow Arsenal strikers Thierry Henry and Robin van Persie.

But, following Mark Viduka's departure to Newcastle and the release of squad players Massimo Maccarone and Malcolm Christie, Boro boss Gareth Southgate has moved to reinforce the striking ranks in Teesside with the player,who will partner Yakubu Aiyegbeni and, if the transfer is completed as proposed, Turkey star Tuncay.
This was only a matter of time. Arsenal needed to unload Aliadiere who hasn't proved that he can score with any regularity at any level -- be it the top level of English or Scottish football, or the lower competion of the Championship and the Carling Cup. Assuming everyone else gets healthy and stays at Arsenal, you have a selection of Henry, van Persie, K2, and Bendtner. The last more successful at Birmingham than Aliadiere ever was at Wolves.

On the other end of the deal, it's not quite clear what Boro are doing. Should the rumours pan out, they're looking at a choice amongst Beattie (big, lumbering, and 2-years removed from any semblance of form), Smith (small, lumbering, and 2-years removed from any semblance of form), Tuncay (an unknown, untried in the Premiership), and Aliadiere who has yet to impress at any level.

No Yak. No BFMV. No creativity in midfield. Another year-long series of poor deliveries from the left flank as their only plan. I would expect to see Boro, along with Fulham, Wigan, Bolton, and Derby mired at the bottom of the table next season.

Royals sweating over duo's fitness

Reading's Marcus Hahnemann.

Reading have confirmed that defender Ibrahima Sonko will miss the start of the new season, while goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann remains doubtful. Sonko is making good progress after an operation to reconstruct a cruciate ligament in his right knee, but is not expected to be ready for first-team action until the end of August at the earliest.

The new season kicks-off on August 11 with the Royals facing Manchester United and Chelsea in their first two games.

Hahnemann broke his right hand during the final game of last season at Blackburn. He had 18 screws and two pins inserted into the hand during surgery in the United States last month.

With that opening schedule, Reading won't get a look from most fantasy managers. But something of which to be aware.

Is it time to sell?

I wrote Wednesday about what I thought the reality behind the Henry-to-Barca rumors was. I decided today to follow that up with what I thought Arsenal SHOULD do.

So, here are the facts...
  1. Arsenal have not gained ground on ManYoo and Chelsea so far this summer - in fact, they've lost ground on both.
  2. Arsenal's most likely high-profile transfer target - Ribery - has already made his way to Bayern Munich.
  3. Henry has been a constant distraction over the last 15 months or so with his constant whinging about how much he admires this club or that club.
  4. Henry is going to turn 30 about the time the new season begins (August 17).
  5. Henry only managed 16 starts in the Premier League last campaign.
  6. Henry's goal against ManYoo on January 21st was his only goal against a team that qualified for European competition next season.
  7. The "Young Gunners" are probably another year away from being the core of a team that contends for a Premier League or Champions League title
  8. The recent "high profile" acquisitions - that's you Rosicky and Hleb - aren't doing the job and don't really seem to fit the system.
Looking at the above facts - I am forced to only one conclusion. Henry and the current crop of Young Gunners aren't going to win a Premier League or Champions League title together. If the goal is to WIN stuff - then it's time to sell Henry before he loses his value. Maybe it will prove to be a year early but better than being a year late. If the goal is to maintain a Champions League spot, manage to get to the knock-out phases of the Champions League and make a graceful, late round exit from the FA Cup then they should by all means keep Henry.

Strikers whose game is based primarily on speed like Henry generally decline rapidly the second their bodies start to betray them. Henry isn't reliant ONLY on his speed but it is the thing that sets his skills apart from guys like Berbatov who are deft and skilled but not blindingly fast. Henry certainly isn't going to get better in his 30s, the question is how quickly will he degrade?

I have to admit, the first thing that struck me this morning as I was reading the gossip columns (a favorite passtime of mine) was that selling Henry to Barca and spending some of the money on David Villa, Fernando Torres, or Darren Bent would make a LOT of sense. None of them are likely to adequately replace the Henry of the early 2000s but guess what, the current edition of Henry isn't likely to do that either. The aforementioned gentlemen have proven to be high class finishers as well as being young and in possession of a little thing I like to call upside.

You could easily see them quickly growing with Hoyte, Clichy, Djourou, Toure, Eboue (as a right wing), Fabregas, Diaby, Walcott (as a left wing), van Persie, and Adebayor to form the core of a squad that has a great chance to challenge for actual honors in 2008-2009. Throw in one or two more strategic acquisitions and the maturation of guys like Denilson and Bendtner and you might really have something.

To stand pat is to maximize the number of points the club will achieve this coming year but it will ultimately minimize the chances that Arsenal will regain a spot atop the Premier League standings.

The only reason I'm holding out hope that all of the above is wrong is that there is a small chance that the only reason that Henry was so ineffective last season was due to being over-worked between Arsenal's heavy 2005-06 schedule followed by the World Cup over the summer. If a summer off has rejuvinated the Frenchman, then maybe Arsenal can challenge ManYoo and Chelsea but unless Arsenal management is certain that is the case, they should serious think about divesting themselves of Henry now before that particular asset has lost its value.

Pope to step aside at season's end

Eddie Pope holds the trophy aloft following D.C. United's MLS Cup win in 1996.
SALT LAKE CITY -- Often celebrated as the best defender the United States has ever produced, Eddie Pope announced Thursday that he will retire from Major League Soccer at the end of the 2007 season.
I"m not sure what to say. I have to admit to being a little sad, and I'm not sure I can quite capture my emotions fully in this post. Maybe an update to follow. But the Pontiff is retiring. Definitely the end of an era.

Pope was the shy kid out of North Carolina who wore #23 in honor of fellow alum Michael Jordan. He was the rookie of the year and stand-out defender on a team full of more experienced and well-known players. Of course, he scored the header in stoppage time that won DC the first of their now four MLS Cup championships. And he famously, or at least for me memorably, turned down interest from Europe to stay close to home.

So many memories of my young adulthood are tied up with DC United and it's hard to avoid the sense that an era in my life is passing too. I'm no longer in DC, and no longer a young adult. Pope is with Real Salt Lake (and to paraphrase the Sports Guy, he never played for NY. Can we all agree that that just never happened?). But I get nostalgic when Neal text messages me from RFK as he did this weekend. And this news is a bit of a bolt out of the clear blue sky -- even though I'll always associate the Pontiff with the pouring rain in which he won his first two DCU championships, the second of which I was lucky enough to attend.

Okay, I'm officially babbling. Back to work, but not without one final chant of "Ooh ah! Eddie Pope! I said Ooh ah, Eddie Pope!"

A Cautionary Tale

One of the stories of the last 12 months or so that has really disappointed me is the path and trajectory of West Ham United. Was it really just 13 months ago that they played one of the more compelling FA Cup Final matches ever to cap off a triumphant return to the Premier League? Who could ask for more? They were young, scrappy, offensive-minded, and the team was comprised predominantly of players who had come up through the ranks. Throw in the fact that they recruited one of my favorite young English players in January of their promotion campaign (Dean Ashton) and they had cemented themselves as my second choice team behind Arsenal (I generally tend to have one other team I enjoy following each year because there is a player or storyline I gravitate to as opposed to my long term loyalty to the Gunners).

The spending spree following their rise to UEFA Cup participant started innocently enough - some low-profile defensive fortifications (mostly a lot of right backs). I think the moment it all went bad was the moment they recruited Lee Bowyer. That was followed up with the two Argentines who, while having undeniable quality, were always going to cause a massive change in the composition of the team. What followed was a drastic transformation from lovable overachievers to annoying mercenaries. Sure, they survivied but the young players regressed and the new acquisitions seemed poorly thought out and more typical of the way Newcastle tends to build teams (throw money at the biggest names available) than the prudent way they achieved promotion and then managed to not only stay up but prosper at the highest level.

The reason I mention this is that Reading supplanted West Ham as the 2nd place team in my heart this past season with a storyline similar to that of West Ham the year before. As they start to evaluate transfer dealings, hopefully they will look at the example the Hammers provided and avoid the same mistakes. Certainly, they haven't done anything to ruin their vibe so far but at some point they'll have to recruit a replacement for Steve Sidwell [um... what about this guy? -js] and make a few more moves to ensure that they consolidate their position in the Prem. Hopefully, they will at the same time manage to maintain their wits and recruit the right type of player who will enhance their dynamic rather than ruining it.

My advice, buy young and avoid guys who bring in a feeling of entitlement to the team. It will be difficult enough to keep the team level-headed now that they've proven they belong.

Never mind

Charlton striker Darren Bent has turned down a move to West Ham after the two clubs agreed a fee.

"We set a valuation for Darren and West Ham were the only club prepared to meet that valuation," said Charlton chief executive Peter Varney.

"This morning we gave them permission to speak to Darren, which he did, and he has decided not to join West Ham."

Does this presage a move to Spurs?

Toon Lose Ben Haim Race

Tal Ben Haim, Bolton

Newcastle boss Sam Allardyce has admitted defeat in his efforts to sign Israel defender Tal Ben Haim.

The 25-year-old, who is out of contract at Bolton, seems destined to join Chelsea, who made a bid for him during the January transfer window.

Allardyce told the club's official website, "It's looking like Tal will be going to Chelsea, unfortunately.

"We have had a long, hard go, but I think the lure of the (former) champions has perhaps just pipped me at the post."

Chelsea's new first-choice right-back?

Update: Seems to be official now.

Nipping rumors in the bud

FOOTBALL 2006-2007 Premiership Manchester United Louis Saha - 0
Louis Saha's management company has rubbished claims that the Manchester United striker will be out of action for six months.

They say the Frenchman should be back for the start of the new season, and that claims from a former adviser called Ranko Stojic, saying he might not play until December, were unfounded.

Hammers Win Bent Race

West Ham are set to beat Tottenham and Liverpool to sign Charlton striker Darren Bent in an £18million deal.

According to the Daily Star, the Hammers have offered £80,000 a week to secure Bent's services, while Charlton will receive £15million plus Marlon Harewood and Hayden Mullins, who are surplus to requirements at Upton Park.

West Ham's need for a top-class striker was thrown into yet sharper focus when Inter owner Massimo Moratti confirmed they are keen to sign the Hammers' Argentine star Carlos Tevez.

Melchiot to sign for Wigan

FOOTBALL 2006-2007 Rennes - Melchiot - 0

One year after having left Birmingham, Dutch defender Mario Melchiot is on the verge of making a return to England with Wigan. The 30-year-old has left Ligue 1 side Rennes after deciding not to extend his one-year contract.

According to the Daily Mirror, Melchiot was at the JJB Stadium on Tuesday to prove his fitness to new manager Chris Hutchings and agreed to sign a one-year deal.

Now this is interesting. Ryan Taylor is finally back from injury, as presumably will Boyce. Does this signing push Boyce to center back alongside Hall, and Taylor up into midfield? Taylor's set-pieces more than made up for his penchant to collect cards. But if he follows another Taylor (Matthew, for those of you playing along at home) from fullback to midfield while remaining listed as a defender, he'll be one to watch next season.

Boro Agree Tuncay Terms

FOOTBALL 2007 International Friendlies Turkey Tuncay Sanli - 1

Middlesbrough have made a major transfer breakthrough by agreeing personal terms with Turkey striker Tuncay Sanli.

The 25-year-old forward, who is out of contract with Fenerbahce,
will head for Teesside to undergo a medical next week with a view to
completing a free transfer switch to the Barclays Premier League.

Tuncay, reportedly a target for Manchester City and Birmingham, began his career at home-town club Sakaryaspor before joining Fenerbahce in 2002, and has scored 59 goals in 154 league games for the Istanbul outfit.

He also scored a Champions League hat-trick against Manchester United in 2004.

A central striker who can also play on both flanks, he has 13 goals in 43 internationals and will be seen as a replacement for Mark Viduka, who left Boro for north-east rivals Newcastle last week.

This certainly sounds like better news than signing Jeremie Aliadiere. I don't know much of anything about Tuncay. Is he +10 material?


Since one of the people commenting on Jeremy's last post asked, about the latest round of rumors surrounding Henry, I figured I'd put my two cents into the mix. My first comment is that I'm stunned at the ability of people to read things into every single comment that is made for the sake of spinning a headline grabbing story that might sell a few extra papers or generate a few extra clicks. As an example, once I read the comments related to David Dein's departure, I had a hard time figuring out where all the headlines came from. Who WOULDN'T be flattered if the current European Champions mentioned them as a target? To say anything else would be dishonest at best.

My second comment is that we seem to see these sorts of rumors every year around the top players in the Premier League. Lampard is going to Barca...Gerrard is going to Chelsea...Drogba wants to play in another country at some point if Chelsea don't "meet his ambition"....the list goes on and on. Mostly this is idle media speculation that tends to flare up when there aren't actual matches to report on - instead of proliferating rumors of this nature for the 18th time with a slightly different spin, maybe some of these reporters should try actually watching some of the U21 Euro Championship matches so that they can intelligently report on what the players that are featured can actually do (i.e., what positions they play, how they might fit when they reach the big time) - it continues to shock me that there is very little commentary of this nature when players are transferred.

Finally, am I dismissing the possibility that TH might leave the Emirates? Not at all, he might very well go and force Arsenal to really develop a new team capable of scoring on their own rather than doing everything else and then counting on Henry to bail them out on the scoresheet. I'm guessing he'll be back but I'm only about 60% confident of that outcome. If he isn't, the guess is that Arsenal are a UEFA Cup team but not a Champions League team unless they can find a high-profile replacement as well as a winger who can score about 10 goals.

In other developments, Villa seem to be the new Everton (from a couple years back) in that they are having a hard time getting anyone to take their money...No de Jong, no Sneidjer, no Barton, no Parker, and no Reo-Coker (yet). To answer Jeremy's query on Reading and Halford, I read that they have extended de la Cruz. Guess that made Halford surplus to requirements.

That's about it for today - hopefully, things will start happening soon. Once one or two dominos fall, there will likely be a flurry of activity.

Blues Scout Doubts Nani Ability

Chelsea scout Piet de Visser has had a dig at Manchester United, claiming new signing Nani may not be good enough for the Premiership.

De Visser has been asked by Blues owner Roman Abramovich to identify young talent to bring to Stamford Bridge, but has cast doubt on whether United's big-money signing can cut it in the English league.

Dutchman De Visser admits the 20-year-old midfielder has huge potential, but reckons his crossing lets him down and claims he holds onto the ball for too long.

De Visser, who recommended John Obi Mikel to Chelsea, told The Sun: "This boy is, as far as his skills are concerned, a super talent.

"He had his training with Sporting Lisbon and technically he is so good, he is almost perfect.

"But I also stress that despite all his talent he may not be right for the Premier League.

"His crosses are sometimes OK, sometimes bad.

"He dribbles too much with the ball because he wants to entertain, not because he wants to be effective.

"Cristiano Ronaldo had the same problem when he first played for United."

Yeah, and look how that turned out.

Manchester United's Ronaldo holds the English Premier League Trophy after they were crowned champions following their English Premier League soccer ma

Oh, and by the way, these grapes are sour.

Black Cats Land Halford

Greg Halford, Reading
Barclays Premiership newcomers Sunderland have made their first summer signing with the capture of Reading defender Greg Halford.

It is understood the 22-year-old full-back has signed for the Black Cats after undergoing a medical.

The club are expected to confirm the transfer, which comes just five months after the Chelmsford-born player joined the Royals from Colchester, later on Monday.

Halford was a January buy for Steve Coppell, but he could never displace either Murty or De La Cruz in the starting XI. Big things were promised, but Coppell seemed to be bringing him along slowly. I'm surprised that Reading would sell him as Murty isn't getting younger. But perhaps they see something in De La Cruz, or Sunderland came up with more money than they could turn down. Roy Keane needed a new right back after ManU defender Johhny Evans returned to the mother ship.

If Halford is as good as promised, and that is now a question after Reading sells him, then he could turn out to be value for money come next season.

UPDATE:  Here's the other piece to this puzzle: De La Cruz agrees new Royals deal

Trezeguet set for Juve exit

FOOTBALL 2006-2007 Serie B Juventus-Piacenza Trezeguet - 1
Unsettled striker David Trezeguet seems set to leave newly-promoted Juventus after revealing his contract negotiations are at a standstill.

The 29-year-old France international, whose contract runs out in 2008, is currently in talks over a new deal but is deeply unsatisfied with what the Turin club - whom he has been with for seven years - are offering him.

"There is no more hope of staying with Juventus - I feel they have little faith in me," Trezeguet told SKY Italia on Sunday after the Serie B champions lost 3-2 at home to Spezia.

"The offer they have made me tells me everything I need to know.

"I've given my best, just as the club asked me this season, but I feel they have made other choices.

"Now I am going on holiday and I will wait for a call from the board. It's up to them to decide what to do with me.

"It's a shame because I wanted to carry on, but they don't seem to want me anymore."

Let the rumors begin!

Pearce anger after Bentley withdrawal

FOOTBALL 2006-2007 Premiership Blackburn Rovers David Bentley - 1

Stuart Pearce feels he has been let down by David Bentley after his withdrawal from the England squad for the European U-21 Championships.The Blackburn starlet has left manager Pearce a man short for the tournament in Holland after pulling out due to "fatigue".

"I don't agree with it. I told him last night I don't agree with it in any way, shape or form," Pearce said on Sky Sports News.

"I feel as though I've been supportive to him. He wasn't in the under-21 side for whatever reason when I took over the job.

"I put him in, I thought he was arguably one of our best players in the two matches we had him.

"With that in mind, I rang Steve [McClaren] and said 'what I've got to report is I think this kid's doing quite well. Keep an eye on him'."

Players can only be replaced as a result of injury, so Pearce has been left with a squad of 22 for the finals, with England starting their campaign against Czech Republic on Monday.
It's no secret that we're big fans of David Bentley around these parts. But this is a strange situation. Perhaps he's discouraged by a certain other player's successful return to England's right flank?

McCann Completes Bolton Move

Chelsea's Frank Lampard chases Aston Villa's Gavin McCann

Bolton have announced the signing of Gavin McCann on a three-year deal from Aston Villa for an undisclosed fee.

The 29-year-old midfielder was undergoing a medical at the Reebok Stadium and is thought to have cost Wanderers around £1million plus add-ons.

He becomes manager Sammy Lee's second summer signing since taking over from Sam Allardyce.

McCann began the O'Neill regime as a first-team regular and was one of Villa's best players during the first half of the campaign.

But his form dipped in the New Year and he eventually made way for academy product Gardner.

With the promise of Gardner plus the expected arrival of Nigel Reo-Coker from West Ham, it was obvious McCann would be down the pecking order next season.

Second domino.

And I thought SAF was the Michael Corleone of Summer 2007

Apparently the guys at Bayern Munich realized just how much money ManYoo had given them for Owen Hargreaves and decided to start spending it like there was no tomorrow. As OH (as in "Oh, is Hargreaves really worth THAT much?") walks out the door, in walk Frank Ribery, Luca Toni, and (according to the player himself) Miraslov Klose. Given what we know about the needs at Old Trafford wouldn't you rather have had the three guys that Bayern got with ManYoo's money than the one guy ManYoo actually got? Especially when the guy ManYoo got will be competing with another guy they overpaid for last year for a spot in central midfield?

Maybe I'm too dumb to see how it would work but I don't see Carrick/Hargreaves working any better at ManYoo than Gerrard/Lampard does for England. They're just too similar. Unless SAF is committed to a 5-man midfield with two of Ronaldo/Giggs/Nani wide and Hargreaves/Carrick/Anderson in the middle then I just don't see it.

If it were me, I'd rather go with a midfield of Carrick/Anderson/Nani/Ronaldo (with Ribery for depth) and Rooney/Klose/Toni as the strikeforce than any of the options in the previous paragraph. Just something for the people in Tampa to ponder as they evaluate what their expenditures have yielded this summer.

Ribery to join Bayern

FOOTBALL Ligue 1 2006/2007 Marseille Ribery - 0

Neal, perhaps this is why the "Ribery to Arsenal" rumors dried up:
Franck Ribery will join Bayern Munich on Thursday after having passed a medical, according to Marseille chairman Pape Diouf.

An agreement is expected to be reached on Wednesday and the France international will directly travel from Auxerre, were he will play in a Euro 2008 qualifier against Georgia, to Germany.

"The transaction will be concluded on Wednesday and Ribery will move to Munich in order to pass the medical and to sign his contract on Thursday," Diouf told L'Equipe.

I guess someone has to supply Toni.

Scott becomes Upton Parker

Scott Parker, Newcastle United

West Ham have completed the £7million signing of England midfielder Scott Parker from Newcastle on a deal until 2012.Parker has agreed a five-year contract and becomes the Hammers' first signing of the summer.

The 26-year-old was captain at Newcastle last season but was keen on a return to London.

And a move to Upton Park sees Parker link up again with Alan Curbishley, his former manager at Charlton.

First domino falls.

Foster Suffers Cruciate Blow

Ben Foster's hopes of ousting Edwin van der Sar as Manchester United's first-choice keeper next season are in tatters after it was confirmed the England international requires surgery on a cruciate knee ligament injury.

The 24-year-old had been suffering knee problems during the latter half of last season, which he spent on loan at Watford.

And he pulled out of the England B international with Albania at the back end of last month to undergo tests.

Now Foster's worst fears have been realised, with United releasing more specific details of an injury which will keep sidelined for months.

"Ben Foster has a cruciate ligament injury in his right knee and will require an operation in two to three weeks' time," a United spokesperson told the club's website.

In a statement, the club said: "The injury was then jointly assessed by United and England's medical staff after the goalkeeper reported for international duty at the end of May.

"While the Reds' medical staff have not put a timescale on the 24-year-old's return to action, he is likely to spend a lengthy spell on the sidelines."

It is almost certain to be the early months of 2008 before Foster is in action again.

Viduka Closing In On Toon Move

FOOTBALL 2006-2007 Premiership Middlesbrough-Chelsea Mark Viduka grows an extra arm - 1
Middlesbrough striker Mark Viduka is understood to have agreed in principle to join north-east rivals Newcastle.
His 19 goals last season - seven of them in his last five starts - were key to Boro's successful fight against relegation from the Barclays Premiership and took his tally for the club to 42 in 100 appearances, 20 of them as a substitute. [emphasis mine -j.]
That's the key. Viduka plays hard when his next payday is the issue. So you invariably get goals from him in August, December, and April. Then he'll go quiet for months at a time. I sure hope Big Sam realizes this. Maybe they'll structure his contract in such a way that he only gets paid when he scores. Or they'll make him sign a series of short-term (like a month at a time) deals. Anything they can do to keep him focused.

Now, is Big Sam going to bring his 4-3-3 to Newcastle? Viduka is certainly the mold of the big center forward he likes. See Davies, Kevin. (As an aside, what would Big Sam have done with Shearer? Wow. Imagine his glee at having the original at his disposal.) But are Owen and Martins the wide attackers he wants? Certainly Duff and Milner would be naturals. In fact, wouldn't a front line of Duff, Viduka, and Milner playing in front of Parker, Barton, and Butt suit Sam nicely? It would be like Bolton but with better quality players. But how do you leave out £17 million worth of striker? Going to be interesting, especially for fantasy managers, how Big Sam works it out.

And can we start the Speed to Newcastle rumours right here and now? He's a former and still much beloved player. He knows and thrives under Allardyce's system. Makes much more sense to me that Sam would go back to Bolton for Speed, rather than Nolan or Diouf.

As for Boro, they now have to replace (and hopefully for them, increase) Viduka's goal tally. Perhaps they should be looking for a bit more mobility to complement Yakubu. In fact, they might just have to replace Yakubu too if his on again, off again relationship with the Nigerian national team is on again for January's African Nations Cup. I think they could do worse than look to prise Louis Saha AND Alan Smith from Manchester United. That would give them the options they would want, and by offering for both players, might sweeten the deal for ManU who have already spent a ton of money, but are still looking for another striker themselves.

Rumor Mill

As a Gooner, I have to say that the momentum is headed in the wrong direction for my favorite club. With the only Arsenal rumors being talented players (Henry, Cesc, etc.) wanting out and no high profile prospects being mentioned as potential acquisitions. At the same time, the teams that showed promise last year - Spurs, Reading, and Villa in particular - are doing their best to close the gap between themselves and the fourth place Gunners.

Reading has taken a step back with the loss of Steve Sidwell but a player like Jason Koumas might be just the guy to minimize the impact of that loss.

Spurs still have to worry over the potential loss of Berbatov and Chimbonda but in the meantime, they're firming up their weaknesses (the left side) and giving the two above gentlemen reason to expect that a Champions League spot isn't out of the question.

Finally, Villa have the most interesting rumors associated with them. In addition to Koumas, the potential acquisition of Wesley Sneijder of Ajax (a long shot, I know) would add the touch of class that they thought they were getting when they brought Petrov down from Celtic. If that move allows them to keep Gareth Barry out wide and they can secure either Phil Bardsley or another solid right back, they should be in pretty good shape. One can only hope they don't add Craig Bellamy to what appears to be a potentially good mix.

It will be interesting to see how the summer continues to develop but if the powers-that-be at the Emirates Stadium don't get their acts together, the disappointment of finishing fourth and trophyless this season will feel great in comparison to what is coming next.

I have to say I'm a little worried that those who tend the rumor mills have gone quiet on Ribery-to-Arsenal. They're clearly scraping for news, the fact that they aren't willing to flog this one endlessly gives me a little pause - hopefully, the reporters with connections to France have just started their vacations early.

Monday Morning MLS Manager

Kansas City Wizards' Eddie Johnson (7) is congratulated by teammate Davy Arnaud after Johnson scored the first of his three goals during the Wizards' 4-3 win over the New England Revolution in an MLS soccer game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., Saturday, May 26, 2007.

Consecutive hat-tricks. And against the two (other) best teams in the league. And conference rivals to boot. Wow.

This is the Eddie Johnson who everyone in the US wants to see. The player who scored goals in his first eight, was it?, internationals. Fast, strong, tall. This is the player that was interesting English teams two years ago. And now, with the Gold Cup and Copa America looming as showpieces, will EJ be back with Kansas City come the fall?

Elsewhere, New England continue to be erratic, losing a second straight home game. This time, being blanked by lowly Real Salt Lake. Clint Mathis continues his all or nothing season. This week was nothing as he was red carded (again!) in the first half of the Kansas City match. Chicago and Houston break out of their slumps to score goals and win games.

What a messed up league this is. Playing fantasy is a nightmare. No good information available. Extreme parity. And Dan with EJ on his team. Nothing good. Nothing good.

Prem big guns chase Rovers ace

Or, "Agent confirms he is doing his job".
England's top five clubs are all interested in signing Blackburn winger Morten Gamst Pedersen, the player's agent has confirmed.

The 25-year-old Norway international has risen to prominence with some sterling performances for Rovers since joining from Tromso in 2004, and his representative Rune Hauge now claims he is wanted by Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur.

"All the big five follow Morten's situation." Hauge told Norwegian daily Dagbladet.

On a related note, I would like to inform everyone that Google, Microsoft, ESPN, Sky, and the BBC are interested in this blog.

Koumas is stuck on Toffees move

Jason Koumas has refused to rule out a move to Everton after making it clear he wants to be playing in the Premiership next season.The talented Wales midfielder has been strongly linked with a £4million move to Goodison Park following West Brom's failure to win the Championship play-off final against Derby on Monday.

Koumas, who has been a long-term target for Everton boss David Moyes, accepts now that his future may lie away from The Hawthorns.

Here's a happy confluence of two previous posts. Could Koumas be the spark that I feel Everton needs? And would he take set-piece duties away from Arteta?

Salas trains with Fire, meets media

Chilean international Marcelo Salas trained with the Chicago Fire Thursday during a practice session at the Toyota Park practice facility in Bridgeview, Ill. The left-footed striker joined the team for a midweek training session followed by a question and answer opportunity with media members.
That's a tease! MLS is bringing in a lot of big names at the wrong end of their careers - Beckham, Xavier, Blanco.  But Salas is an old favorite of mine, if not the blogs, since his 98 World Cup partnership with the more flamboyant Zamorano. And lord knows, the Fire - who scored 3 goals total in the month of May - need some offensive help. But as much as I would love to see Salas playing, he's been injured so many times over the years and hasn't played regularly since at least 2004, that I wouldn't expect the move to materialize, much less help the Fire.

Maybe it's a PR stunt for both sides. The Fire get linked to a (formerly) world-class player, which helps their reputation. And Salas reminds clubs back in Chile that he's available and is attracting interest.

Blues Close In On Pizarro Deal

FOOTBALL 2006-2007 Bundesliga Bayern Pizarro - 0

Chelsea look set to land Claudio Pizarro from Bayern Munich on a free transfer.

The experienced Peruvian striker is out-of-contract at the Allianz Arena and is understood to have held talks with Chelsea, Juventus and former boss Felix Magath at Wolfsburg.

However, Pizarro is expected to put pen to paper on a four-year deal at Stamford Bridge with unsettled defender Khalid Boulahrouz tipped for a move in the opposite direction.

Not exactly the world-class forward that we were all expecting/hoping for. This isn't Eto'o, or heck, even Luca Toni, who's arrival at Bayern makes Pizarro expendable. And it certainly isn't (or I wouldn't expect it to be) a repeat of Spurs' success with Dimitar Berbatov last season. Berba King had scored 20 goals in the Bundesliga, whereas Pizarro only notched eight last season.

And then you read this, and start to get really worried:

Pizarro was offered a new contract by the club in Spring, though angered club bosses by rejecting it and demanding more money, prompting chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge to remark: "Anyone wishing to earn like Shevchenko must first play like Shevchenko."

And we all know how well Sheva played last season. In fact, that's why Chelsea were looking for a new striker in the first place!

Chelsea are going to lose both Drogba and Kalou to the African Nations Cup next year. I just have the feeling that while Pizarro will be an additional option up top, he isn't the last piece of this particular puzzle.