Saturday, June 30, 2007

Rozehnal Czechs in*

Confirmation came yesterday evening that we've completed the signing of Czech international defender David Rozehnal from PSG. The fee, reported to be £2.9m, was no doubt pushed up by Borussia Dortmund's rival interest, but it's reassuring to see we went the extra distance to land a proven international who at 26 is of a good age. Time will tell, of course, but he looks to be a value-for-money signing, particularly in the context of the £8m we paid Rangers for Jean-Alain Boumsong and of another deal that went through this week.

We already needed defensive reinforcements before a whole raft of defenders were released, but Rozehnal's arrival marks the start of the rebuilding process. Now for a left-back, I think - Leighton Baines is a bit pricey at a rumoured £6m, but if we could nudge that fee downwards a bit he would certainly be worth a punt. Wouldn't it be nice to gazump the Mackems, also alleged to be sniffing around the Wigan player?

Meanwhile, Fat Sam has made public his interest in Chelsea utility player Geremi, saying: "He is someone we would like to pursue, hopefully we can persuade him to join if we get the chance". Allardyce is well aware that several other Premiership clubs are chasing the Cameroon international, and that the deal to sign him on a free may well not come off. Quite where he'd play is anyone's guess - I'm not convinced he'd be better than Nobby at right-back or James Milner on the right side of midfield, but he would at least be a useful addition to the current squad.

More concerning to both Fat Sam and us than the possibility of losing out on Geremi, however, is the prospect of starting the new season without both Michael Owen and Obafemi Martins. Owen's future still seems up in the air (though this pitifully quote-thin story can be disregarded - Viduka quite possibly hasn't even met Owen yet), while in the face of rumoured interest from Arsenal Allardyce has been forced to concede that Martins too has an escape clause in his contract.

We've profited from one escape clause already this summer in signing Joey Barton, so it would be hypocritical to gripe too much about what is a pretty widespread phenomenon - but you have to ask whether the deals were right in the first place for the players to have insisted on the incorporation of such clauses in their contracts. You can argue it either way - presumably we wouldn't have got either Owen or Martins had we refused, but on the other hand it smacks of short-termism on the club's part and a caution and lack of real commitment on the players'.

Finally, Mike Ashley has increased his stake in the club to 93.2% and is now in a position to delist us from the stock market, likely to take place on 18th July, while Dean Saunders has just landed the position of assistant manager for Wales, his first job since leaving Tyneside at the beginning of February last year. Unsurprisingly, given his track record and inability to concede his own failings, Saunders' former mentor Graeme Souness remains unemployed.

* Yes, yes, I know - please excuse my reaching for the obvious. You're lucky to be getting an update at all, you know, what with our current workloads and my being in the process of moving house yet again...

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Auf Wiedersehen pets

The Mike Ashley era moved closer today with the resignations of four of the club's five directors: Douglas Hall, his sister Allison Antonopoulos, Fat Fred's brother Bruce and Timothy Revill. The only one clinging on to the last vestiges of power is Fat Fred himself, though some reports have it that Ashley rejected his resignation and wants him to stay put. To which we say: c'mon Mike, let's clear them all out and start afresh.

The quartet follow Alan O'Brien out the door, the Republic of Ireland international winger having signed for Hibernian yesterday. Though his contract expires at the end of the month, we will be due some compensation as he is under 23. It's an interesting move, given that neither of O'Brien's competitors for the left wing berth - compatriot Damien Duff and Charles N'Zogbia - performed well last year and neither have secure futures on Tyneside; had he stuck around, he could have found himself in the side, and we could have found ourselves another O'Brien to celebrate for putting the ball in the Mackems' net. Presumably, though, the feeling was that he just isn't good enough to make the grade - and at least with a move to Scotland he can't come back to bite us in the arse very easily.

Emre, on the other hand, has insisted he's staying put, committing his future to the club and implying in the process that the change of management is responsible for the decision: "I'm happy in England and I'm not thinking about leaving Newcastle. I have received serious offers from Galatasaray and Fenerbahce, but I have great respect for Sam Allardyce, and I want to continue my career in England."

Meanwhile, the signing of David Rozehnal now looks to be a matter of dotting the i's and crossing the t's. That will mean we will have successfully fended off a strong rival bid from Borussia Dortmund, but stranger things have happened at the eleventh hour... We've also been linked with moves for Reading's Nicky Shorey, who is currently in contract negotiations with his club, and Dutch U21 striker Maceo Rigters - though intimations of our interest in the latter have only come from the player's agent. Ghanaian midfielder Lareya Kingston, a new signing for Hearts having played on loan for them last season, has claimed that we were competing with Fat Sam's old club Bolton to hijack the move, and another player uninterested in a move to Tyneside is the only French striker close to rivalling Nicolas Anelka in the sulkiness stakes, Frederic Kanoute, who appears set on staying with UEFA Cup holders Sevilla.

Amidst the inevitable paper talk about Michael Owen being the man Arsene Wenger has earmarked to fill Thierry Henry's boots (talk fuelled by Sky pundit Alan Smith blathering on about how Mickey would suit Arsenal's system) you may have missed the fact that we look set to receive compensation from FIFA and the FA for the injury that kept him out for nearly the entire season and for the cost of treatment and wages. There's some dispute over the precise figures, though - the Chronicle lending credence to the rumours of £10m whereas the Times have suggested much, much less.

And finally, here at Black & White & Read All Over we're not generally in the habit of gushing about opposition players - we're not often in the habit of gushing about our own. But it has to be said that Henry's departure for sunnier Spanish climes is a huge loss to the Premiership - he is without exaggeration the best forward I've ever seen, an incredible talent in the way he creates goals as well as scoring for fun. I guess now the Gunners will have to find someone else to fill their boots against us...

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Pot shots at hot shot

According to reports in today's press, Obafemi Martins has narrowly avoided being gunned down in his home city of Lagos. Thankfully, our current number 9 survived the incident unharmed, unlike his passenger who was reportedly shot in the hand and shoulder.

Martins himself goes on to speculate that the attack was intended to kill him because of his recent failure to appear in time for a game for his country - if that's the case, then from the tone of his interview the upshot is that Martins appears far more likely to retire from international football than improve his timekeeping.

All of which bodes well for us, given that the African Cup of Nations is scheduled to take place during the middle of next season.

Driven to drink

At long last Alan Shearer has finally started to air his views on one time strike partner Craig Bellamy. Unsurprisingly, Shearer's views on the part time text pest, part time amateur golfer, full time arse do not reflect well on the the Liverpool striker - with Shearer apparently resorting to drink to drown out his concerns that Bellamy has been linked with us in the press.

Whilst Allardyce has a reputation of being able to handle troubled characters, I suspect he'll have his hands full with Joey Barton next season. As it is, whilst Shearer and Speed can both relax safe in the knowledge that even if Sam was daft enough to take the new Wales captain back to St James' Park neither of them would have a great deal to do with him. What price the third member of their holidaying party - Steve Harper - hitting the bottle with a vengeance when he heard the story.

For someone whose punditry has at times being accused of blandness (except when he was slagging off Graham Poll) his quotes are the Shearer equivalent of one of Bellamy's foul mouthed outbursts. Talented player he may be, but he won't be on his way back if Shearer or Terry Mac have anything to do with it.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Clean sheets or dirty laundry?

As was expected, Lord Stevens' final report following his inquiry into transfer activities, published today, makes uncomfortable reading for Newcastle fans.

Not only are the transfers of four players to Newcastle (Emre, Albert Luque, Jean-Alain Boumsong and Amady Faye) described as "uncleared", but there are reported to have been "inconsistencies in evidence" given by the man responsible for bringing them to Tyneside, Graeme Souness, as well as by Fat Fred's son Kenneth, "apparently acting in an undefined role but not as a Club official". What's more, Fat Sam is the other manager fingered in the report for goings-on at Bolton, for whom four transfers have also been classified as "uncleared".

Elsewhere, there are raps over the knuckles for agents Pini Zahivi (accused of having "failed to co-operate fully with the Inquiry"), Peter Harrison (who in the 'Panorama' programme boasted of having close ties to Fat Fred and the Newcastle hierarchy) and our old friend Willie McKay, who is described as having shown only "a degree of co-operation".

Unsurprisingly, the club has chosen to read very much between the lines and dwell on the paragraph which reads "we have found no evidence to suggest any irregular payments by or to Club officials relating to the above transfers [Emre, Boumsong and Faye] and Newcastle United officials co-operated fully with the Inquiry and gave full access to documentation (including bank statements) as requested", and claimed that we've come out of it smelling of roses.

No amount of whitewash can convince me of that, I'm afraid. As with 'Panorama', there remains no incontrovertible evidence of wrongdoing, but something still smells fishy and the suspicions persist - not least because of the inconsistent testimonies and reluctance of some of those named to co-operate.

All this on a day when it was announced that Mike Ashley has increased his stake in the club to 77.06% - rather than looking towards a Fat-Fred-less future with optimism and relief, we're having to face up to the fact that there could well be more turbulent times ahead.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Hey Joey

The wrangling's finally over, if the BBC site is to be believed - they're claiming that Joey Barton has at last formally signed for Newcastle.

So, we've got our ready-made replacement for Scott Parker - younger, a more regular goalscorer and arguably more influential, but also a proven troublemaker with an appalling disciplinary record on but particularly off the pitch. Despite what Paul has said (see comments here), I still find it hard to believe Barton's gall in insisting on payment of that £300,000 from City when they were perfectly within their rights to sack him for the Dabo incident and would presumably have done so had the issue not been clouded by the fact that he was their most saleable asset.

Still, as they say, it's time for a clean slate. If I can stomach the prospect of giving Fat Sam a chance to prove himself, then the same has to go for Barton. Keep your head to the ground and your nose out of trouble, Joey.

Meanwhile, after lengthy consideration Israeli defender Tal Ben Haim has opted to join Chelsea rather than team up with the man he's called gaffer for the past three seasons. Not that great a surprise, really, even taking into account the lure of playing under Allardyce. A big wad of cash for the odd appearance here and there and the chance of winning a medal or two (mainly by proxy) was always going to be more attractive than being charged with the onerous responsibility of sorting out our calamitous defence. I only hope David Rozenhal doesn't get a more attractive offer before we can get him onboard.


A Man City fan's take on the Barton saga, with some special vitriol saved up for Fat Sam. Can't say I agree with it all, but the point about our appointment of 'Panorama's prime suspect #1 having sacked Kevin Bond for being Harry Redknapp's sidekick certainly hits home.

Trotters for starters

Today saw the launch of next season's fixture list and sod's law dictates that we open with a trip to Bolton, with Allardyce returning to his old stamping ground, to take on his tiny successor. Let's hope the old adage that a good big 'un will always beat a good little 'un holds true.

Other fixtures of note see us entertain Chelsea for our last home game of the season again, and we spend Boxing Day at Wigan, before entertaining Everton on New Year's Day.

Six easy points should be garnered on 10 November and 19 April when we face Roy Keane's inbreds away and home respectively.

The full list of fixtures is available here, although with both Sky and Setanta having broadcast rights expect some of the fixtures (and particularly their kick off times) to change.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

New regime, new deals

No new incomings today, but instead news of two members of the current squad extending their contracts with the club.

Firstly, cult hero Nobby Solano, a revelation for much of his time at right back last season, has signed a one year deal. Long may the Peruvian continue to keep Stephen Carr out of the side - though that's also dependent on us having a better left back than Babayaro...

Secondly, young Dutch 'keeper Tim Krul has put pen to paper on a four year extension. Clearly he's highly rated by the club - and his one first team display to date, in the creditable 1-0 win away to Palermo in last season's UEFA Cup, suggests that faith in his having a very bright future in the game is well-placed - so it's pleasing to know we've tied him down to a longer deal.

That said, Krul's evidently under no illusions about the season to come; he knows he's not yet ready to challenge Shay Given and Steve Harper for a place in the first team, and is fully prepared to be loaned out to gain some all-important experience. A level-headed young player at Newcastle? Quick, sign him up for another four years!

One player who still hasn't signed on the dotted line is Joey Barton, the issue of that £300,000 at the heart of his ongoing dispute with Man City. It all seems to be a question of semantics - City claim Barton triggering the release clause in his contract constitutes asking for a move, meaning he's not entitled to the money, while Barton evidently feels otherwise. Fat Sam, inevitably, is apoplectic about the whole situation: "They're out of order. I'm flabbergasted and want the situation resolved". It doesn't exactly reflect well on our prospective new signing that he's prepared to kick up a fuss over what will amount to about six weeks' wages at his new club - not that he needed to draw any more negative media attention to himself...

Monday, June 11, 2007

If it wasn't for that pesky chairman I would have gotten away with it...

Some interesting quotes from Graeme Souness in today's Daily Mail. I know what you're thinking - Souness + Daily Mail = marriage made in the deepest, darkest pits of hell - and certainly his claim that we are "a big club with big problems", while probably true, is profoundly irritating coming as it does from a man who very definitely made those problems significantly bigger. "I didn't enjoy my time up there" - well, we didn't enjoy your time up here either, you knob.

But his comments about goings-on behind the scenes are worth repeating. Apparently it's not the levels of expectation on Tyneside that make the manager's role "a very, very difficult job", but "everything else you have to put up with". He didn't really have to spell it out, but did anyway: "You get people who come into the game and they are in it for five or six years, sometimes less, and all of a sudden they are experts. I am talking about owners and chairmen. [Really, Graeme? I'd never have guessed...] They decide who comes and goes from your club, they are laying the policy down on so many issues". Then, talking about his ambitions to become an owner / chairman himself, he added: "I feel I can do it better than some of the people I worked for. I know I would not be there to interfere".

It may be intensely annoying that Souness continues to blame everyone but himself for what happened during his tenure, but clearly Fat Fred's meddling and pig-headed I-know-best attitude were counter-productive. Time will tell whether Fat Sam will stand for it - though, of course, with the Ashley takeover looking increasingly likely, he may well not have to.


Things are looking increasingly desperate on the Michael Owen front, with Fat Sam admitting that there's little he can do to prevent the striker leaving if an attractive offer comes in. Of course, Allardyce's talk of the release clause in Owen's contract is doubly disquieting because Fat Fred flatly denied its existence only a few weeks ago...

Today's Mirror has us linked with Barcelona forward Ludovic Giuly. The French international, who rose to prominence during Monaco's run to the Champions League final in 2003-4, certainly wouldn't be a bad acquisition but, as a 30-year-old, it would depend on the size of the fee and the length of his contract - and at present the only evidence of our interest appears to be the claims of his agent.

Meanwhile, free agent Tal Ben Haim is still torn between following his former manager to St James' Park and winning silverware while sitting on the bench at Chelsea - and has apparently enlisted the assistance of Uri Geller to help him reach a decision. And I thought Fat Sam was only interested in players of sound mind and psychological make-up?

Good news with regard to the Tonto Press book 'Wor Al', to which both Paul and I contributed - the publishers have been able to hand over another cheque for £1500 to Alan Shearer's chosen charity the NSPCC. 50p of the cost of every book sold goes directly to them, and you can buy your copy here if you haven't already done so.

Lastly, it's exactly 50 years to the day since legendary Toon centre forward Hughie Gallagher committed suicide by throwing himself in front of a train. Tough nut Gallagher may have been famed for hard drinking, brawling and licentious lifestyle (next time someone tells you such things have only blighted the beautiful game in recent years, don't believe them), but he was also a tremendously talented player.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

A Month Of Saturdays: May 2007

(Rather belated, unfortunately - things have moved on somewhat since this was written - but hopefully worth posting all the same.)

What a difference a month doesn’t make, eh?

That was how my last A Month Of Saturdays round-up began. Suffice to say that May was a timely reminder that in the topsy-turvy world of Newcastle United Football Club, nothing stays the same for very long.

I was bemoaning the fact that our chronic inability to score had persisted for a second month, without even the return of Michael Owen against Reading looking likely to herald an upturn in fortunes – and in truth nothing did change before the visit of Blackburn. That afternoon we spent the whole 90 minutes toiling ineffectually and half-heartedly, while strike pair Benni McCarthy and Jason Roberts plundered the goals that enabled Mark Hughes’ side to disappear back down the A1 with perhaps the easiest three points they won all season.

For Glenn Roeder the writing was well and truly on the wall – and what it said was “You are courteously summoned to an emergency board meeting tomorrow, love Fat Fred”. Roeder should be credited with having had the good sense to jump before he was shoved over the precipice, retaining his dignity rather than clinging desperately to anything he could a la Souness.

Even with hindsight, there’s no doubt in my mind that we were right to give Roeder a chance at the helm, given the incredible rescue operation he had performed at the end of the 2005-6 season – but unfortunately it just didn’t work out as we’d hoped (though we weren’t actually relegated, much to the chagrin of those who had gleefully pointed out Roeder’s previous managerial record of seventh place finishes followed by relegation…). He could justifiably point to a horrendous injury list which never really seemed to shorten and to the appalling form of supposedly talented players (as well as to their ultimate disloyalty that, together with the Blackburn result and the fans’ boos, brought matters to a head) – but ultimately his personal culpability for our predicament was also clear.

No sooner had Roeder cleared his desk than speculation was rife that his replacement would be Sam Allardyce, who had only recently relinquished the hotseat at Bolton. The final game of the season, away to already-relegated Watford, was little more than a trifling distraction while we were waiting for the appointment, though some travelling fans still got themselves sufficiently worked up to dish out abuse to goalscorer Kieron Dyer – abuse that was for once unmerited.

Two days later Allardyce was duly unveiled as manager, to a less than enthusiastic response from yours truly. During his tenure at the Reebok, he may have managed to wring the best out of supposedly past-it players seemingly en route for the knacker’s yard (the continued brilliance of Gary Speed under his charge particularly galling to us), and Bolton’s results were often impressive – but he had them playing dreadful football and always struck me as an arrogant oaf (perhaps Fat Fred saw a kindred spirit?). Plus there was the small issue of the ‘Panorama’ allegations, which have clung to him like cigarette smoke but which seem to have been conveniently forgotten about.

Allardyce blustered into Toon with all kinds of pledges and threats, most notably his promise to bring an end to our ongoing injury crisis by putting in place all kinds of cutting-edge training methods. If he manages it then I’ll hold up my hands and be thankful – but most of what he’s said about such methods and sports psychology has struck me as meaningless mumbo-jumbo (and no doubt something we’ll end up paying for as the number of backroom staff mushrooms). Grudgingly, though, I suppose we ought to give him a chance.

Within a few days Allardyce was portrayed as wielding the stiff broom of reform in dispensing with the services of Craig Moore, Pavel Srnicek, Olivier Bernard, Oguchi Onyewu and perhaps most notably Titus Bramble – but then those departures were always likely even if Roeder had stayed on, all of them being out of contract.

But it wasn’t long before Allardyce himself was caught by surprise, though perhaps not to quite the same extent as Fat Fred. Shepherd was reportedly in hospital when the news broke that Sir John Hall, the club’s pre-Keegan saviour in the early 90s, had sold his share of the club to billionaire businessman Mike Ashley, inventively dubbed the “Buckinghamshire Abramovich”. Needless to say, despite the shock Fat Fred wasn’t speechless, and soon issued a challenge to his rival: “There is nothing Mike Ashley can do with this club unless he gets 75 per cent of the stake. He can’t take full control, he can’t change resolutions or the club’s articles of association. He has spent more than £50million, but he will have to spend a whole lot more as he must now make an offer not just for my shares, but the shares held by all the other shareholders”. Clearly he wasn’t going to relinquish his grip on the club without a fight – but the prospect of a change at the highest level was suddenly very real.

As the month drew to a close, the takeover talks continued, and transfer speculation went into overdrive. If I could have Sam’s ear, there’d be one thing I’d be shouting into it right now: “DEFENDERS”…

Friday, June 08, 2007

Weigh aye!

Mark Viduka was today finally confirmed as Sam Allardyce's first signing as Newcastle manager - and the ensuing press conference proved to be a feast (pun intended) of quotes of the sort to provoke laughter amongst those who think the Australian is a bit of a chubber.

According to Allardyce, for instance, Viduka has "the size and stature to lead our front line", and is the sort of "big man" with whom Michael Owen and Obafemi Martins could form fruitful partnerships.

For his own part, Viduka claimed to be "over the moon" - some might say the planets orbit around you, Mark... - and he seems to have had dinner on the brain when he claimed: "I want to win things and Newcastle United is a club that has all the ingredients to do that, especially with Sam coming in".

Enough of the jesting, though - it's worth reiterating what I said on Tuesday, that Viduka could prove to be a very astute signing. Provided he does what he's paid to do (ie scores goals) and puts in the levels of effort we've a right to expect, then we'll take to him, regardless of the fact that he's an ex-Smog and a bit partial to the odd pie.

Whereas the protracted negotiations for Viduka and Joey Barton (still not confirmed as a Toon player) have been widely reported, the departure of Antoine Sibierski wasn't. The Frenchman, refused a two year deal despite last season's heroics, has left on a free transfer to hook up with former Toon team-mate Titus Bramble at Wigan.

It seems an injustice that Sibierski has been allowed to leave without any kind of fanfare - after all, he was one of the few success stories of a dreadful campaign, and a wholly unexpected one at that. Thinking back to my initial reaction to his arrival, I'm reminded how sweet humble pie can sometimes taste. Best wishes Antoine.

Regime change

Meanwhile, negotiations of a rather different kind look to have reached a conclusion with the news that Mike Ashley is set to take over the club, having reached agreement with Fat Fred over the purchase of his 28% stake.

When the story that Ashley had first bought up the Hall family's 41.6% share first broke last month, Shepherd seemed rather less than amused. Judging by the wording of his initial response, he was about as welcoming to the move as Tony Martin is to intruders.

All of which means that today's quotes have the stink of insincerity and propaganda - apparently Ashley and his company will be "excellent custodians of Newcastle United's heritage" and "will provide the best opportunity for the club to flourish in the future, to the benefit of the company and its fans". Are you sure you're not just saying that because your pudgy, clammy palms have been crossed with silver, Fred? Surely that can be the only reason you've changed your tune so quickly and are suddenly able to countenance stepping aside to leave the club without a Geordie at the helm.

Still, this shouldn't be cause for complaint - after all, most of us have wanted shot of Shepherd for ages and now it looks as though we'll have our wish. Expect incidences of foot-in-mouth disease on Tyneside to drop dramatically in the near future.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Come back to what you know

Last night's 3-0 win over Estonia might ultimately have been a stroll in the park, but it was nevertheless encouraging to see Michael Owen score his first goal since coming back from the horrific knee injury sustained at last summer's World Cup. He lasted 87 minutes, too - and his withdrawal wasn't down to injury.

In truth Owen's strike shortly after the hour mark owed much to David Beckham's brilliant delivery from the right, as did Peter Crouch's header before it, but our rehabilitated striker still had plenty to do and the way he guided it back across goal and past Mart Poom suggested a man whose predatory instincts remain undulled by a long period on the sidelines.

Also getting in on the act for his country was Steven Taylor, who grabbed the third in Tuesday's 5-0 U21 rout of the Estonians. His primary responsibility may be to keep them out at the other end, but let's just hope he can retain his newly-discovered goalscoring touch in the coming season.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Scott flees

According to reports, Scott Parker has now joined West Ham for a fee of £7 million, giving us £500,000 profit on a player With Joey Barton, reportedly Toon bound for £5.5 million, effectively a Parker replacement, albeit one with a slightly more chequered past, it would appear to represent a decent piece of business for the club - the £1.5 million difference going some way to paying Barton's alleged 70k per week wages!

For my part, I'm fairly apathetic to Parker's departure, his excellent first season not really carrying through into last term's showing - where too often he flattered to deceive. If Barton can curb his off-field behaviour then he could prove to be a more dynamic version of our departed captain, which should help drive our midfield forward. He should also dovetail better with Nicky Butt, something Parker was never able to manage.

With reports also suggesting that Viduka and Rozehnal are also Toon bound (the former seemingly a lot closer to signing than the latter) it looks like Allardyce's overhaul of the squad is firmly under way.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Pie ho silver lining

All over Newcastle proprietors of Greggs are no doubt rubbing their hands in glee at today's news that Mark Viduka could soon be waddling his way into town. Not surprising, really, that Fat Fred and Fat Sam should be targeting someone a bit on the portly side, and in any case we have a bit of a history of tubby strikers, what with Micky Quinn and Fat Pat Kluivert having struggled into the shirt in recent years.

All joking aside, though, the Australian could prove to be a solid signing. We may have mocked his weight, he may be a bit of a mercenary, and at 31 he may be past his prime - but, as a regular goalscorer (often with spectacular strikes) you can't argue he doesn't do his job well. Whether we'd find room for him in the side if Michael Owen and Obafemi Martins stay put and fit is neither here nor there - he'd be a decent addition to the squad. But when it's being reported that we've agreed a deal "in principle", what does that actually mean?

It looks as though Joey Barton too is edging closer to the arrivals lounge, having today completed a medical on Tyneside. Man City have accepted our £5.5m offer and, assuming the examination didn't reveal anything untoward and Barton didn't stub a cigar out in the club doctor's eye, confirmation of the deal seems imminent. If that's the case, then the club we'll have pipped to Barton's signature, West Ham, will be able to console themselves with the recruitment of our very own Scott Parker, reportedly on the brink of an £8m move to East London.

Meanwhile, alleged transfer target David Rozehnal is apparently enthusiastic about the prospect of a move to St James'. The Czech Republic international, who currently plays for PSG, reportedly "knows manager Sam Allardyce was also a centre-back and believes he can learn from him".

I don't know a great deal about Rozehnal, but he's evidently talented and, at 26, a good age, and would come with a considerable reputation, having impressed sufficiently this last campaign to be named as PSG's player of the year and one of the best in the French league. I'd certainly be happier to see him join than Tal Ben Haim...

So, what could be more bizarre than the very real prospect of us signing a top quality defender? Kieron Dyer playing at right back for England tomorrow night? It's happened before, and it may just happen again...

Monday, June 04, 2007

The return of the back(side)

The biggest arse in football is back in the limelight - no, not Craig Bellamy (we're talking literally not metaphorically here) but Titus Bramble, who today signed for Wigan on a free transfer following his departure from St James' Park.

No doubt Wigan fans currently have their heads in their hands at the news of Chris Hutchings' first signing since taking over from Paul Jewell - but, though Bramble all too often made himself a laughing stock, we're only too aware that he had bags of potential and could at times be outstanding. It would be just our luck if he finally resolves his difficulties with his wavering concentration span as soon as he pitches up in the North West...