Asprilla and Branco join the import club

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The North-east's collection of South Americans grew to four yesterday when Newcastle United finally completed the signing of the Colombian striker, Faustino Asprilla, and Middlesbrough brought another Brazilian, Branco, to the Riverside Stadium. The two clubs face each other at Middlesbrough tomorrow, but neither import will play as work permits have not yet been granted.

Newcastle paid the Italian club, Parma, pounds 6.7m, for Asprilla, but Branco, who was a free agent after his departure from the Brazilian club, Internacional, will not cost a fee.

The lengthy negotiations over the signing of Asprilla were finally completed in Milan yesterday after a meeting with Parma officials attended by Kevin Keegan, the Newcastle manager, and Freddie Fletcher, the club's chief executive.

Keegan said: "I'm absolutely delighted he's coming. He's just the sort of player the Geordies love. I think the crowd will love him. He is a matchwinner, a goalscorer and an entertainer. He is quick, works hard and has flair - a real Newcastle player.

"He could have just sat in Parma with two years of his contract to go but wanted to play in England. I have paid the right price for the quality of player we have got. Our fans should just sit back and watch this fellow when he comes in. He'll contribute a lot to what we want to do.

"The work permit is not in our hands but there's a good chance he'll be able to play a week on Saturday if our game against Southampton goes ahead."

At one stage it had seemed that Newcastle's pursuit of Asprilla would be called off because of doubts over the player's fitness. The Colombian flew to Newcastle two weeks ago in order to complete his signing for the Premiership club, but following a medical the negotiations became protracted.

It was understood that Newcastle had been concerned about a knee injury that Asprilla had suffered. However, in the end the deal went through yesterday with the fee staying at the price originally agreed by the two clubs. Asprilla, aged 26, will join the club on a four-year contract.

Sir John Hall, the Newcastle chairman, speaking yesterday morning before the completion of the deal, said: "We have gone through the uncertainty of the medicals. I wanted clarification because I am running a business and I just wanted everything to be certain."

However, Leandro Cantamessa, the lawyer acting for Parma, hinted that there had been other difficulties over the signing when he said: "There were problems with Asprilla's residence permit, which have been resolved by the English authorities."

Branco, a 31-year-old left-back, joins Middlesbrough on an 18-month contract, which is also subject to a successful application for a work permit. He will join his countryman, Juninho, and the Bolivian striker, Jaime Moreno, at the Riverside Stadium. Branco returned home to Brazil from Middlesbrough yesterday to await the outcome of the work permit application.

A member of Brazil's 1994 World Cup winning team, Branco has won 83 full caps and appeared in the final stages of three World Cups. Apart from Internacional, he has also played for Genoa, Brescia and Porto.

Bryan Robson, the Middlesbrough manager, said: "I have rated Branco as one of the world's best left-backs for many years. But he is also confident enough to play at centre-back or in midfield."

Middlesbrough's fear, page 22