Football: Ba gives Gullit a helpful hint

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The Independent Online
THE FRENCH winger Ibrahim Ba is ready to cut his losses in Italy and bring some new year cheer to Newcastle United.

The 25-year-old international has confirmed that he has spoken to the Magpies' manager, Ruud Gullit, and admits that he would relish the chance to replace Keith Gillespie, who was sold to Blackburn yesterday, at St James' Park.

Ba, who has featured in seven of Milan's 13 games so far this season, said: "I know that Milan have already spoken to the English officials. I had a meeting with Gullit, and I would be prepared to leave in January."

Ba's suggestion that he will accept Newcastle's overtures will be welcomed by Gullit, but it appears that his efforts to get his man in time for Saturday's Premiership clash with Leicester may be doomed to failure.

Ba, who joined Milan from Bordeaux in 1997, has played 38 times for the Serie A side, but has struggled to command a regular place.

"I'm down, how couldn't I be? I never play," he said. Ba has been rated at pounds 4.5m by his club, but Newcastle are confident of securing his signature for somewhere nearer pounds 3.5m.

Gullit has been on the player's trail for some time, and the sale of Gillespie - United's only out-and-out winger - for pounds 2.35m is an indication of how close he feels he is to striking a deal. Gillespie, who would have been out of contract at the end of the season, was viewed by many as the man who would best provide the service for England captain, Alan Shearer, and recent pounds 8m signing Duncan Ferguson.

Stephen Glass and the Peruvian Nolberto Solano are both promising wide players, but neither has Gillespie's pace, and Gullit's pursuit of Ba suggests that he has made a traditional winger an important part of his plans. If he does make the move to Tyneside, he will become the fifth French player in the last 12 months to cross the Channel.

But he will not have to set the world alight to improve on the distinctly limited success of his compatriots during 1998. Only defender Laurent Charvet has forced his way into the first team on a regular basis, with the remaining four members of the Magpies' French foreign legion mustering just two competitive senior starts between them.

The former Auxerre striker Stephane Guivarc'h claimed both of those before ending his fleeting stay to join Rangers for pounds 3.5m, while the ex-Sunderland goalkeeper Lionel Perez is languishing in the reserves after losing his place as Shay Given's deputy to Steve Harper.

The defender David Terrier was released last summer by the former Newcastle manager Kenny Dalglish following a six-month stay without a first-team appearance.

n Prosecutors yesterday notified Antonio Matarrese, a Uefa vice president and a former head of the Italian football federation, that he is being investigated in connection with an inquiry into the use of performance-enhancing substances in football in Italy.

Matarrese resigned his federation post following Italy's poor showing at the 1996 European Championships. He is the latest in a series of top sports officials to be drawn into the scandal that broke during the summer and led to the resignation of the Italian Olympic Committee president, Mario Pescante, and the closing of the country's drug-testing laboratory.