Football: Babb poised for pounds 3.6m move to Liverpool: Republic of Ireland centre-back likely to become Britain's most expensive defender tomorrow as Evans starts major rebuilding

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The Independent Online
PHIL BABB, Coventry's Republic of Ireland centre-back, is expected to become Britain's most expensive defender - and Liverpool's record signing - in a pounds 3.6m deal likely to be concluded tomorrow.

Despite rumblings of discontent from Coventry, whose manager Phil Neal was unhappy about 'unsettling media speculation' concerning a possible transfer, the 23- year-old Babb yesterday confirmed his willingness to become the first major recruit of the Roy Evans era. He looks certain to make his debut in Saturday's opening Premiership fixture at Crystal Palace, close to the London suburb of Streatham where he was born and bred.

Neal, himself a former Liverpool captain, and the Coventry chairman, the ex-Warwickshire cricketer Bryan Richardson, are likely to face criticism from supporters over their handling of the Babb affair. Coventry previously rejected a pounds 3.5m offer for him from Tottenham, only to sell for a fraction more days before Wimbledon kick off the new season at Highfield Road.

Babb caused consternation at Coventry in June when, following his arrival with the Irish squad in the United States, he revealed that he hoped to join Newcastle. The outcry, and the need to set aside domestic concerns in order to concentrate on the World Cup, saw that transfer fall through. Spurs then took up the chase, and with Arsenal and Blackburn also showing interest, Liverpool decided to make their move.

Some poor pre-season results and a dearth of new faces had led to gloomy forecasts for Evans's first full season. The capture of Babb, who underlined his credentials with some fine displays as a pacy foil to Paul McGrath, is sure to create optimism although more investment appears necessary before Liverpool are in a position to challenge for the championship again.

Nor is Anfield a bottomless pit, especially after the transfer excesses of the Graeme Souness era and the rebuilding of the Kop, so there are likely to be departures.

Mark Wright and Paul Stewart may be offloaded to help pay for Babb, a one-time Millwall cast-off who cost Coventry a mere pounds 500,000 from Bradford City two years ago. Whether Babb marks Chris Armstrong at Selhurst Park on Saturday - or has to wait until the first Merseyside derby of the season for that dubious privilege - depends on whether Everton are prepared to meet Palace's pounds 5m asking price for their top scorer. Swindon have withdrawn their offer for West Ham's misfit, Joey Beauchamp, claiming the London club wanted more than the pounds 1m they paid Oxford for the player less than two months ago. 'The deal we have put forward is all linked to the player's performances,' Redknapp said. 'If Swindon say we are asking more than that, they have got their sums wrong.'

Redknapp has appointed Frank Lampard, his brother-in-law and a former West Ham player, as his assistant.

Diego Maradona has been ordered to pay a fine of dollars 40,000 ( pounds 26,490) by a court in Buenos Aires for firing an air rifle at journalists, injurying five of them, last February.

Ken Jones, page 30