Football: Ball seals pounds 2m signing of Georgian and then Ball

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The Independent Online
Alan Ball marked his first day as manager of Manchester City yesterday by spending pounds 2m on a player described as potentially the finest ever to come out of eastern Europe, Georgiou Kinkladze.

Kinkladze, a 21-year-old midfield player from Dynamo Tblisi who has signed a three-year deal with City, played a prominent part in Georgia's defeat of Wales in the European Championship qualifier in Cardiff.

"He is an outstanding player," said Francis Lee, the City chairman, who instigated moves for Kinkladze. Ball said: "The chairman told me that if I didn't fancy the deal, City would drop out. I had the final say."

Ball signed a three-year deal himself yesterday, after compensation had been agreed with his former club, Southampton, and promised to prune the playing staff of 40, which he says is limiting the progress of younger talent. "I can comfortably work with 32," he said.

Lee added: "We can't have senior players sitting on the bench in reserve matches. It's no good for their careers and it's no good for the club."

The influx of foreign players into the Premiership continued at Upton Park, where West Ham spent pounds 1m on the Dutch international Marco Boogers. The Hammers fought off interest from Napoli and Everton to land the 28- year-old striker, who has scored 103 goals in 280 games for Sparta Rotterdam, despite playing for several years as a winger. "It proves that value for money can still be found, despite the current level of transfer fees in the UK," Peter Storrie, the club's managing director, said.

"We have received criticism from supporters from what they see as a lack of investment, despite buying several players including Tony Cottee, Don Hutchison and Marc Rieper in the last 12 months," he added.

Sheffield Wednesday also went into the market yesterday, and came back with the promise of signing the Belgium captain, Marc Degryse, next week. The deal, David Pleat's first signing since he took over as manager, will cost them around pounds 1.5m.

The 29-year-old Anderlecht striker, who has scored 18 goals in 58 international appearances, has accepted a three-year-deal which is expected to be finalised on Wednesday. "He will give us more competition for places," Pleat said, "and a good brain to go with Chris Waddle."

Southampton have replaced Ball by promoting reserve coach Dave Merrington, who has been at The Dell for 11 years. The 50-year-old former Burnley defender will work alongside Lawrie McMenemy, with responsibility for coaching the first team.

Merrington, the players' choice, beat former Southampton players Jimmy Case, Russell Osman, Ivan Golac and Mick Mills for the job, which is his first senior post in football. He also topped the supporters' poll, winning 36 per cent of the vote.

Which is more than Alex Ferguson can say. A telephone poll for the Manchester Evening News last night revealed that 53 per cent of around 1,000 callers, voicing their discontent at the selling of Paul Ince and Mark Hughes, wanted him to resign as manager of Manchester United.

Queen's Park Rangers have signed Gregory Goodridge, the 24-year-old Torquay winger, for pounds 350,000.

Belgium and the Netherlands will be joint hosts of the European Championship in the year 2000 - the first time the four-yearly tournament will be staged in two countries.

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