Football: Collymore considers pounds 3m Greek offer

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STAN COLLYMORE is having talks with Panathinaikos about a pounds 3m move to the Greek club that could save his career. The troubled Aston Villa striker and his agent, Paul Stretford, met club officials in Athens yesterday and will make his decision on the move this week. Collymore wants to have a look at the facilities and see where he could live if he takes the move to a team that will be in the Champions' League next season.

The Villa striker has been troubled by depression and is having treatment, but he was prepared to take part in pre-season training. However, with Villa's manager, John Gregory, keen to sell, Collymore could face an uncertain future if he turned down the move.

Gregory has said he is not interested in signing Juninho from Atletico Madrid. Villa made a move for the Brazilian midfielder last season and they had talks without concluding a deal.

Now Atletico are ready to sell Juninho, but Gregory said: "We were interested last season. But that is all over now and we are not one of the clubs who are interested."

The veteran Carlton Palmer is set to sign for West Ham in a pounds 400,000 deal this week. The defensive midfielder is expected to meet the east Londoners' manager, Harry Redknapp, in the next few days once he brings in some money from sales.

A quick route to riches in the short-term would be to follow up Roma's interest in Rio Ferdinand. Such a move would be very unpopular with the Upton Park fans but it could generate pounds 12m. Roma's president, Franco Sensi, claims his club could secure a deal for the England defender by Wednesday.

John Barnes is clearly going to be a coach unafraid to eschew orthodoxy, and yesterday he confirmed that Terry McDermott is to be Celtic's "social manager".

It is unclear what this will mean in practice, or even when McDermott will arrive at Parkhead. He has been out of the game since leaving Newcastle following the dismissal of Kenny Dalglish.

"Terry McDermott will be coming and his job will be to assist me on the training ground," Barnes said. "Terry is a coach, a social manager."

The fall-out from Manchester United's decision to miss next season's FA Cup in order to take part in the World Club Championship rumbled on with their manager, Alex Ferguson, repeating that his club had bowed to government pressure, while the Sports Minister, Tony Banks, insisted that United had been happy to make the change.

"In the last week we have been under considerable pressure from both the FA and the Government to find a solution," Ferguson said, while Banks responded: "This is something Manchester United were happy to do and the idea that I personally forced them to do so is a rather interesting story."

Alec McGivan, the head of England 2006 World Cup bid, is convinced the campaign would have been in ruins had United decided against taking part in the World Club Championship.

"Three or four of the Fifa executive members in recent days have commented on the importance of our decision. One said that it augurs well for England's bid, while the others have congratulated United on their decision to come.

"There is no question that this tournament is very important to Fifa [world football's governing body] and for us to have not attended it and walked away from it would have gone down very badly. For us to have ignored it would have sent all the wrong signals to the key decision makers who believe this tournament is an important new venture for world football."

Nicolas Anelka has no intention of returning to Arsenal. The French forward, in France waiting for his prospective transfer to Lazio to go through, told an Italian newspaper yesterday that he already plays in Italy.

"I already feel myself to be a Lazio player," he said. "It's impossible for me to stay in England. With Arsenal, I've finished for ever."

And with the fans, too, it seems. "English people don't like me," he said. "In the end, that's only a natural reaction - I'm beginning to go off English people myself."

Manchester United are to open merchandising outlets in the Middle East. A first store is to open in March 2000 in Dubai, followed by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar.

Christophe Dugarry, Marseilles' France World Cup-winning striker, said yesterday he had never taken banned substances, despite testing positive for the steroid nandrolone. Dugarry will face a six-month ban from football if the result is confirmed.

Dugarry told French television: "I am positive because my level [of nandrolone] passes the norm but I am not doped."