Football: Heskey to stay with Leicester

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EMILE HESKEY is poised to end speculation about his future at Leciester City by signing a one-year extension to his contract in the next 48 hours.

The Leicester manager, Martin O'Neill, is optimistic that the England Under-21 player - a target for Aston Villa - will commit himself to the club until the summer of 2000.

O'Neill said: "Money has never been a problem. It was all about how long a young player like Emile wanted to commit himself - and, to be honest, these days I can't see youngsters signing their career away.

"But talks with Emile's agent have been going pretty well and, contrary to some suggestions, have not broken down. I'm really hopeful there will be something positive to report tomorrow or Friday."

O'Neill is also confident the American goalkeeper Kasey Keller, also in the last year of his current deal, will sign a new contract - and that the club's other big-name players will sign up. "I'm not far away from agreeing a contract with Kasey Keller's agent," O'Neill said, "and the other good news is that people like Steve Guppy, Muzzy Izzet and Matt Elliott are also looking to sign extensions to their contracts. If they thought the club was going nowhere, they wouldn't be thinking along those lines, so we must be doing something right." The Northern Ireland midfielder Neil Lennon has already signed a one-year extension through to the year 2000 with the Foxes.

Aston Villa are preparing a pounds 1.5m bid for the Swedish international Fredrik Ljungberg, club sources said yesterday. The 21-year-old Halmstad midfielder won his sixth cap for Sweden in last Saturday's 2-1 win over England. Barcelona and Arsenal have also been tracking Ljungberg, who helped Halmstad win the Swedish championship last season.

The Aston Villa manager, John Gregory, is keen to continue his spending spree following the sale of the striker Dwight Yorke to Manchester United last month. Gregory has already spent pounds 6.75m this week on the England striker Paul Merson from Middlesbrough. He was not signed in time to make his debut in Wednesday night's Premiership match against Newcastle at Villa Park but is almost certain to start in Saturday's home game with Wimbledon.

Rangers are poised to break their own Scottish transfer record for the third time this season with a pounds 6m move for the Brazilian striker, Christian Correa Dionisio.

The Ibrox chairman, David Murray, yesterday confirmed that the coach, Dick Advocaat, will hold further talks with the 22-year-old, who currently plays for Internacional Porto Alegre in his homeland. Dionisio has recently broken into the Brazilian national side, in which he is seen as a long- term partner for Ronaldo.

"I am obviously disappointed this information has come out at this time," Murray told the Record newspaper. "However, Dick Advocaat will meet the player one more time for talks. I will also meet with Christian and his representatives to tie up loose ends. If all goes according to plan, the deal will be done."

Dionisio's arrival at Ibrox, which could take up to two months to finalise, would take Advocaat's spending since succeeding Walter Smith to pounds 33m.

Bolton Wanderers' new Jamaican defender, Ricardo Gardner, has been labelled "the new Leonardo" by his former international coach, Rene Simoes.

Gardner, who joined Bolton for pounds 1m after playing in the World Cup, made his league debut this week as a late substitute and scored the winner in Bolton's 3-2 victory at West Bromwich.

The Caribbean 19-year-old has been nursed into the English game by his manager Colin Todd, and made an instant impact when he was finally given his league bow at The Hawthorns.

Simoes enthused: "Ricardo has everything to go all the way in football. He reminds me of the Brazil star, Leonardo.

"Ricardo is so versatile he can play wing-back or midfield. He is a wonderful player and is, for me, the new Leonardo."

Simoes gave Gardner his international debut as a 17-year-old after spotting him playing for Harbour View, the club Bolton signed him from.

Gardner interested Paris St-Germain, but that interest faded after Gardner found the pressures of France 98 affected his form in the tournament.