Football: Houllier in bid to thwart Arsenal

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The Independent Online
GERARD HOULLIER, the Liverpool manager, is close to signing the French centre-half Cyril Depri-Domoraud in a pounds 2m deal to prevent Arsene Wenger taking him to Arsenal.

The highly-rated Marseilles defender is in talks with Liverpool and could seal an agreement before the end of the week. Houllier is even willing to leave the French Under-21 international at Marseille for the rest of the season before bringing him to Anfield next summer. Wenger, looking to rebuild his defence next season, has also been in contact with Marseilles about the player.

Houllier is also considering an offer to take Cameroon centre-half Rigobert Song on trial. He is out of favour at Salernitana, but he needs a work permit, which is a major stumbling block. Liverpool already have two work-permit players and hope to sign the Croatian Silvio Maric shortly to take them up to the maximum of three. If the Croatia Zagreb winger Maric agrees to a pounds 3m deal this week, Liverpool's interest in Song will fade.

David O'Leary will build his Leeds team around his first signing, David Batty, and does not mind upsetting whoever has to make way for the England midfielder.

The Leeds manager confirmed that Batty, who signed yesterday for pounds 4.4m from Newcastle, will make his debut for his hometown club against Coventry on Monday, shunting into the sidings one member of the Leeds team who overwhelmed West Ham 4-0 last weekend Batty has signed a four-and-a-half- year contract with the club he left for Blackburn in 1993.

"I am not going to play games with people, David will play on Monday if he is fit," O'Leary said. "If that upsets someone who has been in the team then it is tough. I don't care what the players think, I am trying to build something that is going to last for the next few years. I will spend money when I think it is right, the responsibility doesn't bother me."

O'Leary faces a dilemma in deciding who will make way for Batty. Midfielder David Hopkin is in his best form since arriving at Leeds, while Lee Bowyer has scored three goals in the last three games. The teenage striker Alan Smith and and Norwegian utility man Alfie Haaland are favourites to be sacrificed.

Batty's signing brought to an end a protracted saga which had left the player, who celebrated his 30th birthday last Wednesday, contemplating his future in the game after Newcastle turned down Leeds' initial pounds 4m bid.

After being told he would never play for the Magpies again after he handed in a transfer request to manager Ruud Gullit, Batty was relieved to finally set the seal on his return to Leeds.

"It has been a frustrating time," he said. "When I read the rumours that Leeds were initially interested I just hoped they were true. Certain things may have changed but it feels like I have never been away. There is a buzz about the place and these are exciting times.

"Although the last two weeks have been hard, as a whole Ruud handled it very well. I enjoyed playing with Newcastle but all my thoughts are for Leeds now. We have a young team and a young manager and this probably the most exciting period at the club for about five years."