Football: Ipswich chase Argentines

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The Independent Online
ON THE surface not a lot exists to connect Argentina with Ipswich Town, but yesterday Portman Road was alive with rumour that the Premiership side could be about to raid the transfer market for one, possibly two, of Diego Maradona's compatriots.

A source close to the club suggested that the target was the 32- year-old defender, Oscar Ruggeri, while a report from Italy maintained that John Lyall's secret assignation this week was in pursuit of Gabriel Batistuta, Argentina's leading scorer in the World Cup finals.

Batistuta is thought to be unhappy at Fiorentina and a pre- contract agreement is said to exist between the Italians and Ipswich in advance of a pounds 2.9m transfer, which would be a record for the Suffolk club.

Ipswich have also been linked with Tony Cottee but it seems the Londoner, who at one time was the country's most expensive player, is heading home to West Ham, with Everton taking David Burrows in exchange.

Cottee's wife is homesick for the capital and Burrows, who made almost 200 Liverpool appearances, also favours a return north. 'Discussions are under way and we hope to tie everything up over the weekend' Jim Greenwood, the Everton chief executive, said.

Over at Anfield the finishing touches were being applied to John Scales' pounds 3.5m transfer from Wimbledon with the ink scarcely dry on the forms finalising Phil Babb's move there from Coventry for the same sum.

Wimbledon acknowledged the inevitability of the sale once Merton Council decided to throw out plans to redevelop their former Plough Lane home. 'We are paying the price of developing a player of exceptional talent but not having the means to keep him,' Sam Hammam, the Dons owner, said.

The latest sale means that all 12 surviving players from Wimbledon's 1988 FA Cup triumph have been sold on for a total of pounds 11.9m. 'We've lost important players in the past but John's the greatest,' Hammam added. 'We have lost a fantastic gladiator, a great friend and a real brother in arms.'

Clearly there will be departures from Anfield and Paul Stewart began the exodus yesterday when he joined Wolves on a month's loan. Also looking for new employers are fledgling managers Kenny Hibbit and Kenny Swain, sacked by Walsall and Wigan respectively.

Diego Maradona said yesterday in his first public comments since FIFA, the world governing body, suspended him for 15 months from 24 August for taking banned drugs, that he was as good as dead. Dressed in black, he complained: 'Me, they killed me. I'm completely dead.'

The former Argentina captain, who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs during the World Cup in June, continued: 'It's totally unfair. There are no words to express what they did to me. I don't know where I stand. I can't find myself.'