Football: Juninho left out in the cold at Madrid

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The Independent Online
ATLETICO MADRID'S new coach Claudio Ranieri said yesterday that Juninho was not part of his plans, leaving the way open for Aston Villa and Middlesbrough to fight over the Brazilian midfielder.

Villa will be favourites, as Juninho looked to be on the point of signing for John Gregory's team in the middle of last season until transfer talks broke down. His contract runs until 2002 and Atletico will be hoping to recoup a substantial amount of the pounds 12m they paid Middlesbrough for his services in the summer of 1997.

"It is not that he would not fit into my system, it's just that I have other thoughts," Ranieri said at his first press conference since taking over.

It is now a matter of time before he does go as Ranieri prepares to restructure his squad. "Those that I don't choose, it's not because they are no good, it's because I have a very extensive squad," Ranieri said.

He did, however, offer Leeds pounds 10m yesterday for the Dutch striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. The bid was rejected, with Peter Risdale, Leeds' chairman, saying: "We have not spent pounds 15m just to go and sell our top scorer from the past two years."

Hasselbaink, who cost pounds 2m from the Portuguese side Boavista two years ago, has been offered a lucrative new contract even though he has two years to run on his current deal.

The Lazio president Sergio Cragnotti has confirmed that nearly two months of on-off talks to buy French striker Nicolas Anelka from Arsenal are now finally at an end.

Lazio's agent Vincenzo Morabito earlier claimed the deal was definitively off because no agreement could be found over the money for either the transfer, the player's terms or the agents' fees. That breakdown was confirmed in Rome by Cragnotti. "The soap opera is over," said the Lazio president, who had wanted to sign Anelka to replace Christian Vieri.

"We did everything we could. We wanted to bring Anelka to Rome at all costs, but we didn't succeed because Arsenal's demands were crazy and unreasonable," Morabito said.

Another young player who looks set to make his mark - though in his case in a positive manner - is Shaun Wright-Phillips, 17-year-old son of the former Arsenal striker Ian, who made an impressive debut for Manchester City against Everton in Wednesday's friendly.

City manager Joe Royle was delighted with his 30-minute run-out and predicted it will be the first of many appearances. "Shaun has got the lot and he is not far away from the side," Royle said. "He wasn't fazed by his debut at all."