Football: Niemi wants to leave Rangers

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THE RANGERS outcast Antti Niemi yesterday declared his intention to leave the Ibrox club to protect his position as first choice for his country, Finland.

After starting the season in the first team for the four games, the 26- year-old goalkeeper initially lost his place to the French international Lionel Charbonnier in mid-August. The pounds 1.5m arrival from Auxerre excelled until the Uefa Cup second round home leg with Bayer Leverkusen, when he was taken off with serious knee ligament damage.

Niemi replaced him on the night and remained in goal until Christmas, when the Rangers manager, Dick Advocaat, sealed the transfer of the German international Stefan Klos from Borussia Dortmund.

Klos has retained his place ever since and yesterday Niemi, whose agent has already made clear his player's unhappiness, spoke personally for the first time about his desire to move on. He said: "It looks like my future will be away from Ibrox. I will have to consider any offer.

"At the moment I'm not getting enough matches. You can get away with not playing regularly for a while but, sooner or later, it will show in your game.

"I'm concerned that my form could suffer if I don't get regular first team action - and that could threaten my Finland place."

Niemi is still part of the Finnish set-up, starting their most recent international against Poland last week, but long-term he feels his career might better develop elsewhere. He added: "I felt I did OK in the matches I have played this season, but I can understand the manager's decision to choose Stefan.

"He's a very good keeper and a European Cup winner, but I must think about my future because right now international games are my only chance to show what I can do."

Ironically, Klos, Rangers' first-choice keeper, has lost his place in the German international fold since his switch to Ibrox from Dortmund. The German coach, Erich Ribbeck, has refused to select him because of doubts about the standard of play in Scotland.

Klos said: "Rangers are a big club, they beat Bayer Leverkusen, who are a top Bundesliga team, so why should I not play for Germany if I'm here at Ibrox?

"I was disappointed to be left out and to hear the coach say he cannot see me because Scottish football is not shown on German television.

"I think that is wrong because he could easily fly over and see me, and Jorg Albertz. I want to play for Germany and don't see why it is such a problem me being in Scotland."

Meanwhile, Advocaat and the Rangers chairman, David Murray, have travelled to Liverpool to check out the Anfield club's training facilities.

Murray is ready to invest in a state-of-the-art training centre, with around pounds 7m set aside to fund the project, but first he plans to examine existing facilities around Europe.

Advocaat said: "I have some ideas from Holland, but the most important thing is that we are clear about what we want to do because it's an expensive project which we want for next year."

n The Argentina Under-21 goalkeeper Albano Bizarri will finally arrive in the Spanish capital this weekend to join Real Madrid, club officials said yesterday. Bizarri was signed from the Argentinian club, Real Avellanda, in January during the Spanish mid-season transfer window, but had been given permission to stay in his native country until now.