Football: That was the weekend that was

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Bristol's foreign legion

cope with culture shock

BRISTOL CITY, with only two wins in 12 League games following Saturday's defeat at Norwich, have an unashamed policy of buying foreign in hopes of leaving the lower reaches of the First Division.

They believe that the domestic market is simply too expensive, and in the last fortnight alone have bought the Hungarian defender Vilmos Sebok, the Danish goalkeeper Bo Andersen and the Norwegian midfielder Kenneth Storvik, the combined fees adding up to less than pounds 1m.

But trawling talent from the far corners of Europe is not without its problems, and language barriers are only part of the culture shock.

When Ion Tistemitanu, the Moldovan international captain due to launch his City career after Christmas, arrived for transfer talks at Ashton Gate, he was less concerned with wages than with how many times he would be allowed to see his wife. "Apparently, players in Moldova don't get to see their families more than four times a year," the City chairman, Scott Davidson, recalled. "He was delighted when I said he could see her as much as he'd like."

Tistemitanu chose City despite offers from Spartak Moscow and Romania's Steaua Bucharest. If granted a work permit, he will receive a welcome pay rise after the pounds 225,000 move from Zimbrul Chisinau. In Moldova, he earned pounds 100-a-month, despite international experience against the forwards of Italy, Germany and, at Wembley, England .

Taylor reluctantly joins silent order

AFTER BEING rushed to hospital for emergency surgery on a throat abcess, the former England manager Graham Taylor is grateful just to be back on his feet. But he is, none the less, having to suffer a kind of football manager's purgatory. He is not allowed to shout.

Taylor left touchline duties to his assistant, Kenny Jackett, at Grimsby on Saturday, and watched the Nationwide League match from the Blundell Park directors' box.

"I'm under strict orders to do what the doctor tells me," Taylor said. "And that includes resting my voice."

Naturally, it was left to Jackett to deliver the half-time rollickings in the dressing-room. But, to add to Taylor's frustrations, he was helpless to intervene as Watford fell behind four minutes into the second half and then conceded a late Grimsby winner after Gifton Noel-Williams had equalised.

The defeat denied Watford the chance to go second in the First Division table, but Taylor was no less complimentary about Jackett's stand-in performance.

"I do not envisage taking control of team affairs for another two to four weeks," he said.

"But I am more than happy to allow Kenny to continue the excellent job he has been doing."

KEY NUMBERS

9

the years since Chelsea last led the top division (First or Premiership) of the English leagues.

12

Nottingham Forest's run of failures to keep a clean sheet.

18

The meetings since Tottenham last managed a League win over Chelsea

68

Middlesbrough's wait - in years - for a win at Old Trafford. Before Saturday, the last was in 1930

I TOLD YOU SO

We are not in crisis. We are at a turning point

Gerard Houllier, speaking before Saturday's 2-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday. So far, so good - but will it last?

RUMOURS

Kidd keen to lure Butt to Blackburn

BRIAN KIDD wants to prise Nicky Butt away from Manchester United, according to the People. The new Blackburn manager, their story says, offered pounds 5.5m within days of leaving Old Trafford and is now ready to up his bid to pounds 7m. The Sunday Mirror says he is ready to offload Kevin Davies to help finance incoming deals, but reckons his targets are Barnsley's Ashley Ward and West Ham's John Hartson. Kidd is also keen on United defenders David May and Henning Berg - both ex-Blackburn - according to the Express.

The Express says Ward remains a target for Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday, who, the People thinks, have turned down a pounds 2m offer from Charlton for Andy Booth. The People believes Ward will go if Barnsley succeed in a pounds 1m move for young York striker Richard Cresswell. The News of the World, meanwhile, suggests Leeds are after Coventry's Darren Huckerby, but will have a pounds 5m offer rejected by the Highfield Road club, who want pounds 8m.

Liverpool are checking on Real Madrid goalkeeper Bodo Illgner, says the Express, while the People speculates that Anfield manager Gerard Houllier has become an admirer of Leicester midfielder Neil Lennon.

The News of the World says Barcelona are ready to offer Alex Ferguson pounds 2m a year to succeed Louis van Gaal as coach, and reports that new Sampdoria boss David Platt has pounds 3m to keep Sheffield Wednesday stay-away Paolo Di Canio in Italy.

On the business front, the Mirror predicts that a sell-off of West Ham stars will pave the way for a pounds 35m takeover, while the News of the World says NTL's takeover of Newcastle will provide Ruud Gullit with a pounds 20m transfer pot, and a further pounds 15m for youth development.

Premiership Team Of The Week

RORY DELAP

Derby County

DAN PETRESCU

Chelsea

NATHAN BLAKE

Blackburn Rovers

JAMIE REDKNAPP

Liverpool

MATT ELLIOTT

Leicester City

BRIAN DEANE

Middlesbrough

GUSTAVO POYET

Chelsea

RIO FERDINAND

West Ham

MARK SCHWARZER

Middlesbrough

STEPHEN GLASS

Newcastle United

DEAN GORDON

Middlesbrough

Manager of the weekend: Gianluca Vialli, the first manager to take Chelsea to the top since Bobby Campbell in 1989-90.

Performance of the weekend: Middlesbrough's splendid victory at Old Trafford, their first on Manchester United's home turf since 1930.

Missing... making it... and mistaken

Oyvind Leonhardsen

Liverpool

Signed for pounds 3.5m from Wimbledon in June 1997, the 28-year-old midfielder capped his first season at Anfield by helping Norway reach the second phase of France '98. However, he has failed to find favour with the new Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier. Indeed, Houllier's first match in sole charge last month was Leonhardsen's last.

Damien Johnson

Blackburn

Born in Lisburn, Northern Ireland, the 20-year-old wide midfielder first caught the eye during a loan spell with Nottingham Forest last season and has become a frequent member of the Rovers first team. A clever ball player already recognised at international level, he will provide hot competition for new arrival of Keith Gillespie at Ewood Park.

Under-pressure Barcelona coach Van Gaal could use some Frank advice on boxing clever. But if surviving life's ups and downs is the name of the game then the cerebral Dutchman will no doubt find Frank's his man.

THE WEEK AHEAD

Today: Aston Villa, whose victory over Arsenal last weekend was their first in five Premiership matches, bid to return to the top by winning at Charlton, who are among five clubs beginning to lose touch with the rest of the division.

Tomorrow: In a quiet build-up to Christmas, Notts County's home tie with Hull City in the first round of the Auto Windscreens Shield (Northern Section) represents not merely the only game in town but the only one in the country before Boxing Day. None the less, a rush for tickets at Meadow Lane is not anticipated.

Saturday: The usual assortment of funny kick-off times as Arsenal meet West Ham at noon and Blackburn take on Aston Villa at 6pm. In between, Coventry (v Tottenham), Everton (v Derby), Manchester United (v Forest), Middlesbrough (v Liverpool), Newcastle (v Leeds) and Sheffield Wednesday (v Leicester) get under way at the normal 3pm. Southampton (v Chelsea) and Wimbledon (v Charlton) also have noon starts. In the Nationwide League, First Division leaders Sunderland are at Tranmere and second-placed Ipswich meet Portsmouth. Second Division leaders Fulham face Colchester at noon, the same time as Third Division pace-setters Cardiff meet Shrewsbury. North of the border, Scottish Premier leaders Rangers are away to fourth- placed St Johnstone.

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