Keegan ready to sign £10m Italian striker

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The Independent Online

The Manchester City manager, Kevin Keegan, is leading the chase to sign Massimo Maccarone, the £10m-rated Italian striker.

Keegan is in negotiations with the Serie B side Empoli for Maccarone, who scored against the England Under-21 side last month and was given his first full cap the following night. Maccarone is also being pursued by some of Italy's biggest clubs, and will leave Empoli in the summer when the bidding reaches its peak.

Keegan wants a goalscorer to strengthen his attack in preparation for the Premiership next season and Maccarone fits his bill. He is a coveted talent and could be cheaper than some of the Premiership strikers available. City have also been linked with Sunderland's Kevin Phillips and even Blackburn's Andy Cole, but both would be more expensive than the young Italian. Keegan also has moves for Middlesbrough's Paul Ince and the Bayern Munich veteran Stefan Effenberg in the pipeline.

Keegan's purchasing power was boosted to the tune of around £5m yesterday as the club agreed a new, three-year shirt sponsorship deal with First Advice Ltd, ending their association with the software developers Eidos. The package represents the largest sponsorship contract ever completed by Manchester City.

Graeme Souness, the Blackburn Rovers manager, appears unwilling to sell Cole to City and wants to team him up with his old Manchester United strike partner Dwight Yorke in his attack at Ewood Park next season.

Souness is planning a £4m bid for Yorke. Since the player rejected a move to Middlesbrough in January, Sir Alex Ferguson has frozen him out of the first team and the reserves.

The Tobagan striker will leave United this summer, with Aston Villa still favourites to sign him. But the chance of playing with Cole would interest Yorke, who had two of his best ever seasons in tandem with his friend.

Manchester United and Arsenal have been told that they have until today to come to agreement on their potentially crucial Premiership fixture at Old Trafford next month. If they do not agree, the Premier League board will have to make a ruling on when the game is to be played.

Originally it was fixed for Wednesday 8 May in the event of Arsenal reaching the FA Cup final, a feat they managed last weekend with victory over Middlesbrough.

But United now want their penultimate domestic match brought forward 24 hours to help with their preparations for the Champions' League final on 15 May, should they beat Bayer Leverkusen in the semi-finals.

Arsenal have refused to adhere to the switch, however, as they face Chelsea at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on 4 May, a match which could conceivably run into extra-time.

Their need for recuperation time – United are not in action that weekend – means the Highbury club are unlikely to budge on a match which could decide the destiny of the title.

Meanwhile, their fellow championship contenders Liverpool have also asked for their match against Blackburn, which is scheduled for 5 May, to be played on the same date as the big showdown in order to shut out any advantage the pair might have in knowing the Arsenal result.

Second Division Bury have been devastated by the death of their first-team coach, Billy Ayre, from lymph-node cancer at the age of 49. The former Blackpool and Halifax manager died peacefully in his sleep on Tuesday night with his family at his bedside.

The Bury manager, Andy Preece, said: "I spoke to him for the last time about a week ago and I am absolutely gutted. He was my mentor and it looked like we were going to be together for years and years to come. We just hit it off that well.

"I just cannot describe how I feel. The last time I spoke to him, he said he thought he had let me down this season because he had been ill. That was the kind of guy he was."

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