Slovenians the best bargain in Euro 2000 sales

Steve Tongue says most of the choice players on view had already been reserved
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The Independent Football

The best-ever opportunity for signing footballers at a major international tournament must surely have been to book a berth on the one ship that carried every European team to Uruguay for the first World Cup in 1930, and even stopped off to pick up Brazil on the way.

The best-ever opportunity for signing footballers at a major international tournament must surely have been to book a berth on the one ship that carried every European team to Uruguay for the first World Cup in 1930, and even stopped off to pick up Brazil on the way.

Seventy years on, the equivalent would probably have been a seat on the plane flying Slovenia home from Euro 2000. That is where one of the few opportunities for a bargain might have occurred. For while such championships are still shop windows for talent, knowledge of what is on sale is so widespread that the only effect of a dazzling show will be to push prices even higher.

It would take a scout or coach insular even by Britain's standards to go to Euro 2000 in order to see whether this bloke Figo was really any good, and whether any of the Azzurri could live up to playing South-ampton or Bradford week in, week out. Thus most of the buying done so far of players involved in the Low Countries over the past month had been mooted long before the tournament began. It was hardly a secret, for instance, that Arsenal's Arsÿne Wenger was an admirer of Robert Pires, the Marseille winger, who had alerted other clubs with his spectacular goal against Chelsea in the Champions' League in February, or of Bordeaux's Sylvain Wiltord, who may be the next to move to Highbury.

Christian Karembeu's move to Middlesbrough and David Trézé-guet's from Monaco to Juventus came into the same category, as well as emphasising that, in the main, only the bit-part players among the champions' ranks were for sale. Youri Djorkaeff, much coveted and keen to better himself, has been unable to secure his release from Kaiserslautern, the unfashionable German club; others, such as Patrick Vieira and Marcel Desailly, consolidated their reputations firmly enough to negotiate even more lucrative contracts with their existing clubs.

Some managers had been shrewd enough to back their judgement before the tournament, which was when Sir Alex Ferguson secured France's goalkeeper, Fabien Barthez, from Monaco, and Aston Villa's John Gregory decided to take PSV Eindhoven's Belgian striker Luc Nilis. Other Premiership representatives were impressed by Nilis' striking partner Emile Mpenza, available from Schalke of Germany; to you, sir, £8m.

Abel Xavier, he of the frightening hairdo and unfortunate handball in the semi-final, appears to have decided that Everton are no longer big enough fish, and finds England's Nicky Barmby agreeing with him; one of the differences between them being that Barmby has not incurred the sort of suspension from European competition that might well put off potential purchasers, even if the hair didn't.

Portugal were one of the countries whose performances would have attracted agents to their camp like flies if there was any indication that sufficient players would be available. Paulo Sousa was always going to move on from his loan spell at Parma, though he might have been expected to end up closer to the mainstream than Panathinaikos, and since about half the squad are still based at home, where wages are good but not as mind-boggling as some, there may yet be other possibilities. Figo's efforts can only have convinced Barc-elona, if they needed any further proof, of the utter folly of selling him, though following the demise of Louis van Gaal, the same may not apply to all the Dutchmen the coach took to the Nou Camp.

The obliteration of Scandinavia, normally a source of hard-wearing good value, means that this summer's bargain basement features instead the eastern European emporium and Turkish bazaar. Four million pounds, even when translated into billions of lire, sounds like a bargain at today's prices for Hakan Sukur, the lanky striker whose goals pushed Galatasaray to the Uefa Cup and his country to the quarter-finals of Euro 2000; it will be fascinating to see how he fares in Serie A with Internazionale. That completed a double blow for the Turkish club, with Hakan's partner Arif Erdem already en route to Real Sociedad in Spain, where he joins Fenerbahce midfielder Tayfun Korkut.

Lazio must be grateful that they signed the outstanding Czech Republic midfielder Pavel Nedved after Euro 96; some of his colleagues based in Prague might be available. The same goes for the Yugoslavs, of whom Savo Milosevic was one to increase his value, with Real Madrid expressing a tentative interest now they have fallen out with Nicolas Anelka, again.

Best value, however, has to be Slovenia, the rank outsiders who earned creditable draws with their former parent-state and also Norway, and lost narrowly to Spain. Amir Karic and Karlsruhe's Miran Pavlin, who controlled the left flank between them, would be fine investments and Zlatko Zahovic, a gifted goalscorer who is determined to leave Olympiakos of Greece, could yet be the signing of the summer. Interested buyers have not yet missed the boat.

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