'Arsenal had great years from me'

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The Independent Online

Marc Overmars yesterday bade farewell to Arsenal fans, telling them after landing in Barcelona to sign his lucrative contract with the Catalan club: "You had three good years out of me."

Marc Overmars yesterday bade farewell to Arsenal fans, telling them after landing in Barcelona to sign his lucrative contract with the Catalan club: "You had three good years out of me."

The Dutch winger was in Spain completing his move as part of the £30m package that is also taking team-mate Emmanuel Petit - who should sign tomorrow - to the Nou Camp. "I'd like to thank the fans for all their support. I'd like to fly over to England in the next few weeks to make a gesture to the Arsenal fans because they're the best," Overmars said.

"It's strange to think I won't be in front of them at Highbury next season. Still, I think they had three good years' service out of me. Now for the next challenge in my career. I'm looking forward to joining my new team-mates at Barcelona.

"Obviously I already know a lot of them because it's almost like a Dutch posting out there - a bit like Arsenal is a French posting. I know Jari Litmanen well and I'm friendly with all the Dutch guys there."

Overmars added: "I also know a lot about the Spanish League because I've watched it on television and played against Spanish sides during European competition. It's going to be quite a challenge and I can't wait."

Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein and Barcelona's new president Joan Gaspart concluded negotiations in the early hours of Friday. Dein said: "We have been in close contact with Arsÿne all along because we have known about Barcelona's interest in Overmars and Petit for some time.

"Right from the start Arsÿne has given us a list of players he wanted to keep and considered priceless. We've adhered to that. In the end the decision to release them was Arsÿne's."

A week ago, Wenger - currently in Germany with his squad in a pre-season training camp - said that he wanted to keep the pair provided they could promise him full commitment to the Arsenal cause. Yet Wenger had already signaled his intentions to strengthen and rebuild the team by signing French Euro 2000 winger Robert Pires for £6m from Marseille and Cameroon international Lauren, a right-back or central midfielder for £7m from Real Mallorca.

Pires will be a more than suitable replacement for Overmars, although Wenger will now be ruing the collapsed Edu transfer as well as the fact that he never put in an official bid for Leeds's new defensive midfielder, Olivier Dacourt.

Meanwhile, Robbie Keane has completed his lucrative £13m move from Coventry to Internazionale after signing a five-year contract reportedly worth £12m. The two clubs agreed on the fee yesterday afternoon after the Sky Blues chairman Bryan Richardson cut short a golfing holiday in America to conclude the deal.

Keane, advised by his agency SFX, then negotiated his personal contract and said: "I am absolutely delighted at the prospect of joining a world famous club like Inter." The 20-year-old Republic of Ireland international admitted he was as surprised as anybody by his fast-track to stardom.

Less than 12 months ago his £6m move from Wolverhampton Wanderers to Coventry was ridiculed by the Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who said Keane was only a £500,000 reserve team player. The move made Keane the most expensive teenager in British football and he paid Coventry back for their gamble by scoring 12 goals despite his first top-flight season being hit by injury.

"This time last year I was preparing for a new season in the First Division with Wolves - now I will be preparing for the qualifying rounds of the Champions' League," Keane said.

"I have signed my contract and will be hopefully meeting my team-mates and the Italian press for the first time on Monday afternoon."

Keane further explained why this was a dream move for him. "The thought of playing alongside players like Seedorf, Zamorano, Ronaldo, Vieiri and Blanc and working under a coach like Marcello Lippi fills me with excitement."

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