Benitez turns transfer sights from Spain to Sincil Bank

Jack Hobbs will become the latest addition to the European champions' squad when he turns 17 on 18 August and becomes eligible to sign the three-year contract offered following a successful trial and medical on Merseyside.

In January the 6ft 3in centre-half made his one and only senior appearance for Lincoln as a substitute against Bristol City. "It is a dream come true for me," Hobbs said yesterday, with good reason.

Hobbs has found himself pursued by Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham and Bolton this summer with Benitez in particular scouring the world for emerging young talent amid fears there is little on the horizon at his club's own Academy.

The defender still has a year remaining on his scholarship at Sincil Bank and saw a proposed move to Highbury collapse when the Gunners refused to include a sell-on clause in the compensation package to Lincoln. Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein made an improved offer 10 days ago, but by then the Imps had agreed a deal with Liverpool and Hobbs had decided on his choice of destination.

"I just need my agent to sort out personal terms for me and then I'll sign as soon I turn 17," Hobbs confirmed; "Hopefully everything will go smoothly and I'll be an official Liverpool player next month. I met Rafael Benitez properly for the first time at Melwood this morning. He shook my hand and wished me all the best. It's been hard work since I arrived - training twice a day - but I couldn't be happier."

Liverpool have agreed to travel to Sincil Bank next July for a friendly that will net the Imps between £60,000 and £80,000. Executive director Keith Rowe said: "Maybe Jack will come back and lead Liverpool out as captain! But seriously, we are confident that Jack can develop into a top player at Liverpool and I don't think he could be going to a better club to be honest."

Elsewhere, Leeds have been hit by the news that their experienced midfielder Steve Stone will miss up to three months with an Achilles injury.

The summer signing from Portsmouth picked up the problem three weeks ago during pre-season training but was hoping to only miss a small part of the season. However, the problem has not responded to treatment and the former England international, 33, must now undergo an operation.

The Southampton midfielder Mikael Nilsson is close to joining the Greek side Panathinaikos after the two clubs agreed a fee of around £400,000.

The Swede, 27, has flown to Athens for a medical, but is currently carrying a hamstring injury which may delay any deal.

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