Boumsong aiming to put Toon back in tune

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The Independent Online

Graeme Souness' desperate defensive repair work at Newcastle United continued yesterday with the £8m signing of the French international Jean-Alain Boumsong from Rangers.

The 25-year-old centre-half had a medical at St James' Park yesterday and has agreed a five and half year contract following a lengthy chase by Souness and his under-fire chairman, Freddie Shepherd.

Rangers' chairman, David Murray, was reluctant to sell, but he has taken advantage of Newcastle's desperation to make a massive profit. Boumsong arrived at Ibrox in the summer on a Bosman-style free transfer from Auxerre.

Indeed, in an effort to shore up their leaky back four and placate fans still angry at the decision to sell Jonathan Woodgate to Real Madrid, without any idea as to who they would replace him with, Newcastle have had to improve on their initial offer by £3m.

But, while Souness - who also signed Chelsea's Nigerian international left-back Celestine Babayaro from Chelsea this week and who hopes to sign Manchester City's Sylvain Distin before the end of the month - has been forced to pay over the odds for the Cameroon-born defender, it has not dented his confidence that Boumsong will establish himself as one of the best defenders in the Premiership.

"He has been signed as Jonathan Woodgate's replacement and we believe he can be just as effective as Jonathan was," explained the Scot, who has seen his side win just one of their last 10 league games.

"The story in France is that he is the best around and will become the first choice centre-half in the national side. He is a young man with a great desire to be the best around. He is coming to the Premiership expecting to become the best defender in the league.

"There were times when I feared we would not get him because Rangers did not want to sell. We have paid a vast sum of money to get the player we wanted." Newcastle have conceded 38 goals this season - only bottom club West Bromwich Albion have conceded more - during their slide down to 14th place in the Premiership, seven points off the relegation zone.

In 20 games this season they have also failed to hold on to the lead seven times, at the cost of 16 points. Had they avoided being pegged back in those games, they would be in fifth place, two points behind Everton and Manchester United.

Unsurprisingly, frustration among the fans is huge and, despite a greatly improved performance against Arsenal in midweek, there have already been calls for Souness to be sacked, just four months after he replaced Sir Bobby Robson as manager.

As a result, Boumsong will have to have an immediate impact on Tyneside for the pressure to alleviate, something Souness seems to appreciate.

"He will have an impact in the short term and the long term," he said. "Boumsong is a good communicator on the pitch and that is something we have been lacking. I think the supporters will enjoy watching him play.

"He is quick, strong and good on the ball. After four months in Scotland I'm hoping he has adapted to the British game and will not need long to settle in.

"The game here is far more intense than on the continent. But he has already got used to that so the Premiership should hold no surprises for him."

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