Disillusioned Babayaro ready to join Newcastle

By Chris Maume
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The Independent Football

Newcastle United are poised to sign the Chelsea left-back Celestine Babayaro in the transfer window. Although the the Nigerian international's contract expires at the end of the season, Newcastle are thought to be willing to pay a fee, possibly up to £3m, to take Babayaro to St James' Park.

The defender, 26, has fallen down the pecking order at Chelsea under Jose Mourinho and is now third choice in his specialist position behind William Gallas and Wayne Bridge. Last week he turned down loan deals with Crystal Palace, Middlesbrough and West Bromwich in order to fight for his place.

"If I have to leave in the summer I'll be very sad," he said before Christmas, "and I would be crazy to go in the middle of the season in which we could win several trophies."

It appears, however, that the longest-serving player at Chelsea may find himself on the way out of Stamford Bridge after seven and a half years.

As Newcastle prepared to take on Arsenal tonight, the Gunners manager, Arsène Wenger, said he had every sympathy with his Newcastle counterpart, Graeme Souness. A big problem for a new manager arriving after the start of the season is that he must wait until January to bring in new players.

"That's why I was always against the transfer window because it gives an impossibility to the guy who comes in to make changes straight away because he has to wait," Wenger said. "There is no real impact on the policy inside the club. Then you have to make rush buys in one month. The transfer window is near the end of the season because we play something like 24 games before the end of the year and 14 after the end of January. If you are bottom of the league in November, you have to wait until January to do something about it.

"Then you risk going down and spending money. On top of that, prices get inflated because when it gets close to the window the prices go up. Many clubs buy new players in the last five or six days because they know they have to do something," added Wenger, who said he was surprised that Newcastle were struggling just above the relegation places but puts their problems down to injuries to key players. Before the season began, the Arsenal manager would have pencilled in Newcastle as one of the clubs vying for a place in next season's Champions' League.

"At the beginning of the season you would expect them to be fighting for the top four," the Frenchman said. "I don't know how they got to be where they are. It looks to me from the outside that they have many injuries which have continued throughout the season."

Wenger will benefit from the return of the left-back Ashley Cole from suspension tonight and has no fresh injury worries. Cole missed the win over Fulham on Boxing Day but is added to Wenger's squad, which could also include Edu, who has recovered fitness.

Jose Antonio Reyes is making good progress from his knee injury and should be back for the game against Charlton Athletic on New Year's Day.

Patrick Kluivert is out for Newcastle, however, after aggravating a hamstring injury at Blackburn on Boxing Day and Souness is facing problems up front with Shola Ameobi struggling to shake off a shoulder problem and Alan Shearer still injured with a thigh strain. Lee Bowyer is available after a one-match ban and Kieron Dyer is expected to recover from a knock to his knee picked up at Ewood Park.