Houllier moves fast to strengthen defence with Ayala

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The Liverpool manager, Gérard Houllier, is trying to push through the £7m signing of Valencia's Argentinian centre-half Roberto Fabian Ayala before the seasons starts or rivals can step in.

Houllier set up the move for the tough 29-year-old South American when the clubs met on Saturday and he hopes to conclude an unexpected and speedily conducted transfer in the next few days.

Valencia are willing to accept the low offer for the former Milan player because they are under growing pressure to raise cash after failing to reach the Champions' League. Ayala is also prepared to come to Anfield despite Liverpool's failure to reach the same competition - and their unimpressive display at Anfield in Saturday's tame 2-0 defeat to Valencia.

However, Houllier is under pressure to make the move happen as the news has leaked out and other clubs in Spain and across Europe may now want to go for the defender.

Houllier was reticent about the move as it is sensitive and could upset Stéphane Henchoz, who would be fighting for his place if the faster and more aggressive Ayala arrives at Anfield. Henchoz and Sammy Hyypia have formed the backbone of the Liverpool side for the past few years, but Ayala could improve a strong unit.

He needs a work permit to come to the Premiership, but if the price and terms are agreed then he should be available to play in a week to 10 days.

Houllier's decision to spend money on a defender comes as a surprise, since he had been lining up a striker and was trying to raise funds for Auxerre's Djibril Cissé.

But he has apparently given that up as a lost cause, mainly because he cannot find the £15m needed to buy the French player despite having an agreement for a deal.

Houllier has been unable to move out enough players to finance the Cissé move, and one he could have sold is now going to have a key role in the opening game with Chelsea, Igor Biscan. The Croatian has to start in the opening match because Steven Gerrard is suspended, and Houllier built him up by saying: "Clubs were queueing up to take him, but I refused them all. I believe in him and have a lot of faith in him. He's strong, he is powerful and he is quick, and the fans are with him. They were all chanting his name today, and you can sense that they want him to succeed.

"Igor can play centre-back or in the centre of midfield, and he will be a good player," Houllier added. "Every time he has played at centre back he has done well. Sometimes he loses the ball, but who doesn't? I thought he had a very good game against Valencia. I think he will be involved more than he even thinks himself, and he has a good chance of starting next week."