Johnsen to replace Woodgate at Newcastle

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The Independent Online

Graeme Souness, the Newcastle United manager, is close to pulling off a deal to bring the experienced defender Ronny Johnsen to St James' Park.

Graeme Souness, the Newcastle United manager, is close to pulling off a deal to bring the experienced defender Ronny Johnsen to St James' Park.

The 35-year-old Norwegian international trained with the squad yesterday as the new manager attempts to plug the gap left by Jonathan Woodgate's departure to Real Madrid.

Johnsen, who played for Manchester United and Aston Villa in the Premiership, has had serious knee problems. He is out of contract, so he can be signed outside the transfer window.

"I feel that we could be stronger at the centre of our defence," admitted Souness, "but having said that, I thought the two lads who played there on Saturday, Andy O'Brien and Robbie Elliott, were excellent. But a new manager always likes to bring in one or two faces and that's what I am hoping to do."

"It would be great to return to the Premiership, and to join a club like Newcastle United would be fascinating," Johnsen said.

Yesterday the club chairman, Freddy Shepherd, said Souness will have money to spend on a defender when the transfer window reopens in January.

United will look to build upon their 3-0 win over Blackburn on Saturday when the Israeli side Hapoel Bnei Sakhnin visit St James' Park in the Uefa Cup on Thursday night for what will be Souness' first game in charge. Johnsen, however, will not be eligible to play in the Uefa Cup until the New Year.

Souness will hope the Wales striker Craig Bellamy continues his blistering start to the season, although he has warned him that, if his propensity to open his mouth at the wrong times comes to the fore, he will face a tough opponent in his former international team-mate, the new first-team coach Dean Saunders.

"Dean's nickname is Sid after Sid Slaughter, so Craig Bellamy might find out, if it comes to a verbal clash, he is on a loser," Souness said. "I don't know if it is a Welsh trait or not, but around the place, Dean Saunders is as good as you get with the banter."

The arrivals of Souness' assistant, Alan Murray, Saunders and Phil Boersma meant a clear-out of the back-room staff, but the former coach John Carver, who took charge of the team on Saturday, has been offered a post at the Academy.

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