Newcastle United have approached Real Madrid about signing Fernando Morientes in a move that could scupper Liverpool's bid for the Spanish international striker. Though it seems doubtful that Morientes would prefer St James' Park to Anfield, the North-east club have demonstrated their spending power by increasing their bid for another transfer window target, Rangers' French international defender, Jean-Alain Boumsong, to £8m. Rangers, who are holding out for £10m, turned it down yesterday.
Morientes, 28, has already said he would welcome a move to Liverpool, and they remain in pole position to buy him. Liverpool have had one bid of £3.5m rejected, and would probably go as high as £5m. Yet if Real feel they have any chance of receiving their target price of £7m, negotiations could become protracted. Liverpool's manager, Rafael Benitez, might then prefer to look elsewhere, perhaps to Manchester City's Nicolas Anelka, rather than pursue an uncertain deal over Morientes.
Real's president, Florentino Perez, has said that the player can leave the Bernabeu if a buyer meets his asking price. Sources in Newcastle and Spain have confirmed Newcastle's interest, although it is thought that Newcastle's chairman, Freddy Shepherd, rather than the manager, Graeme Souness, instigated the move. It is understood that Newcastle have indicated they would top Liverpool's bid.
Liverpool are aware of Newcastle's interest, although insiders feel Real could be using the fact as a tool to inflate Morientes' price. Perez is believed to have told Morientes' agent, Gines Carvajal, that Monaco have also bid for the player.
There is no doubt that Newcastle want to buy a striker. It was confirmed yesterday that Alan Shearer will miss at least a fortnight of action owing to a thigh problem that could hamper him into the new year.
Patrick Kluivert, hired by Shepherd in the summer, has scored only four league goals, while Shola Ameobi has yet to score any. That leaves Craig Bellamy, with seven Premiership goals, as the top scorer.
Though Southampton's James Beattie has long been linked to Newcastle, Morientes would be the clear preference, especially as he could cost less. The stumbling block for Newcastle will be how to persuade Morientes to move to a struggling side when Liverpool, under his compatriot Benitez, are evidently a more attractive proposition for him. "To play for Liverpool would please any player and they have a coach who I have always appreciated," he said earlier this week.
Liverpool do not have the resources to become embroiled in an auction, which is why Benitez might turn to Anelka, who wants to join a "bigger" club than City. A downside to signing the Frenchman would be his infamous temperament. The upside is that he would probably cost £5m at most and would be eligible for the latter stages of this season's Champions' League, unlike Morientes, who is cup-tied.
Resources do not seem to be an immediate problem at Newcastle, who have fallen to 13th in the Premiership after only one win in their last eight league games. They had a £7.5m bid for Boumsong, 25, rejected last week, but appear determined to get their man.
With Rangers having been eliminated from Europe, the player's departure is inevitable, with only the precise timing and destination to be settled. Boumsong's agent, Willie McKay, said yesterday that his client would welcome a move to England, and added that he thought £8m was a good deal for Rangers.
"That is a lot of money and would be the biggest transfer in history for a defender from a Scottish club," he said.
Rangers also look certain to lose Craig Moore next month, with Borussia Mönchengladbach and Everton among those interested in the Australian defender.
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