Newcastle see off Spurs to seal signing of £10m Duff

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The Independent Football

Newcastle United reaffirmed their reputation as Premiership big spenders last night in spectacular fashion after finalising the £10m transfer of Chelsea midfielder Damien Duff.

The Republic of Ireland international will become Glenn Roeder's first signing as Magpies' manager later today, providing the results of a thorough medical are positive.

Neither Newcastle nor Chelsea expect Duff's previous injury problems to prevent the deal from going through and the former Blackburn Rovers playmaker will link up with his new colleagues on Monday.

If Roeder's priority is unearthing Alan Shearer's long-term replacement then there is no doubt that securing the services of a double Premiership winner will lift spirits in a city unusually subdued following a summer of frustration.

Prior to Duff's transfer, the mood in and around St James' Park was uncharacteristically pessimistic despite last season's mini-revival under Graeme Souness's popular successor. Shearer's retirement, coupled with Michael Owen's serious World Cup injury, had caused fans to worry about the club's short-term prospects.

Roeder's lack of progress in the transfer market and his limited squad's unconvincing performance against the Norwegians of Lillestrom last weekend compounded that anxiety. But in typically bullish style, the chairman, Freddie Shepherd, has once again given cause for optimism by securing Duff's signature ahead of Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur.

It is understood that the Anfield club matched Newcastle's £10m offer but Chelsea were reluctant to lose such a talented player to one of this season's potential title rivals. In addition, Duff was ultimately swayed by his close friend and international colleague Shay Given, United's long-serving goalkeeper, when determining where his future might lie.

Newcastle have been tracking the 27-year-old since 2000 but their former manager Sir Bobby Robson was frequently frustrated in his attempt to sign one of the Premiership's most exciting performers. Duff joined Chelsea from Ewood Park for £17m in 2003 but feared his first team opportunities would become increasingly limited at Stamford Bridge in a midfield bolstered by the arrival of Michael Ballack in the close season.

Having scored 19 times in 125 appearances for Chelsea, Duff never quite realised his potential in front of goal under Jose Mourinho. Roeder will be looking for a greater level of productivity but the Irishman's failure to score more regularly during his time at Stamford Bridge is the primary reason he has been allowed to leave.

Earlier this week Mourinho said: "I love Damien as a player and as a person and I can understand what he has in his heart. After that, it becomes business. He is such a good player it will not be easy business."

If Newcastle have overcome a significant hurdle in prising Duff from the champions then achieving further success this weekend will require similar resilience. Lillestrom's 1-1 draw on Tyneside last Saturday, in the first round of a fascinating Intertoto Cup third round tie, confirmed Newcastle were far from guaranteed easy passage into the qualification rounds of this season's Uefa Cup.

Accepting the importance of winning this afternoon's rematch, with much-needed finance, prestige and pulling power at stake, Roeder remains confident of an aggregate victory. "I only live in the world of being positive," he said. "I've had to when you consider where I've come from in my life in the last few years. You can only look forward. You take a step forward and see where you end up. And of course it's important that this club steps forward."

The completion of a deal for Duff clearly signifies a major leap forward, but with a sublime creator of Duff's calibre in his ranks, Roeder's need to identify a suitable successor to Shearer becomes more urgent.

However, Feyenoord forward Dirk Kuyt's price continues to rise and Darren Bent's decision to sign a new deal with Charlton Athletic this week clearly caught those at St James' Park by surprise.

Newcastle United (probable team v Lillestrom, today) (4-4-2): Given; Carr, Taylor, Bramble, Babayaro; Solano, Parker, Emre, N'Zogbia; Luque, Ameobi.

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