Newcastle weigh up Kuffour move as City reject Distin bid

Newcastle United yesterday continued to make the running in the transfer market after having a £5m bid for the Manchester City captain Sylvain Distin rejected and declaring their interest in both Fulham midfielder Luis Boa Morte and Bayern Munich defender Samuel Kuffour.

Distin has been tracked by Newcastle for some time but City made clear last night that they had no intention of selling the 27-year-old Frenchman. "We have rejected the bid as Sylvain is not for sale," a club spokesman said. "He has two and a half years left on his current contract and is staying here."

The Newcastle manager, Graeme Souness, wants to pair Distin - who spent the 2001-2 season on loan at St James' Park from Paris St-Germain before joining City for £4m - with his £8m central defender Jean-Alain Boumsong. Both players have the same representative in Britain, Willie McKay.

It remains to be seen whether Newcastle will increase their offer or follow up their interest in Kuffour, the 28-year-old Ghanaian who has been at Bayern for 11 years. However, he is out of contract this summer and the Bundesliga club have made it clear they do not intend to offer him a new deal.

Fabio Parisi, the assistant to Kuffour's agent Oscar Damiani, confirmed yesterday that Newcastle had been in contact but said that no deal would take place until the player returned from a training camp in Dubai next week. "We know that there could be interest from Newcastle," he said. "They told us that he is one of the players they are interested in but that no decision has been made as yet."

Kuffour is a hugely-experienced defender, who can also play at right-back, and featured for Bayern in the Champions' League Final in both 1999, when they were beaten by Manchester United, and 2001, when Bayern beat Valencia on penalties. Last night Newcastle were also linked with the Swiss central defender Patrick Müller, who has had his contract at Real Mallorca cancelled.

The activity is likely to spark a clear-out at St James', with Aston Villa pondering a bid for defender Andy O'Brien. However, they may balk at Newcastle's asking price of £3m. At the same time Souness could use O'Brien as bait to try and secure Boa Morte. "We have declared an interest in him, yes," the Newcastle manager said of the Portuguese international.

A bid of £3m is expected, although that will be firmly rejected by Fulham. Newcastle may re-shape their offer as a player-plus-cash deal, especially as the Fulham manager, Chris Coleman, is in the market for an experienced defender.

However, he dismissed Newcastle's interest yesterday, declaring that Boa Morte was not for sale. Coleman added: "Boa is an important member of our squad and we are very close to agreeing a new contract with him. We'll be keeping him until at least the end of the season. Hopefully he'll stay for longer if he signs the new deal.

"I can't stop managers from other clubs talking about my players. It's not something I'd do but we've all got different styles.

"Newcastle are a big club and they would turn any player's head. But... to lose him at this stage of the season would be suicide on our part. I don't think Newcastle can afford Boa after just spending £8m on a defender. They wouldn't be able to meet our valuation of him anyway."

Newcastle are also keen to part company with Olivier Bernard - out-of-contract this summer - after signing Chelsea's Celestine Babayaro. Interestingly, Chelsea, who are considering the River Plate midfielder Javier Mascherano, have been tracking Bernard, while Titus Bramble would also be discarded by Newcastle - if any suitors can be found.

Also attracting attention is Freddie Kanouté. Barcelona's sporting director Txiki Begiristain confirmed that the Tottenham Hotspur striker is on a list of players, headed by Besiktas's John Carew, being considered as replacements for the injured Henrik Larsson. No contact has been made with Spurs who are highly likely to rebuff any deal, especially as Barça may only initially propose a loan move.

On his way out of Spurs, however, is Dean Richards, although he has turned down a move back to Southampton. Celtic have also made the defender an offer, although he may prefer to see out the remainder of his contract, which ends in June.

Nottingham Forest, meanwhile, refuted claims that Spurs had renewed their interest in winger Andy Reid. A bid was rejected last year and another is expected of £2m plus £2m based on appearances. But, as yet, no contact has been made with Forest. Spurs are also keenly monitoring the contract talks between Crystal Palace and winger Wayne Routledge.

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