Ooijer snubs Portsmouth in favour of Ewood Park

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The Independent Online

The prospect of Uefa Cup football proved useful once again to Mark Hughes as he was given assurances by the Dutch international Andre Ooijer yesterday that the defender will join Blackburn Rovers rather than Portsmouth by the end of the week as the Premiership's transfer market began to warm up.

It may not compete with the millions being lavished by the Premiership top four, but Ooijer's decision to choose Blackburn may be the last obstacle to some significant movement among clubs in the middle reaches of the division. Blackburn have so far refused to countenance offers from Portsmouth for their New Zealand defender Ryan Nelsen but now have sufficient cover at centre-back to make potentially up to £5m on a player who cost them nothing.

That Ooijer has chosen Blackburn is rewarding for Hughes. He will have to pay PSV Eindhoven around £1m for the 32-year-old, who has one year left on his contract at the Dutch club. Ooijer is likely to sign a two-year deal at Ewood Park, with the Australia international Brett Emerton set to join Middlesbrough now that Hughes regards Scottish winger Paul Gallagher as an adequate replacement.

Gareth Southgate should also complete the signing of Sylvain Distin over the next week after the Manchester City captain has indicated that he favours a move there rather than to Portsmouth. The French defender is yet another player whom Harry Redknapp has missed out on.

In the meantime the Norwegian Football Association is looking to head off a potential dispute with Manchester United over the call-up of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for a friendly against Brazil on 16 August.

The Norway coach Age Hareide said that he hoped a "common-sense" solution could be found for the availability of Solskjaer, 33, who has come back into form and fitness this pre-season after almost three seasons away. It will have to be an ingenious solution to convince Sir Alex Ferguson, who can scarcely afford to lose his striker after the sale of Ruud van Nistelrooy.

It does seem, however, that Ferguson will get Alan Smith back in the first team ahead of schedule after the player announced that he could be back playing in two weeks' time following the broken leg and dislocated ankle he suffered on 19 February in the FA Cup against Liverpool. "When I return that hunger will be the same for me," Smith told MUTV.

"I was lucky to get this far without a major injury because football is a physical game. My aim has always been to be around for the start of the season, and fingers crossed, I will not be far off."

The Football Association has not yet been told by its Dutch counterpart whether there is a violent conduct charge against Wayne Rooney and Paul Scholes following their dismissals in the victory against Porto in the Amsterdam tournament on Friday. The two players face possible suspensions which United would appeal.

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