Premiership big guns lie in wait as corruption inquiry ends

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The Independent Online

In Rome this afternoon the verdicts are - finally - due to be delivered into the corruption inquiry that has gripped Italian football. The fate of the four relegation-threatened clubs is being almost as keenly monitored in England and Spain, from where raids are likely to be mounted in the next few weeks to acquire the cream of Serie A talent.

The punishments meted out to the clubs will shape transfer strategies across Europe. A source at one of the Premiership's biggest clubs said yesterday: "It's true we are all waiting to see what happens and who is available. Once that it is known, a lot of things will become clearer. But there's no rush."

Nevertheless it could prove to be a disappointing exercise for the Premiership. Firstly, it appears that Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio are more likely to be docked points than demoted and that is likely to mean that most of their top players will decide to stay on anyway.

Andrea D'Amico, the agent who represents Milan's Gennaro Gattuso, confirmed: "If Milan get relegated to Serie B it may be a problem to try to keep all the players. Or maybe some of them wish to stay and some wish to go. I think for Gattuso it is not a problem. He has a long contract with the club but it is hard to say. We must wait and see."

For Juventus the situation is very different. The champions are almost certain to be relegated to Serie B - and have already indicated that they will accept that punishment - which will lead to a scramble to buy or loan their players.

Already a list of likely departures has been drawn up. It is headed by the Italy captain, Fabio Cannavaro, goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, defenders Gianluca Zambrotta and Lilian Thuram, midfielders Emerson, Patrick Vieira, Mauro Camoranesi and Pavel Nedved and strikers Zlatan Ibrahimovic and David Trezeguet. That is pretty much the first team.

Juve are well aware they face meltdown. Yesterday, their sporting director, Alessio Secco, warned that "we are not a supermarket" and claimed there would be no fire-sale. "It's better not to make too many changes and to have a strong squad, even if it's more costly than having to reconstruct it later on. To make money now is not our priority.

"We will decide on each individual case alongside the new coach, Didier Deschamps. We will also evaluate the players' willingness to remain, their wages and the length of their contracts." But the books, with a predicted drop on income of £50m, have to be balanced and Secco conceded: "We have received so many offers, especially from abroad."

Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United will be among the most active suitors while other clubs such as Fulham, Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United are likely to lodge bids. It will be hard going. Most of the players have expressed interest in going to Spain, staying in Italy or - in the case of Trezeguet who is linked to Lyon - returning to France rather than moving to England.

Real Madrid are undoubtedly in the strongest bidding position. They have just hired Juve's former coach Fabio Capello and have already all but signed up Cannavaro - talks are said to be at "an advanced stage" - while they remain confident that Emerson and Zambrotta will follow him. The latter, who is comfortable on either flank, is in particular demand. Bar-celona have tried to secure him while Milan are putting together a strong bid. Chelsea are also said to have made a tentative approach.

Capello's interest in Ibrahimovic has cooled. Indeed, the Swedish striker is now close to agreeing a deal to go to Internazionale although Premiership clubs, such as Spurs, may still be keen to try to propose a loan deal instead. Juve are hoping a number of such deals can be agreed while Nedved has already held talks with Monaco.

Buffon is also greatly in demand. Again both Milan clubs have expressed interest while Arsenal would consider a bid even though the asking price - in excess of £12m - may prove prohibitive. Arsène Wenger will also be taking a keen interest in Thuram.

Yesterday, his agent, Oscar Damiani, said that the 34-year-old will end up in "England, Spain or Italy, everything is possible but nothing is decided". That will disappoint Barcelona who had hoped to strike an early agreement with the defender, who is currently on holiday in Guadeloupe and may not decide his future until the beginning of August. "First of all he will wait for the sentence and then in 15 to 20 days he will decide his future," Damiani said.

Vieira's future is, perhaps, the most intriguing. He is unwanted by Capello at Real, even though he only bought him for Juve last summer, and is unlikely to stay in Italy should his club be relegated. That opens up a return to the Premiership and the intriguing possibility, for example, of him finally ending up at Old Trafford. It may not be as far-fetched as it sounds.

A squad up for grabs

JUVENTUS

Gianluigi Buffon 28

Italian, goalkeeper. Approx value: £12m. Contract expires: June 2009. Linked to: Arsenal, Milan

Fabio Cannavaro 32

Italian, defender. Approx value: £10m, Contract expires: June 2008. Linked to: Real Madrid, Arsenal

Lilian Thuram 34

French, defender, Approx value: free. Contract expires: June 2007. Linked to: Arsenal, Fulham, Man Utd, Barcelona, retirement

Gianluca Zambrotta 29

Italian, defender, Approx value: £12m. Contract expires: June 2010. Linked to: Real Madrid (loan), Barcelona, Internazionale

Mauro Camoranesi 29

Italian, midfielder, Approx value: £7m. Contract expires: June 2009. Linked to: Real Madrid, Barcelona, Inter, Bayern Munich, Valencia, Atletico Madrid

Patrick Vieira 30

French, midfielder. Approx value: £7m. Contract expires: June 2010. Linked to: Real Madrid, Man Utd

Zlatan Ibrahimovic 24

Sweden, Forward. Approx value: £18m. Contract expires: June 2008. Linked to: Spurs, Milan

David Trezeguet 28

France, forward. App value: £15m. Contract expires: June 09. Linked to: Lyon.

Marcelo Zalayeta 27

Uruguayan, Forward. Approx value: £5m. Contract expires: unknown. Linked to: No one as yet.

Emerson 30

Brazilian, Midfielder. Approx value: £12m. Contract expires: June 2009. Linked to: Real Madrid (loan), Inter, Milan

Robert Kovac 32

Croatian, defender. Approx value: £2m. Contract expires: unknown. Staying

Pavel Nedved 33

Czech, midfielder. Approx Value £5m. Contract expires: June 2008. Staying

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