Souness' pursuit of Yakubu runs into problem with agent

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The Independent Online

Newcastle's Hopes of signing the Portsmouth striker Aiyegbeni Yakubu remain in the balance as the south coast club try to resist a transfer.

The Newcastle manager, Graeme Souness, who admitted his interest in the player earlier this week, has insisted that a deal has not been finalised. There have been suggestions that Yakubu's agent, Pini Zahavi, has flown out to Israel to negotiate a sell-on clause with the 22-year-old's former club Maccabi Haifa.

Souness, who has a long-standing link with Zahavi, said: "The reasons why Pini has gone back home to Israel are very personal and we have not done a deal with Portsmouth for Yakubu."

It is understood that the Newcastle chairman, Freddy Shepherd, is yet to be convinced Yakubu can be the long-term replacement for Alan Shearer, should Souness fail to persuade the club captain not to retire at the end of the season.

However, one thing in Yakubu's favour is that he is not cup-tied in Europe and therefore could play a part in the club's Uefa Cup campaign if his signature is secured within the next 12 days, something which is looking increasingly unlikely as Portsmouth try desperately to hang on to their top striker.

The defender Olivier Bernard is in danger of having the contract he has been offered by Newcastle withdrawn if he does not accept the club's terms soon. Negotiations have stalled in recent weeks and Newcastle's deal for former Chelsea left-back Celestine Babayaro has pushed the Frenchman so far down the pecking order that he was not even on the bench for Saturday's 2-1 win over Southampton. There has been no sign of compromise from either party and no comment from the club.

It is understood that Newcastle's offer - thought to be over £5m over five years - might not remain on the table for very much longer.

"We were in a difficult situation with Olly Bernard," said Souness. "He turned down a contract so we went out and signed another left-back and he's playing well.

"Celestine Babayaro has got the shirt. What happens will happen. We didn't want to get to May or June and start scratching around for a left-back."

Defence has been the priority for Souness in recent weeks with the acquisition of Babayaro and the £8m central defender Jean-Alain Boumsong from Rangers. Both have now played two games as they feel their way into the side, but it is one of the men whose future looked to be threatened most by the arrival of the French international in particular who has reacted most promisingly.

Titus Bramble - often the target of supporters and commentators' criticism - has turned in a series of excellent individual performances in recent weeks to win fresh praise from Souness as the Newcastle manager continues to pursue Manchester City's Sylvain Distin.

"I thought Titus can form a good partnership with Jean-Alain," he said. "However, what I want is more of the same from them. I think Titus can be what he wants to be. I've given him a chance. It's up to him to grasp it."

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