Spurs close in on Fred but find no takers for Bent

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The Independent Football

Tottenham Hotspur yesterday tried to cool suggestions that they are close to signing the Lyons striker Fred for €12m (£9m) but, according to club sources, their sporting director Damien Comolli is nevertheless due to travel to France today for further talks. It is likely that a deal should be agreed by the weekend.

Spurs have emerged as the front-runners to buy the 25-year-old, who can leave, although the Lyons president, Jean-Michel Aulas, in an attempt to bump up the price, is still maintaining that there are other clubs interested. Aulas met with Fred and his brother Rodrigo, who also acts as his agent, after yesterday's League Cup defeat away to Le Mans.

It is claimed by Rodrigo that Spurs have offered Fred a four-and-a-half year deal on a salary of €4m a year which meets his salary demands and will make him one of the club's highest earners. Fees were also agreed with Middlesbrough and Paris-Saint Germain for the international – full name Frederico Chaves Guedo – although he has told Lyons that he wants to join Spurs.

If Fred arrives it will leave Spurs, who remain interested in Stewart Downing but will not go above £8m for the Middlesbrough winger, with five strikers – three of whom are unsettled at the club, although Dimitar Berbatov is not expected to leave until the summer. Darren Bent can certainly go and Spurs are prepared to accept a loss, albeit a small one, on the £15m they committed to buying him last summer (which could have risen to £16.5m). However they have not received a single inquiry.

More in demand is Jermain Defoe. Aston Villa are keen but, so far, it has been Portsmouth who have made the running on any potential deal. They had hoped to persuade Spurs to allow Defoe, who is stalling on signing a new contract, on loan but have been told that only a permanent transfer will be agreed. Portsmouth, whose manager Harry Redknapp watched Spurs' FA Cup victory away to Reading on Tuesday, do not want to pay the kind of fee – upwards of £10m – that is being demanded.

It does not mean that a deal cannot be done and Pompey showed their ambition yesterday by finalising the £5.25m transfer of Lassana Diarra from Arsenal. The deal, first revealed by The Independent on 29 December, means that Diarra spent just five months at the Emirates with the midfielder, who has agreed a three-and-a-half year contract and will earn £57,000 a week, claiming he had been told by Arsène Wenger to expect more first-team opportunities. Arsenal will, nevertheless, make a healthy profit on the 22-year-old French international, having signed him for £2m from Chelsea.

After the deal was agreed the Portsmouth chief executive, Peter Storrie, took the extraordinary step of hitting out at players such as Sol Campbell, David James and Sylvain Distin who have all publicly questioned the club's transfer policy. The trio said that Pompey should be spending more money but Storrie accused them of making "silly statements" adding: "How can someone like Sol go around and keep saying these things? We are one of the top spenders in the Premier League.

"We are puzzled as to why he keeps making these statements and comments. We don't talk about how the players play, so they shouldn't talk about the money the club has spent. We have never, ever spent as much as we have done this season. Just look at the quality of the squad at the moment, just look at the progress this club is making.

"It's frustrating that our own players are saying this. I wish they would just concentrate on playing. I realise it shows they care and want to be part of what we are trying to achieve here, which is great, but sometimes they don't understand and make these silly statements. Some of these players have already forgotten how much we spent in the summer."

Indeed Portsmouth spent £30m at that time and, especially if Defoe signs, will need to balance the books. Matt Taylor can leave for a fee of £4.5m with Bolton Wanderers, Sunderland and Middlesbrough hoping to sign him while the club would be happy to offload David Nugent who cost £3.8m. At the end of the season they are also likely to sell John Utaka and hope to recoup the £7m spent on him.

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