Liverpool finally succeeded in agreeing a fee with Aston Villa for winger Stewart Downing last night after having two bids turned down earlier this summer. It is believed they will pay £20m for Downing, who is now expected on Merseyside to undergo a medical and discuss personal terms.
Offers of £15m and £18m were rejected by Villa for the England player, who has two years left on his contract and had made clear to new manager Alex McLeish that he would not sign a new contract. Downing's arrival will take Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish's spending this summer to close to £50m after the arrival at Anfield of Charlie Adam from Blackpool and Jordan Henderson from Sunderland.
Villa are poised to sign Wigan's Charles N'Zogbia for £7m as a replacement for Downing, having also lost Ashley Young to Manchester United last month. The Midlands club confirmed last night Downing had submitted a formal transfer request. The Villa chief executive, Paul Faulkner, said: "I can confirm that we have reached an agreement with Liverpool following an improved offer received earlier today and the submission of a formal transfer request by Stewart Downing. We have subsequently given them permission to speak with the player."
Adam made his Liverpool debut yesterday in the first game of the club's Far Eastern tour against Guangdong Sunray Cave of the Chinese second division, which they won 4-3.
"I have waited since January for Charlie and I am not going to put pressure on him in any way, shape or form," said Dalglish. "He is here for the long term and it would be ridiculous to judge him on 45 minutes in a friendly."
Those who marched into Guangzhou behind the Red Army in 1949 would not recognise a city whose stadium lies directly opposite a skyscraper bearing the logo of Saatchi and Saatchi. But the need to wear a uniform endures.
The Tianhe Stadium was not full but virtually all who came wore red with the sponsor's logo and the Liver crest. "Gerrard" naturally and "Dalglish" were the most popular. Nobody seemed to be wearing "21 Coady". And yet it was a goal from the young Merseysider, delivered with Gerrard-like brutality, that illuminated this game.
Dalglish had invested much of his time at the club's academy at Kirkby before moving front of house to salvage the wreckage of Roy Hodgson's brief reign. And when describing Conor Coady (who captained England in the Under-17 European Championship), Jack Robinson, John Flanagan and Andre Wisdom, there was a touch of Arsène Wenger about him.
"There is no limit to what these young players can achieve when they are ready," he said. "It wasn't just Conor, although he scored a terrific goal. There were a few of them out there, playing in very difficult conditions and they came through. They are going to be with us for a very long time to come."
Even in a city upriver from Hong Kong it is rare to find English-speakers, yet Liverpool's Chinese fans, who had been serenaded by Jamie Carragher with the club's battle hymn at a shopping centre on Tuesday, managed a rendition of You'll Never Walk Alone and then Stand Up If You Hate Man U at the Tianhe Stadium.
Dalglish described the reception as "overwhelming" and the Liverpool manager is not used to opposing managers describing him as their "icon and idol", as Cao Yang, the man in charge of Sunray Cave, did. And yet when Yang remarked that Liverpool's defence had been "loose" it triggered something deep and primeval in a man who has never tolerated a word of criticism about the club. "Loose?" Dalglish said. "They were looser than us. They conceded four."