Tottenham turn to Hughes as Trapattoni confirms interest

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The Independent Online

Giovanni Trapattoni is ready to accept the post of Tottenham's new manager, and he wants Mark Hughes to be his No 2.

The Italian veteran is poised to sign a pre-contract with Spurs, guaranteeing he joins after Euro 2004 when he will be in charge of the national side. And Trapattoni is lined up to work with the Wales manager Hughes in a partnership put together by the Spurs chairman, Daniel Levy.

Hughes and Trapattoni do not know much about each other, apart from two highly-charged games between their countries in the qualifiers for Euro 2004.

While Trapattoni is not due to leave the Italians until the summer, Tottenham could call up Hughes sooner as an interim manager if they slip into relegation trouble.

The side's win over Birmingham, under the caretaker David Pleat, has bought time as Levy had intended to make a new appointment if they failed, and that could have ruled out Trapattoni. Spurs like the look of Hughes and he could be groomed as a long-term manager as Trapattoni is almost 65 and would only join for a couple of years.

Levy will see this double act as a triumph for his skills as he will have appointed two top international managers at opposite ends of the experience scale in an exciting team.

Trapattoni is free to leave Italy in the summer, while Hughes has a compensation clause in his contract with the Welsh FA, but that will not worry Spurs. An announcement is expected and will take pressure off the chairman to plot a credible way forward for a club that has stumbled this season.

Pleat's task will be to guide them through the season but he will be allowed to sign players with the approval of the next management team.

Trapattoni's adviser, Claudio Vigorelli, confirmed Tottenham were in contact with his client. "I think there is a possibility to do this transfer. We are working with Spurs on this."

A source close to Vigorelli said: "Spurs are very interested in Trapattoni but he wants to remain focused on Italy's European Championship campaign. He is interested in the position and I understand that they have spoken to [Daniel Levy] and David Pleat."

Tottenham's attempts to block leading scorer Frédéric Kanouté playing for Mali in the African Nations Cup later this month have been dashed by Fifa. Spurs believed the fact that Kanoute had played for France Under-21s in a European Championships made him ineligible but the world game's governing body has said he can play for Mali. Fifa also gave the go-ahead for Leeds' Lamine Sakho, who also appeared for France at youth level, to play for Senegal.

Spurs could lose Kanouté for three Premiership games and both the fourth and fifth rounds of the FA Cup. The Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, has warned Premiership clubs to stop obstructing African players from playing in the tournament.

Arsenal and Bolton have also disputed when exactly they should release Kanu and Jay-Jay Okocha for the tournament and Bolton were yesterday hopeful of earning a late reprieve from Fifa to let them keep Okocha for their Carling Cup semi-final against Aston Villa on 21 January - Nigeria's first game is on 27 January. Their manager, Sam Allardyce, is joining Arsenal's manager, Arsène Wenger, who wants to keep Kanu for a week longer, in a bid to delay Okocha's departure.

But Blatter said Premiership clubs should accept that African players had rights to play for international sides.

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