Villa and Pompey lead pursuit of frustrated Defoe

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The Independent Football

Tottenham Hotspur are willing to listen to offers for Jermain Defoe as head coach Juande Ramos plans a clear-out of his squad. Unsurprisingly Ramos has also identified Darren Bent as surplus to requirements although it is understood that the striker, who is desperate to leave, will have to stay until the summer because no club will come close to paying the 16.5m Spurs committed last year when he arrived from Charlton Athletic. Bent will not be allowed to go on loan.

Defoe has been told he can go this month by Ramos partly because the Spaniard is sanguine about whether or not he wants him but, more importantly, because the 25-year-old is refusing to sign a new contract and Spurs do not want him to "depreciate" as an asset. Several clubs, led by Aston Villa, who are anxious to sign a striker, and Portsmouth, who have had a loan proposal rejected by Spurs, are monitoring the situation.

So far, Defoe's hopes of moving to one of the "big four" Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool have not been realised as they are not in the chase. That may change, however, as both United and Chelsea have shown interest in Defoe in the past. They may decide to wait until the summer when the striker will be entering into the final year of his contract. Despite having only 18 months left on his current deal Spurs will want in excess of 10m for Defoe if he is sold now.

The player has gone public with his frustration, claiming yesterday that he is being "forced out" by Ramos after being called into a meeting with the head coach at the training ground on Monday.

"I thought he was going to say I would be starting against Arsenal in the Carling Cup, which was why he didn't give me a game against Reading at the weekend," Defoe said. "But he just said 'You can leave if you want to'. Yet I have no intentions of leaving this club because I love it here. I still cannot believe what the manager said to me.

"It's a bit bizarre as people on the board and the sporting director, Damien Comolli, have been telling me they want me to stay. But I am being forced out of Tottenham by the manager." Nevertheless, Comolli has already started ringing round to find a replacement.

Defoe has started just two games in the Premier League this season and his anger also boiled over under Ramos's predecessor, Martin Jol. The two argued when Defoe played for just 14 minutes of the league game against Derby County last August.

As Defoe suspected, he is not due to start the first leg of tonight's League Cup semi-final against Arsenal. It is the second year running that the two clubs have met at this stage of the competition with last season's exit helping to contribute to Jol's eventual downfall, especially as Spurs were 2-0 up after 45 minutes of the first leg.

Arsenal are also having to deal with discontented players in Jens Lehmann and Lassana Diarra. The former, who is still considering a move to Borussia Dortmund, will be replaced by Lukasz Fabianski for tonight's encounter with manager Arsne Wenger dismissing suggestions that he will move for Bolton Wanderers' Jussi Jaaskelainen if Lehmann leaves. Wenger added, incidentally, that Villa had "no chance" of signing right-back Justin Hoyte.

Diarra, however, could be allowed to leave if Arsenal receive a bid of around 5m. The French midfielder is unhappy at what he claims is a lack of opportunities since arriving last summer from Chelsea and has been the subject of inquiries by Newcastle United and Lyons, to add to the one made by Portsmouth, favourites to sign him, before the transfer window opened.

Although Spurs will field their strongest available team, Arsenal will again play what Wenger called "a young side with perhaps one or two experienced players". Among them will be the fit-again Robin van Persie, who has not played since October, and Theo Walcott.

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