Hughes signs Ben Haim and puts Santa Cruz at top of City wish list

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The Independent Football

Mark Hughes, the Manchester City manager, who secured the services of central defender Tal Ben Haim for £3m from Chelsea yesterday, will now set about his bigger spending priorities: tempting Blackburn with a £15m bid for striker Roque Santa Cruz, and securing an experienced goalkeeper to take on some of Joe Hart's workload. Fulham's Antti Niemi is a realistic contender.

Ben Haim, the 26-year-old Israel international, will have his work cut out challenging Micah Richards and Richard Dunne in the heart of City's defence, unless Richards moves to right back. However, his signing only represents the start of Hughes' plans. The City manager, whose side face EB Streymur of the Faroe Islands in their Uefa Cup first qualifying round second leg at Barnsley tonight, is still unsure whether Blackburn, who are on the point of losing David Bentley to Tottenham, will be willing to let go a player he signed as Rovers manager last year for £3.8m from Bayern Munich.

In the meantime, Hughes is understood to have been working hard to persuade the 21-year-old Hart that buying up an experienced 'keeper to protect him against burn out, and the dip in form which has been a characteristic of English 'keepers like Scott Carson and Paul Robinson, is for the best.

Like any young 'keeper, Hart wants to play every game. "It's never easy to tell a young player these things," one experienced former 'keeper said yesterday. "But the number of games players are being asked to play these days make it necessary. Hughes is a manager a young player will listen to. If anyone can make the case, then he can."

Hughes, whose release of striker Bernardo Corradi to Reggina was virtually completed yesterday, made no secret of his desire to bring Brad Friedel to City but having lost out to Aston Villa, Niemi fits the bill. With the arrival of Mark Schwarzer at Craven Cottage, the 36-year-old appears to be out of immediate first-team contention. Niemi might also seem less of a threat to Hart.

Though Michael Johnson is likely to stay at City following the offer of a £25,000-a-week – twice his previous salary – five-year contract, the pursuit of a midfield player is also key, with Hughes looking for more steel in an area where City appeared lightweight last season. No inquiries have been made about Liverpool's Yossi Benayoun but former City favourite Shaun Wright-Phillips is certainly on the manager's radar, though there is a view at the club that Chelsea will ultimately want more money than City are ready to pay. Another player Hughes admires is West Ham's Craig Bellamy, though West Ham have no intention of selling.

The regime Hughes is introducing at City could hardly offer a greater contrast to his predecessor, Sven Goran Eriksson. Hughes has decreed that agents and family members are not to roam around the club's Carrington training complex as they once did. "The training ground is our football factory. We have closed off a lot of the looseness in the building and the way it worked," he said. "Before, people had access to the inner sanctum. Apparently agents and every other Tom, Dick and Harry were allowed into the building."

With record new signing Jo on Olympic duty with Brazil and Benjani Mwaruwari out for a month with a ruptured thigh muscle, young strikers Ched Evans and Daniel Sturridge will come into contention for tonight's match, with City leading 2-0 from the first leg.

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