Spurs' fab four fly in for £23m talks with Keane

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The Independent Online

Sunderland's apparently faltering efforts to sign four players from Tottenham Hotspur for a combined fee of £23 million regained momentum yesterday when each of the quartet – Steed Malbranque, Pascal Chimbonda, Younes Kaboul and Teemu Tainio – arrived on Wearside individually to meet the Sunderland manager, Roy Keane.

This is the opportunity Keane has been seeking all summer. On Thursday he spoke of his disappointment at not being able to talk to a single player face to face since the end of last season, and he has delayed joining his squad on their pre-season trip to Portugal to meet the four.

After promotion in May 2007, last season Sunderland were the only promoted club to survive but it was uncomfortable for long periods, and Keane said memorably that the task of recruitment is considerably hindered by the WAG culture prevalent in football.

The disparaging comments attributed to Kaboul's agent on Friday offered further evidence of the bleak – and damaging – image that outsiders often have of Wearside and the North-east in general. Kaboul's agent said that the 22-year-old centre-half would not sign for Sunderland even in the case of "an earthquake", but the opinion is rather contradicted by Kaboul's presence at the club's training ground yesterday.

Kaboul is believed to have interest from Portsmouth as well as from Continental clubs, while Aston Villa's enthusiasm for Malbranque means that they are expected to bid for the 28-year-old midfielder too. Chimbonda is another said to have options beyond Sunderland. Everton have been decreed as his preference, and the Finn Tainio could rejoin the former Tottenham manager Martin Jol at Hamburg.

Keane and Sunderland are still tracking their former left-back, George McCartney, now at West Ham, and may get him, and are monitoring developments at White Hart Lane involving Dimitar Berbatov and Robbie Keane, as this will affect their chances of getting Darren Bent.

One deal they have com-pleted, at a rather lower level, is for Cork City's 19-year-old tough-tackling midfielder David Meyler for £185,000.

Newcastle United won 4-1 at Hartlepool yesterday with Damien Duff scoring a hat-trick and new signing Danny Guthrie getting the other goal. Kevin Keegan's only other summer signing, Jonas Gutierrez, was absent because his registration has been delayed. Michael Owen was also missing but is expected to be back in training tomorrow.

Keegan praised Duff, saying: "He looks very sharp, it's the first time in three or four years that he's had a pre-season, and every professional will tell you that that is of major importance. He told me his weight is down to what it was when he was a 17 or 18-year-old and he looked like a 17 or 18-year-old out there."

On further signings, Keegan added: "We cannot go into the Premier League with this small squad that we've got."

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