Libero : Highbury buy, flog on the Tyne?

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The Independent Online
Just 11 shopping days to go. On Thursday 27 March, at 5pm, the "closed" sign will go up on the English transfer market, leaving clubs to make do and mend with what they have in the quest to win honours or avoid ignominy.

It is why the speculation that fuels interest in the game is hotting up. Take Friday; Manchester United are linked in the morning with Milan's Zvonimir Boban, Alex Ferguson denies it in the afternoon. Agents, often provocateurs, are busily at work planting stories about clients moving, often in the hope that the smoke will mean a fire for them. Some fall for it all, in the knowledge that those they get wrong will be forgotten and the correct ones trumpeted.

Arsenal, for example, have been linked with more overseas strikers than British lorry drivers. Agents send flattering videos, inform a few papers, and wait for the lucrative ricochet. Though Arsene Wenger and Ferguson are shrewder than that, the Premiership is now known abroad as an eyes- lighting-up market. For us it may be intriguing but for some potentially panicky managers - one thinks of Everton's Joe Royle - there is a danger.

What, after all, is the likelihood of getting the right man at this moment? Those clubs doing well are unlikely to sell. Do you want someone from a club not doing well? There may be exceptions - good player in a bad team; getting rid before Bosman bites - but they are increasingly rare.

Of course the really big mid-season deals, like Eric Cantona and Andy Cole from Leeds and Newcastle respectively to Manchester United, are not usually heralded. Expect something unexpected in the next 10 days.

Arsenal are said to want Paul Ince imminently, though it may more accurately be the other way around. Internazionale can still finish second in Serie A and qualify for the Champions' League, however. But, Internazionale may wonder, do we get more money if we sell in advance of the English deadline than in the summer? That will now be the question, for example, at Newcastle where Kenny Dalglish will attempt a restructuring. One senses that he will stiffen his defence and that he may shock Tyneside by offloading a few unexpected but saleable names. Such as Philippe Albert.

Elsewhere, expect more speculation involving David Ginola, Fabrizio Ravanelli, Matthew Le Tissier, Stan Collymore and Graeme Le Saux. Even Eric Cantona. If not, remember you didn't read it here first.

JIMMY HILL is a prat, Alex Ferguson once said. But Libero has never believed it, always admiring his courage in being rationally forthright. Unlike the lads on the radio these days and, sometimes, Richard Littlejohn on his Carlton TV programme with the outdated title Do I Not Like That. When Hill suggested Wimbledon were showing signs of fatigue against Sheffield Wednesday - borne out by Tuesday's Coca-Cola Cup semi-final defeat by Leicester - only to be criticised by the Dons' manager Joe Kinnear on Monday, the mind went back to Wimbledon's home draw against Middlesbrough at the beginning of February. It then suited Kinnear's purposes of psychology to say: "We're knackered. It's like flogging dead horses here sometimes."

PRAISE where it is due. The much-maligned referee Graham Poll handled Derby County's spiteful FA Cup tie against Middlesbrough with just the right mix of stick and carrot of common sense while Alan Wilkie was impeccable in the Wimbledon v Leicester match. One worry: after his roasting for the Chelsea-Leicester game Mike Reed did not feel the need to issue a card in his next match, Middlesbrough v Derby. One can only hope that criticism does not prevent duty being done.

IT was interesting to read in World Soccer magazine just how all the national coaches voted when it came to the World Player of the Year. Glenn Hoddle's choice was George Weah, Alan Shearer, Ronaldo (the actual winning order was Ronaldo, Weah, Shearer). Others were not quite so dispassionate. Argentina's Daniel Passarella chose his charges Gabriel Batistuta and Ariel Ortega ahead of Ronaldo while Germany's Berti Vogts went one better. His picks? Jurgen Klinsmann, Matthias Sammer and Andreas Moller.

GO ON, Peter Schmeichel. Forget the courts and accept the FA's invitation to make up with Ian Wright. What better example in what appears a game of two halves of forgiveness and races united in a common cause?

Note to the PFA: Less power to the elbow

A few years ago, the flying elbow was the bane of the modern game. Then, after Gary Mabbutt sustained horrible facial injuries from a challenge by John Fashanu, the PFA launched a campaign to eradicate the practice, including posters in dressing-rooms. It seems to have had some success, though the odd rogue player still jumps or dribbles with elbow raised. Now another dangerous practice seems to be creeping into the game. Often, after a tackle when one party feels aggrieved, a player flicks a kick or tramples on an opponent's calf or ankle in that "clever" way professionals have of making it look unavoidable or unintentional. One can never be certain - a referee's problem - but David Batty appeared to do as much to Steve McManaman in Monday's Liverpool v Newcastle thriller and was booked; McManaman, too, for retaliation. This should be something the PFA also address. A letter to members and another poster campaign might underline obligations to fellow workers.

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