Murdoch men `trying to sign player for United'

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The Independent Online
By Alan Nixon

DESPITE STRENUOUS denials by BSkyB that it was trying to sign a player for Manchester United behind the back of the Old Trafford manager, Alex Ferguson, sources in Italy insisted yesterday that representatives of Rupert Murdoch had indeed made approaches to Perugia for the Japanese playmaker, Hidetoshi Nakata.

BSkyB, who have had a pounds 623m offer for United accepted by the club's board, even went to the extent of making a statement to the Stock Exchange dismissing reports of the move for Nakata as "completely untrue".

Vic Wakeling, the head of Sky Sports, said: ""We, Sky, don't own a football club. We are simply bidding for a football club. We have already said we won't interfere in any way if the bid is successful - and that is true. Alex Ferguson picks the team and he decides who he wants to sign."

Ferguson himself described the reports as "absolute nonsense", adding: "I don't know which player it is so he can't be that good."

However, according to sources in Italy, Murdoch representatives have made two approaches to Perugia in the past week with a view to signing 21-year-old Nakata, who is the Asian player of the year and a major figure in the Far East. They were said to have increased their offer from pounds 1.5m (the price Perugia paid his Japanese club, Bellmare Hiratsuka, when they signed him last month) to pounds 6.25m.

It is believed that they are keen to sign Nakata in order to broadcast his games on Murdoch's Asian TV station, Star. Perugia, however, are said to be keen to keep the player because of a rival deal they have with another Asian TV station.

The suggestion was that BSkyB would not have been informed of the approaches, which were made at a higher level of Murdoch's worldwide organisation.

Meanwhile yesterday, Howard Kendall hit back at the Everton chairman Peter Johnson - and accused him of a lack of professionalism - for rubbishing his signings when at the club. Johnson had criticised Kendall for the players he bought, but Kendall said: "It's a big disappointment when you read such matters and are accused of happenings last season. Not only am I disappointed to be seeing this about myself - but no doubt so are the players who were mentioned at the meeting."

The Aston Villa manager, John Gregory, is considering an approach for Johan Mjallby, the Swede who scored the winning goal against England 10 days ago. Villa would have to pay around pounds 3m to AIK Stockholm to secure his services.

The Football Association has rejected reports that they have set a deadline for Glenn Hoddle to sign a new contract as England coach. "There is no question of any sort of ultimatum," an FA spokesman said.

The 37-year-old former England striker, Chris Waddle, has signed for Torquay United on a month-to-month basis. The former Liverpool goalkeeper, Bruce Grobbelaar, has been appointed caretaker coach of Zimbabwe for a regional cup tie against Zambia on 27 September.

Norwich City's captain, Matt Jackson, will be out of action for at least six weeks with ankle ligament damage.

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