pounds 5m Le Saux back at Chelsea for big kick-off

Phil Shaw keeps track of all the new faces in new places as the 1997-98 Premiership season kicks-off today
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The Independent Online
Chelsea saved one of the summer's biggest transfer coups for the eve of the new season, re-signing Graeme Le Saux from Blackburn for pounds 5m in time for him to play in today's Premiership opener at Coventry.

Le Saux, rated at a mere pounds 650,000 when he was shunted out of Chelsea by Dave Webb in 1993 in part exchange for Steve Livingstone, had been valued at pounds 7m by Blackburn. Arsenal backed off, but Ruud Gullit succeeded with a reduced offer.

The England wing-back, 28, drove to London overnight, passed a medical at 1am and an hour later became the FA Cup holders' record buy at pounds 100,000 more than Roberto Di Matteo. Their managing director, Colin Hutchinson, admitted: "Selling him was a mistake which has taken four and a half years and pounds 5m to rectify."

In his previous spell at Stamford Bridge, Le Saux's Channel Island origins earned the dressing-room moniker "Bergerac". The composition of Chelsea's squad under Gullit is now such that the joke would be lost on his new colleagues, who are more likely to nickname him "English".

The polyglot trend is by no means confined to Chelsea. Tottenham also unveiled a late recruit in Jose Dominguez, the Subbuteo-sized winger who played for Birmingham before joining Sporting Lisbon and winning caps for Portugal. Spurs paid pounds 1.6m to take him from under Southampton's noses.

Dominguez is ineligible to face Manchester United tomorrow. There is, however, an abundance of exotic new names striving to burn their way into the popular consciousness, much as Fabrizio Ravanelli did with his hat- trick 12 months ago.

On the opening day of the 1995-96 season, after a youthful Manchester United lost at Aston Villa, Alan Hansen made an assertion that came back to haunt him: "You win nothing with kids." The question tonight - particularly pertinent to Arsenal as well as Chelsea - may be whether it is possible to win the championship with a team largely made up of foreigners.

Even Barnsley, whose badge depicts a British bulldog, have recruited almost exclusively overseas in preparation for their first campaign at the highest level. After being patronised by media luvvies, working through a shopping list of cliches stretching from Michael Parkinson and Dickie Bird to mining and whippets, Danny Wilson's team will be more eager than most for the end of the phony war.

Oakwell's inaugural Premiership visitors, West Ham, begin as they did last August, ravaged by injury. They were then bereft of forwards; now it is defenders, a problem Harry Redknapp hopes to alleviate by giving Danny Williamson plus pounds 1m for Everton's David Unsworth.

Of the quintet who have filled the top positions for the past two years, Arsenal and Newcastle will parade most new faces. The Gunners' visit to Leeds is the fourth time Arsene Wenger has pitted his wits against George Graham, each winning once.

While a repeat of February's 0-0 stalemate at Elland Road would not surprise anyone who saw Leeds last season, Graham is looking to his new Dutch striker, Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink, to emulate a player he brought to Highbury. "Ian Wright is a goal machine," he said, "but hopefully we've got one here."

At Newcastle, five of Kenny Dalglish's six newcomers are set to start against Sheffield Wednesday. Faustino Asprilla has the task of deputising for Alan Shearer - and Les Ferdinand, come to that - which will not necessarily be easier for Wednesday. The Colombian's off-the-cuff style makes him unplayable on his day.

Liverpool's bid to finish top for the first time since 1990 opens at Wimbledon, where one point of interest will be the identity of Roy Evans' captain. The smart money is on the self-styled "Guvnor", Paul Ince. John Barnes, having relinquished the armband, guested on Celebrity Ready, Steady Cook last night; whether he appears on Match of the Day must be open to question.

Teddy Sheringham assumes Eric Cantona's mantle as Manchester United's link-man at White Hart Lane, and expects a warm reception from his former fans. Perhaps less naively, the man who sold him, Gerry Francis, believes his job will be "on the line" if Spurs fail to win anything.

The indisposition of Chris Armstrong is a reminder that the first weekend seldom reveals much about long-term prospects. A year ago, he scored both Spurs' goals in the 2-0 win at Blackburn. None of the trio who were eventually relegated lost, Kevin Campbell hitting a hat-trick in Nottingham Forest's canter at Coventry.

Leeds scored three - away - whereas Alan Shearer failed to find the target. Wednesday embarked on a run of four wins and Wimbledon suffered the first of three defeats, although David Beckham's 60-yard strike against them did prove to be a sign of the champions' supremacy.

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