A WEEK of transfer speculation ended in a flurry of activity yesterday. Arsenal completed the signing of Nwankwo Kanu, Internazionale's Nigerian international striker, John Hartson moved from West Ham to Wimbledon for pounds 7.5m and Newcastle United pulled out of the bidding for Crystal Palace's Matt Jansen.
Although the fee for Hartson is the eighth highest paid for a British player, the Kanu deal is likely to be the more significant in terms of this season's Premiership title race. Arsenal have been short of cover for Dennis Bergkamp and Nicolas Anelka ever since selling Ian Wright to West Ham last summer and Kanu should strengthen their hand considerably.
However, it could be a month before the 22-year-old makes his debut as he awaits a work permit. After completing his signing yesterday Kanu flew back to Italy. The fee has not been disclosed but is believed to be around pounds 4.5m.
Kanu led Nigeria to victory in the 1996 Olympic Games football tournament shortly after winning the European Cup with Ajax. His opportunities at Internazionale, who signed him for pounds 1.3m in 1997, have been severely limited because of medical doubts and the Italian club's subsequent signings of Ronaldo, Roberto Baggio and Youri Djorkaeff.
The Arsenal deal has been completed after months of negotiations. Kanu underwent a rigorous medical examination in London as Arsenal wanted to ensure that a heart valve operation he had in America two years ago was completely successful and that a knee condition would not cause long-term problems.
Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, said: "This signing is a gamble, but one well worth making because of his huge talent. He is a goalscorer as well as a target man and he can also play the same role as Dennis Bergkamp just behind the main striker, but he is not another Ian Wright. He is more like Alan Smith, who was a key Arsenal player who could hold the ball up and pass it intelligently."
Wenger added: "His problem is that he had so few opportunities at Inter and needs time to come up to his true level again. But we have signed him for four and a half years and we are prepared to wait to see the best of him."
As Arsenal were securing Kanu's signature, Wimbledon's players were giving Hartson a traditional south London welcome. First his new team-mates hung his designer tracksuit out of the changing-room window at the club's training ground and set it ablaze. If Hartson was fuming, his fire was promptly doused on the training pitch when he was thrown into a puddle of water.
It was not the sort of treatment most pounds 7.5m strikers would have expected, but Hartson took it in good heart. "I am up for a laugh and maybe if a new player signs next week I will be getting involved," he said.
Having just signed a six-year deal, 23-year-old Hartson was no doubt in the mood to smile. He said he welcomed the new challenge, particularly as his progress had stalled at Upton Park. His goals helped keep West Ham in the Premiership following his move from Arsenal for pounds 3.2m in 1997 and he scored 24 last season as West Ham finished eighth. However, the goals have dried up this season.
Hartson admitted his career at Upton Park had not been helped by his training ground attack on his colleague, Eyal Berkovic. "I got absolutely laced to be honest and rightly so," he said. "I shouldn't have done what I did. Eyal's a smashing lad and a world-class player. I've apologised for that and I'm deeply sorry. I've got an FA hearing coming up and I'm not really looking forward to it."
Wimbledon will pay pounds 3m for Hartson this year, pounds 3m next year and pounds 1.5m linked to appearances. Joe Kinnear, Wimbledon's manager, defended the fee, saying it was the going rate. He added: "We've generated our own funds, buying and selling well. We got pounds 7m for Dean Holdsworth and Oyvind Leonhardsen which we made for the club. We can do this quite easily."
Another player on the move yesterday was Gary Charles, the Aston Villa defender, who completed a pounds 1m transfer to Benfica. He has signed a two- year contract with the Portuguese club, who are coached by Graeme Souness.
Villa are believed to be among a number of clubs still interested in signing Jansen, Crystal Palace's England Under-21 striker. However, Newcastle are no longer in the bidding.
Ruud Gullit, the Newcastle manager, said yesterday that their offer had been withdrawn. He indicated that the club had been unhappy that details of their bid had been made public. "For me, it's vital to keep everything quiet," he said. "The moment that it came out about Matt Jansen, all of a sudden everybody was in for him."
One move that was finally completed yesterday after months of publicity was the transfer of the De Boer brothers, Ronald and Frank, from Ajax to Barcelona for pounds 13.66m. The agreement ends a long dispute between the Amsterdam club and the two Dutch internationals, who said they wanted to leave last season despite having signed a contract until 2004.
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