Gunners ready to snare Babel, 'the new Henry'

Jason Burt
Thursday 25 January 2007 01:00

Arsenal are expected to sign Ajax's Ryan Babel, the hottest young talent in Dutch football, after apparently beating off interest from both Newcastle United and Portsmouth.

However, a deal for the 20-year-old, who will cost between £7m and £10m, will not be finalised until the summer. Sources in the Netherlands claim that Babel has set his heart on joining Arsenal, whose interest in the forward was revealed by The Independent earlier this month, although he is under pressure to sign a new deal at Ajax.

Babel's friendship with the Arsenal forward Robin van Persie has helped persuade him to move to the Emirates Stadium. He is predominantly a left winger but can play as a central striker or on the right and already has eight Netherlands caps. He was also part of last summer's World Cup squad.

Babel's contract at Ajax runs until next year. Negotiations have taken place to extend that but Babel is apparently insisting that a minimum-fee release clause is inserted which will allow him to move to Arsenal before the start of next season. Ajax are opposed to the idea and are keen to tie down their brightest prospect.

Babel made his debut for the Netherlands in March 2005, coming on as a first-half substitute in Romania for Chelsea's Arjen Robben and scoring in a 2-0 win. This made him the fourth-youngest goalscorer in the history of the Dutch national team, while the coach, Marco van Basten, was prompted to claim that Babel, who is very quick, "has all the potential to be the next Thierry Henry".

Newcastle, who are believed to have lodged an informal bid of around £5m, and Portsmouth have made contact with Ajax, hoping to secure a deal in the January transfer window. But it is understood the player only wants to move to Arsenal, where he is regarded as a replacement for Fredrik Ljungberg.

The Swede, who was the subject of an inquiry by West Ham United earlier this month following his limited first-team opportunities this season, is expected to leave in the summer. He has fallen down the pecking order since the arrival at the club of Tomas Rosicky and Alexander Hleb.

Babel, who was born in Amsterdam and made his Ajax debut three years ago, recently said that he was fully committed to the club but also admitted that he was "impressed" by Arsenal and Barcelona, and would like to eventually move abroad. "Like every other player I have my dreams," he said.

With his adaptability - as well as his ability and pace - Babel fits the mould of the type of player Arsène Wenger is looking to add to his squad. The Arsenal manager, who insists he will not be making any signings this month, also appears committed to reducing the average age of his team, which is partly why Ljungberg, who is 30 in April, is understood to be surplus to requirements. The midfielder is expected to move to Italy but will also continue to attract interest from the Premiership.

Having apparently missed out on Babel, Portsmouth are believed to have turned to other targets and have reopened talks with Udinese over the Ghanaian winger Sulley Muntari, who was wanted by the club's manager, Harry Redknapp, after the World Cup.

Muntari has fallen out of favour at the Serie A club, having been sent off three times this season, but Portsmouth will not pay the transfer fee of £10.5m which is being demanded for the 22-year-old and insist that they will go no higher than £8m.

That would, nevertheless, be a club record but no deal will be done until Udinese drop their asking price. Portsmouth are believed to be prepared to allow the on-loan winger Rodolph Douala to leave the club.

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