NEWCASTLE United’s hopes of making Pablo Aimar their third and most high-profile signing this summer appeared to have been dashed last night with Benfica claiming to be on the verge of landing the talented playmaker.
If yesterday was anything to go by, Magpies supporters should not give up hope of seeing the 28-year-old in black-and-white stripes until the ink is dry on a contract at the Stadium of Light. But if the Eagles are to be believed, that is imminent.
A day which began with predictions that the Argentinian would be a United player within 48 hours ended with him apparently on the verge of joining Benfica.
With Aimar’s agent proving difficult to contact and the Magpies refusing to comment, the true facts were hard to ascertain, but for most of yesterday it appeared Aimar’s proposed move to Benfica had broken down because the Portuguese club were unwilling to meet Real Zaragoza’s asking price and, at the same time, match the wages the former Valencia player was receiving in Spain.
But late last night news filtered through that the deal had been resurrected after Benfica relented on the £6m asking price and agreed a three-year deal with Aimar.
“He is about to sign a contract with Benfica,” Zaragoza’s communications director Luis Sol told a Portuguese website. “Between Zaragoza and Benfica everything is sorted out. The doors are open for Aimar to become a Benfica player.
“At around 6.30pm Aimar was in Soria (in northern Spain) with his team-mates, but he received a phone call and travelled to Zaragoza.
“The only information we have is that between both clubs, everything is
resolved. This is the reason he went to meet the Benfica board.
“He might travel to Lisbon tonight with (Benfica sporting director) Rui Costa.”
The news will come as a blow to Newcastle, who had hoped to pair the mercurial attacking midfielder with compatriot Jonas Gutierrez.
United had planned to take advantage of Zaragoza’s relegation and Aimar’s slump in form since 2006 to strike a cut-price deal for a player who in the early part of the decade was viewed as one of the world’s finest attacking talents and at his age should still be at his physical peak.
After a summer of signing African players in 2007, South Americans appear to be en vogue on Tyneside this year.
United have also been linked with Liverpool’s Argentinian left-back Emiliano Insua and Chile striker Humberto Suazo.
SV Hamburg midfielder Nigel de Jong, however, is refusing to be distracted by reports that Newcastle are interested in signing him too.
“I am in HSV now and concentrating on the new season,” said the 23-year-old. “Whether there are other offers does not interest me. I am just focused on HSV.”
The Magpies have been warned off Birmingham City winger Sebastian Larsson.
The Swedish international has been linked with a move away from St Andrew’s after Blues’ relegation but chairman David Gold insists that will not be the case. “Seb will leave over my dead body,” he said. “He’s vital to us.”
Meanwhile, Wesley Ngo Baheng has reassured fans he should be back ahead of schedule after suffering cruciate knee ligament damage in April.
When the 18-year-old was injured in the Northumberland Senior Cup final against Blyth Spartans, the initial diagnosis was he could be out for 12 months, but the former Le Havre player is confident that will not be the case.
“I’ve spent most of the summer in rehab and hopefully I will play again this (coming) season,” he told the club’s official website. “At first they said it would be a year but now I hope to be back before then.”
CELESTINE Babayaro’s hopes of resurrecting his career at Portsmouth have been hit by a bout of malaria.
The 29-year-old former Chelsea and Newcastle full-back was on trial at Pompey last week with a view to securing a permanent deal.
But the Nigerian is now recovering in a Chelsea hospital after being diagnosed with the tropical disease, which he contracted during a visit to his home country.
Manager Harry Redknapp said: “It’s awful for the lad. He’s got malaria at the moment after picking it up while back home.
“He’s in a Chelsea hospital recovering. We wish the lad all the best.
“We have just got to wait for him to get better – and I really hope he does.”