United start planning for return to top flight

CHRIS Hughton feels Newcastle United’s springtime promotion will allow them to steal a march on their Premier League rivals.

Chris Hughton

CHRIS Hughton feels Newcastle United’s springtime promotion will allow them to steal a march on their Premier League rivals.

While a clutch of clubs in the Championship and Premier League focus on securing a top-flight place for next season between now and the start of May, United can begin to plan their summer reinforcement drive in earnest.

Hughton, who denied an interest in Sunderland’s on-loan full-back Alan Hutton, will hold talks with Mike Ashley and Derek Llambias over the next ten days to discuss potential targets and the best way to utilise the club’s £25m summer transfer fund.

Spurs midfielder Jamie O’Hara is one name on Newcastle’s hit-list, but the club also plan to look to Europe and the World Cup for new players to strengthen next season’s tilt at the top flight.

Hughton was at pains to point out clinching the title is the number one priority, but admitted detailed planning for life in the Premier League has now begun. He said: “The fact we now know which division we are going to be in does give us a big head start.

“We are fresh off the back of having gained promotion, but what getting promotion early does do is to give us more time.

“I would expect to sit down with Mike (Ashley) and Derek (Llambias) at some stage soon.

“The focus is on winning this next group of games and winning the title, but it does give us the chance to sit down and plan for next season before some others.

“It gives us a chance to avoid the uncertainty we had last summer.

“The only conversation I have had with Mike and Derek so far has been about the good feeling and congratulations we have gained promotion.

“What will happen over a period of time is that I will sit down with Mike – and perhaps more so with Derek – and plan for the forthcoming season.”

Hughton’s phone has been red hot since clinching promotion but, as well as congratulations from the likes of former United boss Alan Shearer, he has also been fielding plenty of calls from agents trying to move their players on to Newcastle.

The United boss anticipates plenty more of that before next season starts.

He added: “Yes, the agents have started to call me already, but then that is their job.

“The first possible chance they will see to push players on you and make you aware their players are available is when you get promotion.

“So yes, the agents have been on already – I would expect that to be

the case for some time now.” As well as bringing players in, Hughton must decide whether to dispense of any of the men who have worked so tirelessly to end the club’s Premier League exile.

While the Newcastle chief does not have many key men out of contract at the end of the season, there is a decision to be made on Nicky Butt’s future.

The experienced midfielder is a free agent in the summer and has repeatedly spoken of his desire to embark on a coaching career, something which may affect his thinking when he sits down with the United boss over the next few weeks.

Hughton insists a decision has not been made on Butt’s future as he paid a generous tribute to the role his senior man has had in turning things around this term.

He said: “We have not spoken to Nicky, but we will be dealing with that.

“Nicky has been a real big player for us, irrespective of how he has played, in and around the changing room, whether starting or on the bench.

“He would have preferred a bigger part, I am sure, but he has been magnificent all season.”

LUKA Modric has insisted Tottenham will not underestimate the challenge of facing Portsmouth at Wembley in the second semi-final on Sunday.

Portsmouth have been beset by financial problems and currently lie bottom of the Premier League.

However, Modric is keen for his team-mates not to take their opponents lightly.

The Croatian said: “This is a very big game for us.

“If we win, we are in the FA Cup final and that is what we want. That would be great for everyone at the club.

“However, it is not the case that we will just beat Portsmouth.

“We have to concentrate and play our best football to go through.

“We cannot relax on the pitch and think we will win anyway, that is not the way we need to think about this game.”

Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp was delighted to see winger Aaron Lennon return to training on Tuesday following a groin injury which has kept him out since the turn of the year.

Redknapp said: “It was great to see him out training but we have to take our time.

“It is important he does not break down and have another setback.

“We will see how he goes this week, the physios will monitor his progress and they will let us know when he is ready to come back. He is getting closer.”

Portsmouth have also received good news as Nadir Belhadj, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Papa Bouba Diop are all back in training.

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer