CELESTINE Babayaro is set to play alongside David Beckham next season after agreeing to join Los Angeles Galaxy. The former Newcastle United left-back is on the verge of signing a three-year contract with the Major League Soccer club after being released by the Magpies late last year.
As well as Beckham, the injury-prone 29-year-old will link up with his old manager Ruud Gullit, and with former Middlesbrough defender Abel Xavier.
The Nigerian’s St James’s Park contract was cancelled by mutual consent last month after it became clear he was not part of Sam Allardyce’s plans.
Babayaro joined Newcastle in the January 2005 transfer window. It was to prove a bad month for buying defenders, with £8.5m Jean-Alain Boumsong brought to the club by Graeme Souness at the same time.
At £1m, Babayaro was considerably cheaper, but few on Tyneside will argue United got value for money. Whereas calamitous mistakes marked Boumsong’s ill-fated spell, Babayaro’s was characterised by frequent absences through injury.
That led many to question the commitment of the former Chelsea player, who appeared to show more fondness for the Newcastle nightlife than for representing the city’s football team.
His record of only 45 Premier League starts during a three-year period in which for the majority of the time he was United’s first-choice left-back was frustrating enough.
But it was the fact he suffered a catalogue of relatively minor injuries from which he almost always made a slower than expected recovery which annoyed most of the club’s supporters.
Although Gullit never managed Babayaro at St James’s Park, the Dutchman first brought him to English football. Babayaro joined Chelsea from Anderlecht for £2.25m in April 1997 but lost his place when Wayne Bridge was signed from Southampton.
It is understood the 29-year-old had offers from clubs in the Turkish league but decided instead to join the growing number of former Premier League stars plying their trade in MLS. The former Sunderland pair of Daniele Dichio and Carl Robinson are both at Toronto FC, where ex-Black Cat Andy Welsh was playing before joining Blackpool.
Meanwhile, Newcastle top scorer Obafemi Martins has backed the appointment of Kevin Keegan as manager.
Life under Allardyce was not without its frustrations for the former Inter Milan striker, who was regularly played out of position on the wings. Nevertheless, he felt the former Bolton Wanderers manager was harshly treated in being dismissed halfway through his first season in charge.
Martins has been out of the country during the last remarkable fortnight as he has been preparing for the African Cup of Nations, where he is representing Nigeria.
“The Allardyce sacking surprised me because I did not think that we were in a critical situation, but the decision was influenced by a string of bad results,” he said. “And when that happens, it is the manager who pays for it with his job.”
Martins endured a miserable first day of the tournament. The Super Eagles lost 1-0 to Group B rivals Ivory Coast in a match which saw the 23-year-old substituted – but not before being booked. The striker has little knowledge of Keegan but understands the respect he commands in Newcastle.
“Keegan is a symbol in Newcastle,” he said. “I do not know him as a coach, although people in Newcastle have always spoken very highly of him.
“He knows the Premier League well, so I think he is the right man for the job.
“I have heard about the option of (Alan) Shearer returning, but the players do not have a say on this. It is up to the board – I just want what is best for the club.
“I believe Newcastle have the players to fight for a place in the Uefa Cup and not worry about relegation.”
Keegan is a symbol in Newcastle ... He knows the Premier League well, so I think he is the right man for the job