NEWCASTLE United are considering a St James’ Park return for former defender Andrew O’Brien.
Chris Hughton is hoping to make a transfer breakthrough before Newcastle’s players return for pre-season training on July 5 and although their transfer blueprint is to bring in young players under the age of 25, he is not completely ruling out moves for more experienced players.
As with O’Brien’s Reebok Stadium colleague Jlloyd Samuel, the interest is no more than tentative at the moment and he is on a long list of players being considered by Hughton.
There has been no formal bid and Bolton manager Owen Coyle was at pains to stress yesterday that there had been no contact from his Newcastle counterpart regarding O’Brien (pictured right).
But Hughton admitted yesterday morning that he has enquired about several Bolton players – and The Journal understands O’Brien and Samuel are two of them he would take if their valuation fit into United’s tight transfer budget. Danny Shittu, who was part of the Nigeria squad knocked out of the World Cup on Tuesday, is another player being mentioned.
O’Brien has another year left on his deal and would happily stay and fight it out for a first-team place at Bolton. But if Wanderers were happy to let him leave for a minimal fee, or even pay up his deal, the Harrogate-born defender would welcome a return to St James’ Park.
Although Hughton is confident that sticking with the majority of his United side will ensure they stave off relegation, he knows that a few careful additions are required. Priorities are understood to be adding cover at right and left-back, a centre-back and bringing in a striker.
United already have Mike Williamson, Steven Taylor and Fabricio Coloccini but there is a space left in the squad by the departure of Fitz Hall, who was signed on loan in January. With the club remaining cagey on their transfer business it is unclear exactly how far they have progressed but Hughton confirmed yesterday that there have been a number of enquiries made.
His Bolton counterpart Coyle, however, said he was yet to hear from the United boss – although he would be prepared to listen to any offer from St James’ Park.
“I’ve not spoken to Chris Hughton on a football level and to the best of my knowledge neither has (chairman) Phil Gartside,” he said. “I don’t know whether this has come from agents. I dare say Chris has got a plan or something in mind but that certainly hasn’t reached me yet.” Meanwhile, Hughton has moved to scotch rumours linking Steve Harper with a move to Celtic.
The Glasgow giants would be keen on taking Harper to Parkhead but it is an unrealistic aim. Not only would they struggle to match his wages but they will also find Newcastle unwilling to sell one of their key men.
“I can categorically state that there is nothing in that,” he said.
“We just won’t sell him. He’s our number one goalkeeper, he had a great season for us and he’s a very important member of our squad.”
Hughton also rubbished unlikely reports that Newcastle were preparing a bid for Algeria goalkeeper Rais Mbolhi, whose club Slavia Sofia are desperately trying to drum up interest in their stopper.
“I actually had a text message from someone about that player, asking if I would be interested and that is as far as that has gone,” the United boss said.
“I wasn’t even aware of him or his name, so it’s surprising to hear those reports. We are definitely not interested.”
ARGENTINA coach Diego Maradona has expressed his admiration for new Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho but insists he would never be tempted to copy the Portuguese’s defensive tactics.
Maradona and former Chelsea and Inter Milan boss Mourinho share similar character traits: the obvious one being they are both mavericks who enjoy stealing the limelight at every opportunity.
However, their coaching ideals are some way apart. The Argentinian allows his players to play with freedom and express themselves, Mourinho likes his teams to be organised and efficient rather than attractive.
“I like Mourinho a lot [as a coach],” said Maradona, whose idiosyncratic tendencies include utilising Newcastle winger Jonas Gutierrez at right-back. “On top of that, the way he received me, we spent hours talking about football, attacking and defensive tactics.
“He seemed to me a guy to take to your bedside table and ask him each time you need something.
“I’ve got his phone number, I might call him.”
But the admiration will not progress to duplication as Maradona revealed he would not be adopting the safety-first game plan which saw 10-man Inter overcome Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final.
“No, not that,” Maradona added.
“But it worked for him, right? He won the Champions League.”
Maradona also talked up two of his major stars ahead of Sunday’s last-16 meeting with Mexico.
He said no player had come with 30% of the form of Lionel Messi, 23 yesterday, in the tournament so far.
The Argentina coach also talked up Manchester City striker Carlos Tevez.
“I don’t know if people will say I’m arrogant but none was 30% of Tevez either because Carlitos thrills you.”