England’s foreign legions

Andrew Muchineripi English Premiership

The English Premiership grows more cosmopolitan by the day with league and cup holders Arsenal among the clubs who bolstered their “foreign legion” during the close season.

Defender Nelson Vivas was in the Argentine team that ended the World Cup dreams of England and arrived at Highbury from Swiss club Lugano in a comparatively modest R10,5-million deal.

He made his debut for the reserve team in a 4-0 midweek win over Colchester United and could face former giants Liverpool at Anfield on Saturday in the Premiership match of the week.

The most notable absentee from the Gunners will be striker Ian Wright, who moved to London rivals West Ham United for R7,5-million rather than face life on the bench admiring the skills of Dennis Bergkamp and Nicolas Anelka.

Manchester United ended last season empty-handed after finishing runners-up to Arsenal in the championship and losing to Barnsley and Ipswich Town respectively in the FA Cup and League Cup.

After rumours of the imminent arrival of World Cup stars Gabriel Batistuta and Ariel Ortega of Argentina and Patrick Kluivert of Holland proved false, the Red Devils had to settle for Jaap Stam and Jasper Blomqvist.

Not the hottest names, you will agree, and the jury is going to be out for some time on their worth, especially Stam, who did not impress for Holland during the World Cup nor against Leicester City in the opening round of the Premiership.

Stam cost R100-million, give or take a few rand, from Dutch club PSV Eindhoven, and Swede Blomqvist, who operates on the left side of midfield, R45-million from Italian side Parma.

A couple of extremely familiar faces at Old Trafford have left with defensive rock Gary Pallister rejoining Middlesbrough in a R25-million deal and midfielder Brian McClair moving to Scottish club Motherwell on a free transfer.

Working on the belief that two heads are better than one, Liverpool have partnered Frenchman Gerard Houllier with Roy Evans as co- managers. This bold move is bound to work well when the team is winning, but when it is losing .

Arrivals at Anfield include Durban-born Sean Dundee from German club Karlsruhe for R20-million and Norwegian Vegard Heggen from Norwegian outfit Rosenberg Trondheim for R15-million more.

Defender Neil Ruddock has moved to West Ham for R1-million (no more than loose change by Premiership standards) and midfielder Michael Thomas now lines out with leading Portuguese club Benfica.

The ultimate United Nations remains Chelsea, where foreigners outnumber Englishmen. Latest additions include French World Cup winner Marcel Desailly, Italian Paolo Casiraghi, Spaniard Albert Ferrer and Dane Brian Laudrup.

Expensively assembled Chelsea made a nightmare start to the season, losing 2- 1 at unfashionable Coventry City, who rely less on big-money signings and more on the fiery tongue of red-haired Scottish manager Gordon Strachan.

It is difficult to see the 1998-1999 Premiership champions coming from outside this quartet with Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers, Leeds United and Newcastle United pretenders rather than contenders.

Villa Park welcomed defender David Unsworth from West Ham and midfielder Alan Thompson from relegated Bolton Wanderers and in-demand striker Dwight Yorke is still there despite much wooing from Manchester United.

Blackburn broke the “big-boys” monopoly a few seasons ago due in no small measure to a great striker called Alan Shearer, who has since returned to his native north-east and Newcastle.

Manager Roy Hodgson is obviously hoping young Kevin Davies, a sensation at Southampton last season, can perform similar magic in a team that has lost captain Colin Hendry to Rangers and Stuart Ripley to Southampton.

Leeds, now led by Bafana Bafana captain Lucas Radebe, hardly needed a chequebook with Chelsea reserve Danny Granville the most expensive signing at R10-million while long-serving striker Rod Wallace has gone north to Rangers.

Ambitious Newcastle were nearer the bottom than the top last season and best known among a host of close-season signings is Stephane Guivarc’h, often the lone striker in the French World Cup-winning team.

Veteran Ian Rush, for so many seasons the king among scorers, has departed to Wrexham as player-coach and the Magpies 0-0 home draw with 10-man Charlton Athletic did not suggest a team with championship credentials.

Other major moves were Scot John Collins from Monaco to Everton for R25-million, Wim Jonk from PSV Eindhoven to Sheffield Wednesday for the same fee and Chilean World Cup defender Javier Margas to West Ham for R20-million.

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