Spurs rebuff interest in Berbatov

Premier League clubs are waiting for Tuesday’s opening of the month-long January transfer window, some seeking to tweak their squad as they press for the title and others hoping to add players in the fight to stay in England’s most lucrative competition.

Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool have all been linked with players as they try to overtake Arsenal at the top of the standings, while Sunderland and Fulham are among those in the market for new talent in a desperate attempt to avoid relegation.

United have leading Premier League scorer Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez and Louis Saha vying for places in attack, but are still being linked with Tottenham strikers Dimitar Berbatov and Jermain Defoe.

Tottenham have been expected to dabble in the market after a poor start to the season that led to them switching coaches, but speculation has now switched to whether they will be selling.

Berbatov hit four goals in Saturday’s 6-4 win over Reading and his agent has been quoted by Monday’s British dailies as saying the player wants to leave.

”Dimitar wants to fulfil his potential and win trophies now,” Emil Dantchev was quoted as saying by papers. ”Fans must understand Dimitar is 27 next month and time is running out for him to play for a club that can match his ambition.”

United have long been interested in the Bulgaria striker, whose unpredictability, skill and awareness have brought plaudits and 34 goals in less than 18 months with Tottenham, while Bayern Munich and AC Milan are also possible destinations.

The last time United wanted Tottenham’s top player, they had to pay £18-million for midfielder Michael Carrick in 2006. With Berbatov a more glamorous signing, it is clear any suitor would have to pay more to come up with what Dantchev called ”an offer that suits his current club”.

Berbatov’s teammate, Robbie Keane, leads Premier League scoring for the full year with 19 goals — one more than Ronaldo — so the Bulgaria striker’s departure would probably not be disastrous for Spurs.

It would, however, indicate that the club’s ambitions of breaking into the top four are as far from being realised as ever.

London’s Evening Standard reported that United could offer defender Wes Brown and £10-million for Defoe, who has started just one Premier League match this season but still scored three goals.

The England striker is out of contract at the end of next season, but chairperson Daniel Levy has denied that Spurs may be tempted to sell while they can still get a big fee for him.

”We are not a selling club, rather we are building for the future,” Levy said. ”When we have players on long contracts, we have no need to entertain offers.”

Spurs coach Juande Ramos is searching for at least one central defender to bolster a back line that has let in more goals at home than any other Premier League side.

He also needs a left winger and maybe a central midfielder, but may have to wait until the off-season to get them.

”We are all clear that the January window is the worst time to buy quality players so we shall not be doing any business that is not essential,” Levy said.

Seeking cover

Chelsea are seeking cover for the injured John Terry and Frank Lampard, and may also try to strengthen their squad because they are set to lose key players Didier Drogba, John Obi Mikel and Michael Essien during the January 20 to February 10 African Cup of Nations.

The Blues are among several clubs linked with a move for Bolton striker Nicolas Anelka, who has hit 10 of the struggling club’s 22 goals this season and could also end up at United or Manchester City.

Liverpool are 10 points behind Arsenal after Sunday’s 0-0 draw at City and could also dip into the market to revive their foundering challenge.

”We will bring the things we need,” Benitez said. ”Maybe one, maybe two.”

The problem for top clubs is that, as always, rivals are unwilling to sell in mid-season and the elite players will be unable to play in the Champions League because they have already appeared in the competition for their current side.

That is why Berbatov and Defoe would be attractive signings, and maybe one reason why Chelsea decided against registering midfielder Michael Ballack for the first stage of the Champions League.

Things are more likely to be busy at the other end of the table, with clubs hoping to emulate Portsmouth’s dramatic success of 2006.

Pompey were languishing in the relegation zone but brought in Pedro Mendes, Sean Davis and Noe Pamarot from Tottenham and immediately improved, even flourishing.

Reading have already turned down an offer of £2,5-million from Sunderland for midfielder Stephen Hunt, with Sunderland also linked with a move for tenacious Blackburn midfielder Robbie Savage.

Bolton have agreed to sign 23-year-old Israel midfielder Tamir Cohen from Maccabi Netanya, while new Fulham manager Roy Hodgson is likely to want additions to his struggling squad.

Derby could find it tough to keep their better players, such as Giles Barnes, because they are seemingly destined for relegation. — Sapa-AP

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