Harry can afford City's biggest assets

PUBLISHED: 12:18 11 January 2006 | UPDATED: 09:07 14 September 2010

Pat Murphy of BBC Radio Five Live fame sat behind me in the Press box on Saturday. Just out of earshot, I can only report what others have since told me - that his reports from Carrow Road this weekend were dominated by one subject and one subject only, the whereabouts of Dean Ashton.

Championship Chat with Rick Waghorn

Pat Murphy of BBC Radio Five Live fame sat behind me in the Press box on Saturday. Just out of earshot, I can only report what others have since told me - that his reports from Carrow Road this weekend were dominated by one subject and one subject only, the whereabouts of Dean Ashton.

The fact that, somewhere in the background, there was an FA Cup third round tie going on was almost an irrelevance. The big news was Ashton and reports of his £7 million move to Portsmouth. Or his arrival in Manchester. Or Glasgow.

Wander 40 miles down the road and there was another FA Cup tie being played at Portman Road. Once again, the game was playing second fiddle to the bigger “story” - the arrival of Pompey's mysterious new co-owner and the wealth of new faces suddenly heading for the South Coast as Harry Redknapp found himself in wheeler-dealer heaven with wads of someone else's cash to splash.

On Ashton, apparently. Certainly that was the view of Sky Sports and at least one Portsmouth radio reporter - that a £7 million fee between the two clubs had been agreed and that a Press conference at five o'clock at Carrow Road was about to officially reveal “Dean Ashton's future . . .”

Not that any blame should be laid at the door of the affable Mr Murphy. He was merely reflecting what the rest of the Press box, not to mention 23,000-odd Canary fans at the ground and the thousands more tuned to their radios at home, were thinking - that we were now locked into an Ashton end game in which his non-appearance was merely the forerunner to a big-money exit, with Portsmouth's sudden injection of cash making Fratton Park the most likely destination.

Even Robert Green's frightening departure 10 minutes from the end failed to budge the perception that Ashton was Saturday's “story”. Even then, the plight of the Canary goalkeeper had a transfer window sub-plot with both Charlton and Portsmouth believed to be in the market for a new 'keeper after both missed out on Southampton star Antti Niemi, who opted instead to join Chris Coleman's Fulham.

What makes the whole Pompey angle all the more fascinating is the way in which the whole Ashton transfer saga has found the Canaries sailing pretty close to some fairly uncharted waters - in particular, the way that, at the levels of interest and money we're now talking, they cross the thoughts of some serious, serious people.

By all accounts, Ashton's agent remains the same one who took him to Norwich in the first place - his uncle. Equally, I suspect that being a decent lad, Ashton will be trusting the opinions of the same people as always. But given the number of noughts that would accompany any potential, say, £7 million sale, it is the very nature of the modern football beast that one or two ears will be pricked and one or two eyebrows raised by people for whom Carl Robinson's potential move from Sunderland to Norwich would not even register on the radar.

Take Pini Zahavi, for example. If you thought the likes of Darren Huckerby's agent, Phil Smith, and Damien Francis' man, Tony Finnigan, were cute, Zahavi is in another league altogether. Routinely described as a “super-agent” to mark him out from the rank-and-file members of his trade, Zahavi's client list is pure platinum - everyone from Rio Ferdinand to England boss Sven-Goran Eriksson has Zahavi in his corner.

Nor are we talking only about individuals. It seems the Israeli is more than happy to lend his services to clubs, too - hence his appearance at the infamous Ashley Cole meeting in a plush London hotel where, it appears, Zahavi was acting on Chelsea's behalf alongside their chief executive, Peter Kenyon.

It was, so it is said, Zahivi who introduced Milan Mandaric to Sacha Gaydamak - Pompey's new 30-year-old co-owner and the one said to be bankrolling Redknapp's trip to the January sales. As opposed, of course, to his Russian billionaire father, Arkady Gaydamak, who is currently wanted by the French police in connection with a $463 million arms deal with Angola.

In the meantime - aside from answering further questions regarding claims of money laundering - Gaydamak snr is currently the owner of his own football team, Betar Jerusalem, in Israel.

Not that Zahivi and Redknapp are unknown to each other. As one of the principal string-pullers in, oh, Israeli football, Zahivi is the agent for Yakubu Ayegbeni and presumably helped Redknapp snap up the bustling forward's services when he first left Maccabi Haifi for Fratton Park, before being sold to Middlesbrough for £7.5 million last year. According to The Times, he also represents Emmanuel Olisadebe, who was the first of Redknapp's new arrivals and, but for some sticky Greek red tape, would have made his Pompey debut at Portman Road.

Instead, he will make his Pompey debut against Everton alongside record £4 million signing Benjani Mwaruwari - fresh from signing a four-year contract with the French club, Auxerre, all of four months ago.

Not that Gaydamak jnr is intent on stopping there. According to the Portsmouth News, Pompey are in talks with Aston Villa over a £1.5 million deal for Lee Hendrie, in talks with Newcastle over Lee Bowyer and a potential £1 million switch and in talks with Spurs over Sean Davis, Noe Pamarot and Pedro Mendes. Talks have also begun over the £6.5 million-rated Porto striker Benni McCarthy, as well as a possible £2.5 million bid for Chelsea 'keeper Carlo Cudicini.

Given the kind of cash that underpins all of the above, it is quite within Redknapp's capability to find the cash for both Ashton and Green and, if Zahivi is still anywhere to be seen, he has arguably the game's number one deal-maker at his disposal.

But there is a bigger point to all of this. Simply putting Dean Ashton, Norwich City and Portsmouth's new co-owner Sacha Gaydamak in the same sentence sets the Canaries apart from at least two of their Championship rivals.

Not Crystal Palace, for whom the words Andrew Johnson and West Ham United have already appeared this month. Nor Southampton, for whom young Theo Walcott provides the Ashton and Johnson link.

The answer is, of course, runaway leaders Reading and Sheffield United, whose smooth progress towards the Premiership will be unhindered by any such talk of big money moves and Russian billionaires. Both are blissfully short of individuals with the pulling power of Ashton, Johnson or Walcott.

And, as Saturday's events underlined, for those clubs “blessed” with Premiership-style players, the opening of the January transfer window - and all the behind-the-scenes baggage that has undoubtedly gone on beforehand - is a total distraction.

Indeed, you can't help feeling that, for Championship teams, the last thing any of them really needs is Premiership players.

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