| Rustu Recber: Most wanted
Arsene Wenger has seized the initiative from Sir Alex Ferguson in the race to sign Turkey’s highly rated goalkeeper Rustu Recber, who is viewed by Ferguson as a potential long-term replacement at Manchester United for the unsettled Fabien Barthez.
Wenger, the Arsenal manager, took the opportunity of Turkey’s visit to England for this month’s Euro 2004 qualifier to personally court the goalkeeper who will leave Fenerbahce this summer on a Bosman free transfer.
Until recently, the main obstacle in luring Rustu, who will be 30 in May, to the Premiership had been the opposition of his wife, Isil, to leaving mainland Europe.
Arsenal staff were assigned to meet her when she came to England to watch her husband play and I understand that while Rustu stayed with his team-mates in Gosforth, Newcastle, to prepare for the game at Sunderland, Isil was shown at least three homes in the north London area.
Negotiations between Wenger and Rustu have reached an advanced stage.
The goalkeeper’s Turkish agent is Saffet Sancajli, but any deal with Arsenal would also involve Pini Zahavi, an Israeli valued for his connections in England and whose best known client is Rio Ferdinand.
Another factor in persuading Isil to move to England was the influence of Etkin Kerimoglu — wife of Blackburn’s Turkish international Tugay — with whom she stayed while in England.
Wenger said on Sunday that David Seaman would stay on at Arsenal next season “in some capacity”, which suggested that despite the 39-year-old’s FA Cup heroics against Sheffield United, his manager wants a long-term replacement.
Losing out on Rustu would be a blow to Ferguson, who has already gone into direct competition this season with Wenger — and lost — over the signature of Swiss teenage defender Philippe Senderos, who chose Arsenal despite a personal invitation from the United manager to watch a game at Old Trafford.
Barthez will undergo a further fitness test Tuesday to assess whether a badly stubbed toe, sustained when Newcastle scored their second goal in Saturday’s Premiership match, is likely to rule him out of the clash with Arsenal at Highbury tomorrow.
The France international has refused to confirm whether he will be at Old Trafford next season.
The American goalkeeper Tim Howard, 24, who plays for the Major League Soccer side New York Metro Stars, confirmed Monday that he had been approached by United. He would cost around £ 3 million.
“I’ve spoken with people at Manchester United, though I'm not at liberty to say who,” Howard said.