City boss Paul Lambert this morning confirmed that the Canaries were poised to make a dramatic, eve-of-season transfer swoop for Liverpool’s 20-year-old Spanish defender Daniel Ayala.
Hull boss Nigel Pearson let the cat out of the bag yesterday as the Tigers withdrew from the chase; despite reportedly having an £850,000 bid accepted at the weekend.
This morning, however, as the Press gathered at Colney ahead of tomorrow’s big, Premier League return for the Canaries, Lambert not only confirmed City’s interest in the player, but suggested it was now merely down to personal terms and a medical.
That his eighth signing of the summer was not too far away at all.
“There’s things going on at the minute, but it’ll probably be next week before something happens,” said the City chief, the fact that he was unusually open to such a question suggesting transfer events were moving on a-pace behind the scenes.
“We’re more or less there – we’ll just see how today goes.”
Once again, the six-strong Glaswegian ‘mafia’ of the Premier League was working to Lambert’s advantage – as is his own, individual relationship with Celtic legend, Kenny Dalglish.
The Liverpool boss allowed another of his young Spanish starlets out to play in Norfolk last season in the shape of Spanish Under-21 star Dani Pacheco. Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford has already allowed Lambert to make full use of Ritchie de Laet.
Now Lambert has returned to Anfield for a second time; quizzing Dalglish about the availability and – presumeably – the suitability of Ayala for the task ahead.
Hull’s interest was “dead in the water”, according to Pearson, who had the player on loan at the KC Stadium for the first half of last season.
The second half and Ayala could be found at Derby County; just as de Laet was topping up his own footballing education at Portsmouth.
The Hull Daily Mail had Ayala signing for the Canaries ‘in the next 24 hours’.
“I think that’s dead in the water for us and we move on,” said Pearson. “We’re always on the look to improve the squad but whether we can do that will depend on a number of criteria.”
Ayala’s five appearances for Liverpool came in the 2009-10 season; signed as a trainee he is very much out of the same Pacheco thinking – in that he was spotted young by then Reds boss Rafael Benitez.
Installed in the club’s Reserves, the 6ft 2in centre-half needs to be playing games but at 20-years-old is probably not deemed ready for Dalglish’s forthcoming tilt at the title.
It is an interesting move. At 6ft 2in, Ayala offers genuine height and – in common with most continentals – will be more than comfortable on the ball.
The other point to bear in mind will be the on-going knee trouble afflicting Elliott Ward which – like James Vaughan – has ruled him out for the start of the season. With Zak Whitbread enjoying a fitful start to his Norwich career due to a wretched run with injuries and Leon Barnett only just back from his own injury woes, slamming another defensive body into the heart of his side makes sense.
And if Ayala comes with Kenny’s stamp of approval, it probably makes even more sense.
All of which almost came to over-shadow tomorrow’s return to the top flight.
Lambert was playing down any talk of a special ‘buzz’ around the training ground; everyone was firmly feet on the floor ahead of the Latics opener.
“Hopefully, the lads are motivated enough to go up there and give it a go,” said the City chief, confirming that both Andrew Crofts (ankle) and Russell Martin (calf) were fit and training again. Both will travel north this afternoon.
“And we’re hoping to go and win,” he added. “Whether that happens or not we’re going to have to wait and see.
“But I know it’s going to be really tough. It’s new for us; it’s new for the players, but we’ll give it a go.”