English Championship

Foxes to bag Baptiste in Jan

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Fri, 28 Dec 2012 21:04:00

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger believes Theo Walcott can follow in the footsteps of Thierry Henry by converting himself from a winger into a prolific striker.

Wenger has granted Walcott's request to play in a central role in recent weeks and this switch has served the Gunners well with the 23-year-old scoring twice in the 5-2 victory over Reading, and he then won the penalty in last weekend's win over Wigan.

The Arsenal boss had been reluctant to select Walcott as a striker, but he believes the England man can flourish in his preferred spot and has revealed he is taking tips from the club's record scorer Henry, who is training with the squad.

"Thierry gives him advice, which is always important and Theo is a very intelligent boy," said Wenger.

"He understands very quickly when you tell him something and that's why I think he can do very well in this position.

"I like what I have seen of Theo through the middle.

"It's an interesting challenge (for him). I think he can take it on. He is now 23. I decided to play Thierry Henry at 23 through the middle because you have to learn a lot before."

Wenger remains hopeful that Walcott will sign a new deal and denied suggestions that this positional change would help persuade him to stay at the Emirates.

"No I don't think (playing him as a striker will impact on negotiations)," he said.

"I want him to stay and I want him to extend his contract and I have always been consistent on that.

"Yes (talks are ongoing) and yes (I remain optimistic he will sign)."

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Interim Blues manager Benitez has been linked previously with a return to Anfield and will be a free agent again at the end of the season.

Sunday sees Benitez take a team to Merseyside for the first time since he was sacked by Liverpool two-and-a-half years ago when Chelsea visit Everton in the Premier League.

And asked if he could see himself returning to manage his former club one day, he said: "At the moment, I'm really pleased here.

"I want to keep winning and you never know what can happen in football.

"I have a very good relationship with the fans and the city but I'm a good professional and that means I will give 100% for this club."

Benitez's work ethic has helped him begin to rebuild his reputation as one of the most astute coaches around, the Spaniard having got Chelsea's campaign back on track in recent weeks.

However, his latest comments are unlikely to aid him in his quest to win over Chelsea fans who still see him as the enemy due to his Liverpool connections.

He added ahead of Sunday's game at Goodison Park: "It is always something special when you go back to Liverpool.

"My connection with the city is very strong."

Those links continue, with Benitez's family home still on the Wirral near the city after he decided against relocating them when he joined Inter Milan or when he was appointed to the Chelsea hotseat.

He said: "When you have children, 10 and 14, they have their friends around and have been there for eight years so it is difficult to move the family and you have to do something for them.

"I have to move around on my own and then find a way to be there for Christmas dinner or whatever."

Liverpool have nosedived since sacking Benitez and are on their third manager in that time.

To compound matters, they have also been supplanted as the top team on Merseyside by Everton, who finished above them last season and ended the first half of the current campaign eight points clear of their neighbours.

However, Benitez was almost at pains to avoid discussing whether there had been a power shift in favour of David Moyes' men.

He said: "I cannot say this. What I can say is that Everton are doing well.

"I don't think it is fair for me to talk about one or the other one. I think it is fair for me to say that we are playing Everton and they are doing well.

"Moyes is doing a great job, they have good players and a good team spirit and it will be difficult for us."

Rice made more than 400 appearances for Arsenal, helping the club win their first league and FA Cup double in 1970-71, while he also won 49 caps for Northern Ireland.

Following his retirement from playing after a spell at Watford in 1984, Rice became a coach with the Gunners and then assistant to Wenger when he was appointed manager in 1996.

Rice, 63, played a part in two more doubles and the unbeaten league season of 2003-04 before announcing his retirement at the end of last season 48 years after first joining Arsenal.

Wenger said: "I am absolutely delighted because if someone deserves it, it's Pat Rice.

"He had 100 per cent genuine commitment every day and you respect that when you see that from somebody, and he is someone you could go to war with. You would love to be in the trenches with Pat and those are very difficult qualities to find in modern society.''

Rice greeted the news with shock and joy, saying: "I'm delighted and honoured to be receiving an MBE. The news of the award came as a complete surprise and I'm just so flattered to be included in the Queen's New Year's Honours List.

"Football and Arsenal have been my life and I have so many fantastic memories during my career. I have been lucky to have played and worked with so many great individuals, and through hard work I have enjoyed some success along the way.

"I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has helped me throughout my career, and importantly, a special thank you to all my family, who have always been there for me and supported me throughout my career."

Sports honours were dominated by athletes, coaches and administrators involved in the London Olympic and Paralympic Games, but St George's Park chairman David Sheepshanks led the way among other sporting figures, receiving a CBE for services to football.

He oversaw the building of the National Football Centre near Burton-upon-Trent, which opened in October, while he was chairman of Ipswich for 13 years from 1995 to 2008.

Sheepshanks, who is also honoured for charitable services in Suffolk, was appointed chairman of the Football League in 1997 and has been involved with the Football Association, UEFA and FIFA.

Former England cricket captain and Kent president Mike Denness is awarded an OBE for services to sport 37-and-a half-years after his last Test match.

The 72-year-old, the only Scotsman to captain England, played 28 Test matches, scoring four centuries, and led his country on 19 occasions.

Denness, who later became an International Cricket Council match referee, was named president of the county for which he played for 14 years last December.

Among those to receive MBEs are two more recent England cricketers, Mark Ramprakash and Robert Croft.

Both men retired this summer after long careers in county cricket, with Croft playing for Glamorgan for 23 seasons and Ramprakash representing Middlesex and Surrey.

"This honour eclipses anything I have done in my career," Ramprakash said.

David Collier, the chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board, welcomed the honours for the trio.

He said: "The award to Mike Denness is fitting recognition for a long and distinguished career in cricket which has seen him fulfil a variety of key roles.

"Mark Ramprakash was among the most supremely gifted batsmen of his generation and can be justifiably proud of being one of an elite band of cricketers who have scored 100 first-class hundreds.

"Very few cricketers achieve the feat of scoring more than 10,000 first-class runs and taking more than 1,000 first-class wickets as Robert Croft did for Glamorgan during a 23-year career. His honour is richly deserved."

Also awarded OBEs are Catherine Caithness, president of the World Curling Federation, and John Sanderson for services to the horseracing industry.

The same honour goes to Amanda Reddin, the head national coach for British Gymnastics and personal coach to Beth Tweddle, Britain's most successful female gymnast.

Former Wales and Lions wing JJ Williams receives an MBE for services to rugby and charitable services in Wales.

The 64-year-old won 30 caps for his country between 1973 and 1979 and was selected for the iconic Lions tours in 1974 and 1977, playing in seven Tests.

Former St Helens and Great Britain star Paul Sculthorpe is recognised for his rugby league career and charity work while Colin Appleyard and Elizabeth Littler are also awarded MBEs for services to motorcycle sport and ice skating respectively.

Former Great Britain hockey player Tina Cullen receives the same award as does Andrew Thomson for services to bowls and James Gundill for services to horseracing.

Finally, Andrew Gairdner is also awarded an MBE following his retirement this summer as voluntary chief steward at Wimbledon after 34 years working at the All England Club.

Moyes kickstarted an outstanding 2012 for the club by bringing in Nikica Jelavic, Darron Gibson and Steven Pienaar during the corresponding window last season.

But that was a rare opportunity for Moyes to spend after being constrained by tight budgets in previous years and the situation is likely to revert to the recent norm this time.

Moyes told BBC Radio Five Live: "Last year we sold (Diniyar) Bilyaletdinov for ?5.5million back to Russia and that gave us the opportunity to go and buy.

"We brought in Steven Pienaar on loan from Spurs, we bought Jelavic from Rangers for ?5million and Darron Gibson from Man Utd for ?500,000.

"We spent the money we got in - that is the way we have tended to work.

"My intention is not to sell anyone this January.

"Because of that what I'll be hoping to do is pick up a couple of loan players or maybe a 'Bosman' if there is anything out there, although at this time of year you rarely get anything of the right quality.

"Normally buying at this time doesn't work, albeit it did for us last year."

One player who could be coming onto the loan market in January, according to reports, is Barcelona and Spain striker David Villa.

When this was mentioned to Moyes, the Scot said: "Yes, I saw that mentioned and I agree.

"If he was loanable and he wanted to join Everton, we'd be more than happy to have him."

The Foxes have had an offer of ?1million accepted by Blackpool for the 26-year-old defender, who has been a regular first-team pick this season.

Baptiste moved to Bloomfield Road in 2008 following a stint at Mansfield, where he started his career.

Leicester manager Nigel Pearson has already confirmed he plans to strengthen his squad next month, having also agreed a deal in principle for West Brom striker Chris Wood to join for an undisclosed fee.

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