Hleb 'close' to Barcelona deal

ALEXANDER HLEB'S representative yesterday claimed a deal to take the Arsenal player to Barcelona "is close".

Vincenzo Morabito told Spanish newspaper Marca that his client had been hoping for a move to Inter Milan, a transfer that he claims has been scuppered by the appointment of Jose Mourinho as coach of the Italian champions.

However, Morabito claims instead Hleb will now turn his attention to Barca.

"(A deal) is close. He has been a Barcelona target for some months," he was quoted as saying in Marca.

"I'm sorry that we won't be able to take him to Italy, he liked Inter a lot but obviously Mourinho has made some different choices and has gone for some other names."

Arsenal threatened to report Inter to FIFA in March after claiming an illegal approach was made for the Belarus international, who was also recently linked with a move to Spanish champions Real Madrid.

Last week reports in the Spanish media claimed Barcelona technical director Txiki Begiristain had travelled to Germany to hold talks with Hleb while he was on international duty.

Hleb's departure would be another blow for Arsenal after midfielder Mathieu Flamini left the Gunners to join AC Milan last month.

And there was further woe for Arsene Wenger yesterday after they have failed with a 9.5m (12m) bid for Cristian Zapata.

The Udinese starlet is one of the most highly-rated young defenders in Europe and he is being tipped to move on this summer.

Milan, Juventus, Internazionale and Fiorentina are all keen on the 21-year-old - but Wenger is also very much in the market to land the young central defender.

Arsenal are believed to have made their interest known with a deal just below 10m (12.6m) - but that is some way short of meeting Udinese's valuation.

Zapata has four years left on his contract at the Friuli and it is believed the club would only consider a deal starting at 15.8m (20m).

There was some good news for Wenger after French defender Bacary Sagna signed a new "long-term" deal at the club. The 25-year-old joined the Gunners from French club Auxerre last summer and enjoyed an impressive first season at right-back, being named in the PFA Team of the Year.

Sagna, who has two caps for France, made 40 appearances in 2007/08 before his season was cut short by an ankle injury.

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