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FOOTBALL: Scharner snub irks Bruce.

Byline: By Ian Clarkson

Steve Bruce still hadn't started his Christmas shopping as of yesterday afternoon but it is unlikely that any presents he gives or receives tomorrow will compensate him for the loss of Paul Scharner.

As Bruce prepares his troops for two testing matchhes at Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea over the festive period, with a home fixture against Manchester United in between, he has to contend with the loss of his prime target after being usurped by Wigan Athletic.

Coincidentally, Birmingham entertain Wigan on January 2 and, while Scharner will not be eligible to play until their FA Cup tie five days later, his presence at St Andrew's will rub salt into Bruce's wounds.

The 25-year-old Austrian international had been pursued relentlessly by Bruce since pre-season. After an initial bid was rejected, it looked as though Scharner would be procured when the transfer window opens next month.

However, while Birmingham continued to haggle over the fee, Wigan crept in though the back door and snared Scharner for pounds 2 million from Norwegian outfit Brann Bergen with minimal fuss.

Birmingham proceeded to match the fee, which bodes well for Bruce's transfer kitty when, but Scharner was resolute in his determination to join Wigan, much to the chagrin of Bruce who said: "Scharner was the sort of player who could give the club a lift"I am feeling both anger and frustration as he was my No 1 target. He is a real inspirational type of character and I am sure he will do well for Wigan.

"I am hugely disappointed that he chose Wigan, but so be it. It is the biggest kick we have had. We made a bid around eight weeks ago and, unfortunately, Wigan stole a march on us and agreed a fee.

"We then agreed the same fee but, by that time, the player had decided he was going to go to Wigan.

"The player had made his mind up. I didn't get a chance to speak to him."

While it is a bitter pill for Bruce to swallow, he is adamant that self-flagellation is not an option. As a young manager learning his trade, he would have taken the snub personally but he has already shrugged off the disappointment and is looking for his next targets.

"The disappointment is that we have chased him and worked extremely hard on it for the best part of five months," Bruce said. "He was my No 1 target but he has gone elsewhere so we will have to see what else is available.

"I would have beaten myself up over it six or eight years ago when I first started in management, but it won't be the last rejection we get. You have to say fair play to Wigan, as they got the player over and signed him. They are in the semi-final of the Carling Cup, flying high in the league with a chance of going into Europe.

"If we had matched the fee, that would mean there are funds available but we will know more when we get to January.

"However, what I am not going to do is bring in players for the sake of it. We need to freshen it up a bit but they have to be better than what we've got."

Just what funds will be available to Bruce next month are as yet unknown, but he is set to sizably increase his coffers with the sale of Walter Pandiani. 'El Rifle' has had a dismal season thus far and has looked a pale shadow of the player who shone like a beacon on his arrival nearly 12 months ago His goal return at the end of last season convinced Bruce to spend pounds 3 million on him in the summer but Pandiani has scored only a single goal this campaign.

Bruce might have found a solution to the problem that will suit all parties as the club have received a bid from Real Mallorca for the Uruguayan international. The likelihood is that Bruce will allow Pandiani to return to Spain and will utilise the proceeds on a different striker.

He said: "We have had two or three enquiries so far and, with Walter not being in the team, there is going to be speculation. We have received an offer from Real Mallorca and it is one that we are looking at, but no decision is going to be made yet.

"You don't want to be losing a player, but I am mindful of the fact I might have to generate a bit of cash myself and might have to do some wheeling and dealing," said Bruce, who chuckled when described as a Geordie 'Del boy'.

"We will look at every possibility and there are some big decisions to be made. This has surfaced in the last four or five days and we will address it if and when. The transfer window is a week away yet and we have three important games in between.

Bruce said that he still held Pandiani in high regard, adding: "He did excellently for us in the final 12 games last year. I like his personality, I like him as a lad and he is a good footballer.

"We hoped that he would get even better this season, but these things happen in football. He has never said to me that he is unhappy and wants to leave
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Dec 24, 2005
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