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Football: GOALS ARE ON THE MENU FOR HOT PAN; WALTER Pandiani is settling into life in Brum after his summer transfer saga and tells the Sunday Mercury about his upheaval, his new truck and his Spanish fan club Driving force Walter set to keep on trucking for Blues.

Byline: EXCLUSIVE By BEN MOTTRAM

WALTER Pandiani is ready to bury his long-running summer transfer saga by serving up goals at St Andrew's - so his restaurant in Spain can throw another Blues party!

Pandiani's on-off move from Deportivo La Coruna was dubbed the 'longest running transfer in history' by boss Steve Bruce.

The Uruguay striker was a huge hit with Blues fans during a loan spell last season but his 'dream move' to England nearly turned sour after months of haggling.

The proposed transfer even put Michael Owen's switch in the shade as Blues found it difficult to do business with Depor president Augusto Cesar Lendoiro A fee of four million euros - about pounds 2.8 million - was eventually settled upon and 'The Rifle' - as Pandiani is known - is now desperate to prove his worth by firing in the goals.

And he revealed that means a little corner of Spain will be celebrating with his restaurant called Fuente Las Pajaritas in La Coruna tuning in to back Blues.

"It was very difficult to sort out my future, the president at Deportivo is a very hard man and the bargaining process took time," Pandiani told the Sunday Mercury this week.

"I didn't know if I was staying in Spain, going to England or indeed where I would end up - but I always wanted it to be Blues.

"The uncertainty was hard and it meant I was training on my own for a month and a half because I wanted to maintain my levels of fitness "It's not just me, it was my family as well that had to go through it all.

"Now I can put it behind me and look forward, in Spain they are already waiting to see me do well. I still have my restaurant back in La Coruna, it has a special room for functions and when we played over there in the pre-season I treated all my new team-mates to a meal.

"There is a wonderful cook there and she serves all types of food - I do miss that. It is a very comfortable place and we have huge screens on the walls to show all the football games.

"My friends now run it for me and they throw a celebration when Blues win - especially if I can score.

"They do not show enough Birmingham matches on the television but when they are on they all gather to have a big party.

"When I was playing for Deportivo all the fans used to gather there to watch the games, hopefully Birmingham fans in Spain will do the same."

Pandiani admits he tried his heart out when on loan last season to try and secure a permanent transfer to Blues after a major bust-up at Deportivo with coach Javier Irureta.

And he even spurned more lucrative offers, with other Premiership clubs interested and two offers from Turkey, so that his switch to St Andrew's could materialise.

Pandiani is now ready to showcase the goal-scoring talents that have seen him score freely in the top leagues in the world and grab the headlines in the Champions League.

And he believes the recipe for success in England will be having his family around him. "During my first four-month spell at the club I was without my wife Carla and children, which was more difficult, but that is all different," said the Montevideo-born hitman.

"My children were in school and they had to come over from Spain, there has been much to sort out here but now I am settling very well.

"I have found somewhere to live which is important, we are waiting for it all to go through with lots of land to enjoy.

"I am renting at the moment but the new house is actually on the same street.

"I don't really miss Spain because I have my family around me, the time without them was the worst, now they are here everything is wonderful.

"A lot of my friends from Uruguay are still living and working in Spain, but they are coming to visit me in England now.

"I certainly don't really have a problem with the English way of life."

Pandiani's deadlock with Depor meant he started the campaign lagging behind his team-mates after missing a large chunk of pre-season training.

But the Uruguayan is adamant that his top-form is just around the corner. And he is determined to repay the Blues fans that he claims played a huge part in his summer move after he became an immediate terrace hero.

"The most important thing for astriker is to score goals and unfortunately that hasnothappenedso far this season for me," he said. "I feel I could play better, the best way to show the fans is to find then net, but our performances on the whole have been quite good. The whole team can raise their gamebut I am confident whenwe finally click we can push up the table. "I know the goals will come, maybe even when we play Liverpool, when the friendships I have with some of the Spanish players will go out of the window. The only difference is that I can talk to them before and afterwards - hopefully it will be about my goals.

"One of the main reasons for my decision to come to Birmingham was always the fans. In the four months I was at St Andrew's on loan the supporters were just amazing,they backed me during my performances and the songs they chanted are always a real boost to me.

"People now notice me in the streets but it does not annoy me when they stop me, here the fans are not as aggressive as they are in Spain, in England they are more reserved"I like it, when I was younger I admired footballers and looked up to sportsmen, I understand that they want to meet me so why should I not enjoy it?"

Pandiani is determined to turn heads on the field with his eye for goal and striking blue eyes that give him a startling resemblance to pop star Robbie Williams.

But he is ready to cause just as much of a stir whenhe drives to training as he continues to indulge his passion for monster trucks.

Pandiani proudly owned a 10-ton, bright red Iveco Pegaso, with his nickname 'The Rifle' etched into the chassis in La Coruna. His love affair with trucks started through his father and his spell as a dustman back in Uruguay, with his seven by four truck becoming infamous throughout Spain. He has a badge of clubs Penarol and Deportivo emblazoned on the side and the picture of a rifle on the roof along with his shirt number at Coruna - seven.

Pandiani has now revealed he is ready to splash the cash to buy a new truck in England. But while he plans to have a Birmingham City pennant flying from his windscreen he is ready to defy club chairman David Gold who challenged him to paint his wagon in club colours.

"I am waiting for my house to be sorted out before I can think about bringing over the truck, but I'm actually planning to change it and buy a new one that has more gadgets and things inside it," he said. I know the chairman wants me to paint it blue but I will have to say no, I want it to be grey or a nice dark colour.

"Some people like cars, they like Ferraris, but for me you cannot beat a truck.

"My dad was a lorry driver and when I was growing up he would talk about them to me.

"I also learned to drive in a truck - mine is very special to me.

"Inside it I have many things that are important, I have the flag of Uruguay with my name on it, I have the flag of the team that I first played for at home and a rifle firing a football because of my nickname, these are special to me. "When I was playing for Deportivo I sometimes used to drive to the training complexandmyteam-mateswould all pile in, we would go back to my house and then relax.

"If I bring it to Blues I will do the same for my new team-mates - if it fits in the training ground.

"I do like some cars and had a customised Mini in Spain with a Union Jack on the top and flags on the mirrors - it was very British."

Blues boss Steve Bruce is convinced Pandiani will prove great value for money at St Andrew's and will form a destructive strike-force alongside Mikael Forssell and Emile Heskey.

The engaging Uruguayan is also full of confidence that he will hit upon the scintillating form that made him a cult hero during his time in the coastal town of La Coruna.

But he revealed that even his feats could soon be gunned down - by junior 'El Rifles'!

"I have three boys called Nicolas, 11, Ezequiel, seven, and Axel, five, and they are all keen footballers," he said. "My oldest boy is actually in line for international selection for Spain, he is a striker like me and has got 87 goals in 40 games for his club, he is very good. I also have high hopes for my youngest Axel, I think he can be a really good player and could even leave his dad behind

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WALTER RALLY: Walter Pandiani in action for Blues earlier this season; ARTIC EXPLORER: Walter Pandiani and his truck in Spain
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Sep 18, 2005
Words:1593
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