MANNINGER MOVES CLOSER TO VIOLA SWITCH

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ALEX MANNINGER is on the verge of completing a move to Fiorentina, although the freeze on the club's spending means that only a loan deal will be permitted.

The 24-year-old Arsenal goalkeeper was first linked with the Viola in July, after interest from Borussia Monchengladbach faded away.

At the time the newly-promoted Bundesliga side hinted that they had ended interest because Arsenal wanted a £3 million fee - and not a loan deal, although Fiorentina's precarious financial situation discounts any permanent move.

Manninger's place as Arsenal's number two has been threatened for some time, and the arrival of young England international Richard Wright from Ipswich Town has left his place in the squad untenable.

Manager Arsene Wenger stated that he would be selling the Austrian star, who at one point was seen as the perfect long-term replacement for Seaman.

However, fading form and high-profile errors have seen the custodian relegated to a minor role at the club - and Serie A may now be his destination.

Fiorentina have suffered a torrid time of late - being forced to publicly deny allegations of bankruptcy - but also suffering the ignominy of a transfer freeze because of the terrible debts at the club.

The refusal to ratify any transfers has already scuppered coach Roberto Mancini's hopes of bringing Yugoslavian duo Sinisa Mihajlovic and Dejan Stankovic to the club, but the desperate need for a keeper - following the sale of Francesco Toldo to Internazionale - means that a new player must be brought in.

Mancini confirmed that it was imperative that a new arrival was imminent, stating: "I don't know Manninger although I played against him once when Arsenal took on Lazio at the Stadio Olimpico.

"The important thing is to have two good goalkeepers."

Indeed Fiorentina are expected to struggle in the league following the £16.4 million transfer of Toldo, and the £24 million sale of star man Rui Costa.

The arrival of the popular Mancini as a replacement for Milan-bound Fatih Terim did bring a minor boost - and the Coppa Italia - to Florence, but unless several loan stars can be found relegation may be a very real threat.

Meanwhile, Tomas Repka and Moreno Torricelli have been linked with a move to Scottish champions Celtic.

The Fiorentina stars are just part of the plethora of footballers being linked with Martin O'Neill's side - who face final player registration for the early stages of the Champions League by Thursday.