French winger Robert completes Benfica move

January 4, 2006

Laurent Robert swapped the grind of a relegation dogfight for the glamour of Champions League football by signing for Portuguese giants Benfica on a free transfer.

Empics / PhotographyRobert off to pastures new.

Portsmouth agreed to cancel Robert's season-long loan from Newcastle, leaving the erratic French winger free to sign a three-and-a-half-year contract with Benfica.

Robert, 30, passed his medical in Lisbon on Wednesday morning and immediately revealed the lure of Champions League football was too great to turn down.

'It gives me great satisfaction to join Benfica because it's an ambitious club, just as I am,' he said.

'I came here to win titles. This is a super club and they showed a lot of interest in me. To be able to play in the Champions League is fantastic, and that is why I am here today.'

Robert is in line for a quick return to English soil however.

Benfica, coached by former Holland international Ronald Koeman and currently third in the Portuguese championship, face Liverpool in the Champions League quarter-finals after helping to eliminate Manchester United.

Robert cost Newcastle £9.5million when he signed from Paris St Germain in August 2001. He moved to Portsmouth last June on loan but has since been deemed surplus to requirements at Fratton Park following Harry Redknapp's return as manager.

Redknapp has got Portsmouth moving in the right direction and could have plenty of money available for new recruits if Russian businessman Alexandre Gaydamak completes his attempt to become part-owner of the club.

Gaydamak is a 29-year-old multi-millionaire who, according to sources, plans to work closely with chairman Milan Mandaric, playing an active role in the club and key decisions affecting Portsmouth.

A source said: 'Sacha regards the club as a sleeping giant with lots of potential on the pitch and off the pitch.'

Gaydamak, who worked in a private banking company before setting up his own financial and real estate businesses, is expected to pass the Premier League's 'fit and proper person' test and sign a 'Director's Declaration' before being allowed to complete his investment in the club.

The test was raised as a possible obstacle because Gaydamak's father, the billionaire Arcadi Gaydamak, is the subject of an international arrest warrant in relation to his alleged part in an oil-for-arms deal to Angola in 1994, although he denies any wrongdoing.

However, while neither the Premier League nor Portsmouth were willing to discuss details, the club insist they have no reason to believe the deal will not go through as planned.

'We have no cause to be concerned,' said a club spokesman.