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Best toons up to make Irish team

HE WAS a bit-part player in the World Cup qualifying campaign with just four appearances, all as a substitute.

But Leon Best hopes that his move from Coventry City to Championship leaders Newcastle United can spark his international career into life and transform him into one of the leading strikers for Giovanni Trapattoni's team.

On Monday Best (23) completed his transfer to Newcastle, reportedly for a fee in the region of £2million, and his new career as a Magpie starts tonight when Newcastle take on Cardiff City, hoping to stretch their lead at the top of the table to six points.

Marco Tardelli is a long-time admirer of Best and Ireland's assistant coach may be in the stands at St James' Park tonight to see Best first-hand, and that suits the former Notts County and Southampton player down to the ground as he plans a dream debut.


"This move could really be good for me in terms of the international team as it could help me get more established and get more recognition, that's definitely an aim for me in 2010," Best told the Herald.

"I have worked really hard at Coventry for the last two and a half years and I'd like to think that my hard work is being rewarded with this move to Newcastle. And I plan to show Marco Tardelli and Giovanni Trapattoni what I can do and that I can play at the highest level, if I can do well for Newcastle and get them back into the Premier League, then I should be able to prove that I can do it for Ireland at international level too.

"If Ireland have three strikers to pick from and two of them are playing in the Premier League, then the manager is more than likely going to pick those two to play for Ireland. Hopefully I will be in the Premier League with Newcastle this time next season and I can get myself further up the pecking order with the Irish team.

"I will be playing alongside better players in a better team, hopefully I will get more chances, score more goals and I can watch my game improve," added Best, who made his international debut against Nigeria last year and won further caps against Bulgaria, South Africa, Italy, Montenegro and France.

"There is a lot of competition for places up front with Ireland. Of course Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle are up there now and they are first choice, the manager also has people like Caleb Folan, Shane Long, Andy Keogh and a few more to pick from. It's healthy competition and it's good for the team.

"Caleb Folan is a good mate of mine and it's a pity that things haven't been going too well for him in the last while, he's had a tough time. Maybe if I am playing well with Newcastle every week it will be good news for me but I don't see this move as just a chance for me to get ahead of Caleb in the pecking order with Ireland, I have to earn that on merit, and I will only do that with hard work and by scoring goals for Newcastle.

"The next step for me is to get into the Ireland team from the start, not off the bench, that won't be easy to do as I have class strikers like Robbie and Kevin ahead of me, but the move to Newcastle will help me," added Best.

Tonight's clash with Cardiff is a massive game for Newcastle, a chance to extend their lead to six points before second-placed West Brom play Plymouth tomorrow, and Best is keen to get going immediately.

"I want to play and I want to do well for Newcastle from the start, I haven't come here to sit on the bench and take my time, I want to play tonight, make my debut and score my first goal.


Someone told me that the bookies already have me at joint favourite to score the first goal tonight, I think myself and Shola Amoebi are 5/1 to score first, I think a few of my friends will be having that bet," he told the Herald last night, taking a break from the task of house-hunting following his move north from the English midlands.

Best's departure from Coventry was less than happy. He was taken off 15 minutes from the end of their Championship game at home to Blackpool last weekend, at a stage when Coventry were losing 1-0, and the Coventry fans vented their anger at the player and his perceived lack of effort by booing him off the park.

"It was pathetic," said Best. "I was the top scorer for them this season and I have never witnessed that before, the club's leading scorer being booed by his own fans. They seemed to think that I wasn't bothered about the game and I wasn't trying because I was leaving in a couple of days, but nothing could be further from the truth, I have 100 percent for Coventry in that game, as I did in every game I played for them.

"Being honest, that reaction, where they booed me off, made it a lot easier for me to leave the club in the end. From what I have seen and heard about Newcastle, they have a really passionate support who get behind the team and that's something I am looking forward to experiencing.

"Newcastle are in the same division to other clubs I have played for, like Southampton and Coventry, but really they are in a different league, this is a Premier League club that just happens to be in the Championship, even being here for a few days has opened my eyes a lot.


"The stadium is superb, the fans are very passionate about the club, everywhere you go around here all that people want to talk about is Newcastle United.

"And Chris Hughton was a big factor in me coming here as well, and not just because of the Irish connection. He's a great manager but he's very good at man management too.

"There are so many things that seem right about the move already: a great stadium, a massive fan base, a good team and they have an Irish manager as well, now it's just up to me to deliver the goods and score some goals," Best added.