Steve Bruce has described as "nonsense" a report suggesting that Matthew Upson is on the verge of leaving Birmingham City to join Aston Villa.
Bruce, the Birmingham manager, understands that speculation is rife as clubs prepare for the transfer window to open on January 1, and Upson has long been linked with a move.
But he wants to keep hold of the England international and, even if the player was set to leave, the destination would not be Villa Park. Bruce and Martin O'Neill, the Villa manager, speak regularly but Upson never enters their conversations.
Liverpool, however, are understood to be monitoring Upson's progress. The player has just returned from eight months out through injury and is still feeling his way back into active first-team football.
The likeliest scenario is that Upson will stay, probably to return to the Premiership as a Birmingham player next August. If not, Liverpool become the favourites to sign him.
The relationship between Villa and Birmingham, though amicable and professional, is too politically sensitive for a leading player to move from one club to the other.
Upson has 18 months left on his contract and Birmingham are hoping that he will sign a new deal before the end of the season.
Birmingham have remained loyal to the player while he has been injured and gave him a chance to revive his career when they signed him from Arsenal in 2003 for #1 million.
Upson flourished, making the national team and being touted as one of the best left-sided central defenders in the Premiership.
While he has given no hints that he wants to leave, he obviously wants to reclaim a place in the England squad and he would realistically need to be playing in the Premiership. For now, however, speculation is rife and Bruce is frustrated by it.
"The media spotlight is going to be there all the time now," Bruce said. "I only spoke to Martin O'Neill a couple of weeks ago and he never mentioned Upson to me.
"Where that has come from, I don't know. It could be pie in the sky and typical of the journalist involved.
"We have got Matthew for 18 months, so there is no real big rush. I have to protect our investment. Unless it is an ridiculous offer, and every player has got his price, nothing is happening.
"If we have to sell Matt in the summer, that might be more advantageous to all of us and more advantageous to Matthew, too."
Birmingham look set to end 2006 at the top of the Coca-Cola Championship, making it easier to attract players. Bruce needs a striker and is sure to sign at least one. He is also becoming accustomed to the rarity of Birmingham being favourites rather than underdogs.
"Anyone who is top of the league, people want to knock you off," Bruce said. "We've dealt with the expectation of the big club coming down to the Championship. I would rather be in our position than anyone else's."
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