Juninho deal a step closer!!! (13 Jan)
John Gregory is within 48 hours of pulling off Villa's transfer deal of the century.
The ambitious Villa boss could be in Madrid by the end of the week hoping to clinch the signing of Brazilian star Juninho from Atletico Madrid in a 12m salary and fee package.
Gregory has now successfully sold the idea to chairman Doug Ellis, who has given the project, the most expensive outlay in Villa's history, the green light.
And, while the Villa manager is still cautious about meeting the financial demands of both Juninho and Atletico, he is more optimistic than at any stage so far that a deal could be struck.
Reported signals from Madrid that Atletico are unwilling to sell are being dismissed as necessary public posturing on behalf of the Spanish with Gregory cashing in on some strong high-level contacts forged with Atletico when Villa played them in the UEFA Cup last season.
Villa's financial director Mark Ansell yesterday confirmed that the money would be found - within reason - to further fuel the club's bid to make a lasting impression among the Premiership elite. To that end, I believe Gregory is working with a budget of 15m for the Juninho Project.
Gregory is also more than keen on Crystal Palace's soon-to-be-sold striker Matt Jansen, but is unwilling to break the 2m barrier to land him. Rival interest from Arsenal and Newcastle are likely to force the price up to double that figure.
So Juninho, once the favourite adopted son of Middlesbrough, remains the main focus for Gregory's attention and it is not inconceivable that the Brazilian international midfielder could be recruited in time to make a significant impact on the Premiership's championship battleground.
Villa's next duel is with Everton on Monday for which two players who cost Villa a combined figure of nearly 14m, Stan Collymore and Paul Merson, can stake their case for a recall in the reserves tonight.
Both are marked down to play against Derby reserves in the home Pontins League match tonight along with current members of the first team shadow squad Mark Draper, Gary Charles and Simon Grayson.
"They all badly need a game for two reasons," says Gregory. "First to shake the rust off and secondly to state their case for inclusion against Everton."
Merson has been out since the 2-2 draw at Nottingham Forest at the end of November. To add to his difficulties in forcing his way back, he has to claw back some stock following his weekend trip to New York. Gregory and physio Jim Walker were not impressed that a man returning from back trouble opted for two transatlantic air crossings in four days.


Martin Sivorn © 1999.E-Mail Me