Martin O’Neill has assured supporters that work is well under way to bring in a raft of top-quality reinforcements to strengthen his Aston Villa squad as the team prepared to fly to Switzerland for a pre-season training camp.
The work to rebuild the team may begin within days with Steve Sidwell still on course to be Villa’s first big summer signing. The £3.5million-rated player could yet link up with the team during their five-day tour, which includes matches against FC Zurich and Wil 1900.
The Chelsea midfielder is understood to be meeting new Blues manager Luiz Felipe Scolari today to discuss his future but is likely to be told he will not be guaranteed a first-team place, with the Stamford Bridge club’s midfield boasting Michael Ballack, Frank Lampard and Michael Essien while Portugal international Deco has also now joined the Stamford Bridge revolution from Barcelona.
That should provide the former Reading player with the confirmation he needs that Villa would be a better choice for his future career development ,with the club eager to find a quality replacement for captain Gareth Barry.
Villa are understood to still be in with a great chance of bringing Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper Paul Robinson to Birmingham in a £5?million deal.
Fans have become increasingly frustrated at the lack of any newcomers so far this summer, with the whole process seemingly delayed by the on-off saga surrounding Barry. But O’Neill seems convinced that the issue may soon be concluded, particularly now that Liverpool appear to be ready to renegotiate – their coffers bolstered to the tune of £10 million by the imminent sale of striker Peter Crouch to Harry Redknapp’s Portsmouth.
Liverpool still appear eager to offer former Birmingham City defender Steve Finnan as a makeweight in the deal to take England midfielder Barry to Anfield but O’Neill and his chairman Randy Lerner, remain of the view that they do not need to sell their star player , unless the deal suits Aston Villa. O’Neill said: “We will build the squad. I don’t really want to be going into the season the same way that we went into the last one.We are in the market - strongly - for players. We will be competing.
“We are light in numbers. We are lighter than last year. A significant amount of players made more than 30 appearances for us in the Premier League last season and we may not be so lucky this season. In addition to that, we have lost players and we need to replace them.
“But I’m convinced we will start the season more strongly in terms of a squad than we had. Of course, Gareth’s situation has been an issue – unquestionably – but we have not taken our eye off the ball.
“Bids have been going in. Negotiations are taking place on various fronts. It’s just that we do not have anything official to announce just yet.
“However, I anticipate that there will be significant additions. I would just ask supporters to be patient for a little while longer.”
Commenting on the continuing speculation surrounding his skipper, O’Neill added: “Once the fee is agreed, Gareth will be able to complete his move.
“ At the moment, though, nothing has been sorted out between the two clubs. Three months ago, when I sat down and thought about where the club needed to go, I had not anticipated Gareth Barry wanting to leave here.
“We have been trying hard to strengthen. We are hoping to do so now and will be finding a replacement for him - quite quickly.”
Meanwhile, Danish defender Martin Laursen says patience is the key to ensuring that the right players are brought in to bolster the squad which excelled last season, ending with a top-six Premier League finish and European football via the Intertoto Cup.
Laursen said: “I would urge supporters to be patient. It is still very early and there are many weeks until the season starts. I am sure that we are going to improve the squad for August 16 and the start of the Premier League.
“But it is not that easy to bring in players because we want the right players and we want good players. We want to improve on the position we had last season and we want to improve as a club.
“Losing Gareth is a big loss but there are other players that can do as good a job as he can.
“It is sad things look to have ended with Gareth the way they have. As a player, he has done so much for this club and I would like to remind the supporters of that.”
?Zenit St Petersburg have ended talks with Barcelona over the transfer of Andrei Arshavin due to the Catalan giants’ failure to meet their asking price.
The 27-year-old, who played a starring role for Guus Hiddink’s Russia as they reached the semi-finals of Euro 2008 last month, has spoken of his “dream” of moving to the Nou Camp.
Barca are so far the only club to have made an official approach for the playmaker, but Russian champions Zenit revealed talks had come to an end. “Barcelona failed to improve their original offer of 15 million euros,” read a Zenit club statement. “We have received no offers from any other clubs, so there are no discussions taking place about his transfer.”
Weekend reports suggested Arshavin was on his way to either Chelsea or Arsenal but Zenit said no talks have taken place as yet.