Outgoing Aston Villa defender Olof Mellberg will be forever revered by the club's fans for his performances on the pitch and his generous £50,000 donation of replica shirts to travelling supporters at his last game for the club at West Ham.

He will also be remembered for his controversial off-the-cuff comments about Second City rivals Birmingham City. But as Mellberg leaves Birmingham for a new career in Italy with Serie A giants Juventus, he has revealed that his outspoken comments before a big derby clash five seasons ago were meant to be tongue in cheek.

What's more, he has admitted that he actually has a great deal of sympathy for Villa's great rivals who have been relegated to the Coca-Cola Championship.

Mellberg, who is preparing to join Juventus once he has appeared in this summer's European Championship finals with his native Sweden, suffered relegation in 1996 while still in Sweden with his first club, Degerfors IF and says he would not wish that experience on anyone in football.

The player who drew all the headlines back in 2002 when he joked that he did not like Birmingham City and would not know any of the Birmingham City players if they walked past him in the street admits it was a huge irony that Blues actually did Villa favour this season before toppling out of the top flight nine days ago.

Alex McLeish's men beat Blackburn Rovers, Villa's closest rivals for a place in the Intertoto Cup, 4-1 on the final day of the season to smooth Villa's passage. Their fine win was not enough to save their own hides, however, as Fulham's result sent them down.

Mellberg said: "It was ironic that Birmingham helped Villa in the end by beating Blackburn Rovers, although I didn't really think about that at the time.

"That was a good win for them on the last day and a good win for us but it must have been very disappointing for them in that they went down anyway. I have been in that position (relegation) before and I wouldn't wish that on anyone - even our rivals. Relegation is a horrible feeling for the players, the fans and the whole club."

Having splashed out on "Mellberg" shirts for every Villa fan at his last game for the club, Martin O'Neill's temporary right-back says he hopes that one day his new club Juventus will meet Villa, with the whole stadium full of Mellberg fans.

He joked: "That would be really something. It would be incredible! I hadn't thought, when I ordered the Villa shirts with my name on that if Villa and Juventus meet in the future, then my name could be all around the stadium but that would be great if it were to happen.

"I am really pleased Villa have managed to get into Europe now albeit through the Intertoto Cup and I am confident they will win that and then be in the Uefa Cup."

Yet although Mellberg believes Villa will make great strides in Europe next season, he still thinks they will have to be patient before attempting to break into the "big four" clubs and try for a place in the Champions League.

He said: "I think Villa will find it difficult to challenge the top four right now but I think that as a club, it has now shown it can establish itself in that group just behind the top four.

"I think Villa may need to progress for another couple of seasons. At the moment, I think the top four are still quite a bit ahead of the rest of us but if Villa can add a few more players then nothing is impossible.