Football: Gregory to outbid Boro for Juninho

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JOHN GREGORY held face-to-face talks with Juninho at Villa Park yesterday, as Aston Villa stepped up their attempt to beat Middlesbrough to the Brazilian's signature.

Villa's manager discussed a pounds 10m transfer with the Atletico Madrid midfielder and his representative, Gianni Paladini, who drove Juninho away after the player was spotted leaving Villa Park by a side door.

Despite suggestions from Juninho's father that Middlesbrough were the favourites to re-sign the player who helped Boro to reach two cup finals in 1997, Gregory has remained confident he would persuade the 25 year old to join Villa. He is understood to have offered Juninho a five- year contract worth pounds 1.5m a year. Boro have reportedly offered the midfielder pounds 50,000 a week, but Gregory thinks the lure of a Champions' League place, which Villa will secure if they finish in the top three of the Premiership, would help to swing Juninho's decision in Villa's direction.

Brian Kidd last night completed the signing of Liverpool's Jason McAteer for pounds 4m to bring his spending since taking charge of Blackburn to pounds 14m. However, Tim Sherwood took another step towards leaving Ewood Park.

The 27-year-old Republic of Ireland international should make his debut at home to Tottenham on Saturday although Blackburn did not confirm that McAteer was following Keith Gillespie, Ashley Ward and Matt Jansen as Kidd's next signing.

By contrast, Sherwood, the club's captain, could be the first player to leave under the new manager's regime. The midfielder rejected the club's final contract offer at a meeting last night, and Rovers officials are adamant they will not make another offer.

"He wants improved terms, even though our offer is a clear improvement on his existing contract," said Blackburn's chief executive, John Williams. "It's most disappointing, but we cannot go any further with our offer."

Sherwood, 29, has three-and-a-half years to run on his current deal, but Rovers may be prepared to let him go. Tottenham have been linked with the player since the start of the season and a move back south could suit him.

Manchester United are trying to buy Everton's teenaged left-back, Michael Ball.

United's manager, Alex Ferguson, has contacted the Goodison club about signing the England Under-21 defender and would like to push through a transfer before the Champions' League deadline on Sunday.

Ferguson, who watched Ball last weekend, thinks he could secure a quick transfer because of Everton are deep in the red and, with doubts about their owner Peter Johnson's long-term position at the club, the banks want their books balanced.

Ferguson is willing to pay pounds 4m or more for Ball, a first-team regular at Goodison for the past two seasons, but Everton have said that the 19 year old is not for sale. However, Ferguson hopes to have put United first in the queue should Ball become available.

The Sheffield Wednesday striker Guy Whittingham has returned to Portsmouth on a month's loan to help his old club's battle against relegation from the First Division. Whittingham started his career at Fratton Park after leaving the Army in 1989, scoring 88 goals in 160 League appearances before moving to Aston Villa and then Wednesday.

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