Football: Indian adds spice to Villa's options

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The Independent Online
ASTON VILLA could be poised to introduce the Premiership's first Indian footballer after taking the international striker Bhaichung Bhutia on trial.

The 21-year-old has appeared 31 times for his country, scoring 21 goals, and has permission from his club, East Bengal, to train at Villa Park this week. The Villa manager, John Gregory, plans to assess the player's qualities before deciding whether to invest in a forward who would command a nominal fee.

Gordon Smith, acting as the player's agent, said yesterday: "Bhaichung is regarded as India's top footballer and Villa are keen to have a look at him. The club have offered him training facilities for a few days to see if he will like it over here and if he feels he can settle. There is a large Indian community within the West Midlands area and the club are keen to search for fresh talent which reflects this."

Villa did make one concrete move yesterday with the signing of Mark Delaney from Cardiff. The 22-year-old Wales B wing-back was playing for the League of Wales side Carmarthen Town just a year ago and admitted the deal was "a bolt from the blue".

A string of impressive performances during the Welsh club's Third Division promotion challenge this season led to him being tracked by a number of top sides including Arsenal, Chelsea and Celtic. But Villa were the first to make a move and Delaney has signed a four-year contract which could net Cardiff up to pounds 500,000, depending on the number of first-team appearances.

The Blackburn Rovers manager, Brian Kidd, has switched his search for a midfield player to Rangers' Charlie Miller after he was snubbed by West Ham after a renewed bid for Steve Lomas. Rovers have offered around pounds 4.5m for Lomas, the Hammers captain, but Harry Redknapp has indicated that he wants pounds 5.5m. Kidd has been alerted that Miller can leave Ibrox for around pounds 1.5m and has had him watched playing for Rangers reserves.

Derby's player-plus-cash bid for Vas Borbokis was yesterday on hold as Sheffield United tried to raise enough money to tempt Jonathan Hunt and Robbie Kozluk to move to Bramall Lane.

Steve Harkness has signed a three-and-a-half-year contract with Benfica and is expected to make his debut against Boavista in the Stadium of Light this Sunday.

World football's ruling body, Fifa, said yesterday it would conduct trials involving two referees officiating each match in "top leagues" from next season. They will probably be in Italy and France.

Glenn Hoddle will make his first public appearance since being sacked as the England coach when he plays for his old club Tottenham in a veterans' six-a-side tournament later this month. Hoddle will line up in a side which also features his former England internationals Chris Waddle, Clive Allen and Gary Stevens in the Carling Masters at the London Arena on 24 March.

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