Football: Indian striker adds spice to Villa's options

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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. 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 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.

Steve Harkness has signed a three-and-a-half-year contract with the Portuguese giants Benfica. The Liverpool defender trained with his new team-mates on Monday and is expected to make his debut against Boavista in the Stadium of Light this Sunday.

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.

Borbokis, who is on the transfer list after a dispute with the United manager, Steve Bruce, had been expected to move to the Premiership club today. But with United pounds 6m in debt, it was unclear whether they would be able to offer Hunt and Kozluk sufficient money to get them to drop down a division.

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.

John Lambie was yesterday confirmed as the new manager of the Scottish Second Division side Partick Thistle.

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