Football: Juninho has Villa `in his sights'

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THE BRAZILIAN international Juninho yesterday dropped a sizable hint that he is interested in returning to England and joining Aston Villa

John Gregory, the Villa manager, is thought to be stepping up his efforts to sign the former Middlesbrough midfielder while Juninho's agent, Gianni Paladini, has indicated the player would be willing to reduce his wage demands, something that has scuppered any deal with Villa in the past.

Juninho, who is also a target for Barcelona, is unhappy at Atletico Madrid because of the tactics of the coach, Arrigo Sacchi. Paladini said: "Juninho would like to play for Aston Villa because he likes John Gregory's ways and the fact that he has a successful team. If he came back to England, Villa would be in his sights. Juninho met John Gregory a few months ago and was impressed."

Dave Bassett, the sacked Nottingham Forest manager, has admitted he refused to allow Pierre van Hooijdonk into the room when he bade farewell to the players. Bassett said he would have been a "hypocrite" if he had attempted to make up with the Dutch striker, who refused to play for Forest for the first three months of the season.

"There was no point in me sitting down and pretending that I liked him and he liked me," Bassett said.

"I basically said I didn't want Pierre in the room - I wanted to speak to the players who I felt worked hard for me and gave their best. I lost respect for him for what he did - he's a decent player but when a player does that in my book they don't deserve respect.

"There was no point in being a hypocrite. When Pierre came back he never apologised to anybody and I thought a little bit of humility would have been right."