Football: McNamara ready for training

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THE CELTIC midfielder Jackie McNamara will set his sights on an Old Firm comeback after receiving the green light to resume training this week. The Scotland international has been sidelined for the past month with a recurrence of the knee problem that troubled him for much of last season.

"His knee is so much better today, and he can hopefully go into training within the next day or so," said the Parkhead physio, Brian Scott.

Scott added that "there was no reason" why McNamara should not be ready for the traditional New Year clash with Rangers on 3 January.

Before that, the Scottish champions - currently trailing their city rivals by seven points - could have Marc Rieper available again for Saturday's visit of Dunfermline. The Danish defender has suffered no reaction on his return to training at the end of last week following ankle surgery.

However, Craig Burley's comeback plans have been put on hold with the Scotland midfielder now suffering from a recurring back problem despite shaking off the groin injury that initially forced him out six weeks ago.

Aston Villa are reaping the rewards of their success on the pitch with a record-breaking financial upturn. The Midlands club generated pounds 500,000 in gate receipts from each of the sell-out home fixtures with Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal in the past three weeks. In addition, corporate hospitality, commercial ventures and sponsorship have brought in record amounts as businessmen look to jump aboard the bandwagon.

Villa are also set to double the normal sales of their mini-season tickets for the second half of the campaign - and that will bring in another pounds 300,000.

The Aston Villa commercial manager, Abdul Rashid, said: "It seems to be the return of the glory, glory days at Villa Park, and there is a real feel-good factor among the players, the management - and now the fans.

"This recent run of games we have had has been a record-breaking spell in terms of the finance generated for the club from all areas. There have been good spells in the club's past history on the pitch - but we are doing as well as we ever could on the financial side." Villa's home Premiership encounter with Sheffield Wednesday on 28 December is expected to be another sell-out.

The French World Cup striker Christophe Dugarry could return to Italy to play for Juventus despite a previous unhappy spell in Serie A with Milan and his current success at Marseilles.

Although Marseilles deny having been approached by Juventus, who are looking for cover for the injured Alessandro Del Piero, Dugarry said yesterday: "The only thing I can say is that, in fact, they are interested. But for the time being it is uncertain."