Football: Villa win race for pounds 5.75m Dublin

THE 10-DAY Dion Dublin transfer saga was concluded last night when the 29-year-old England striker moved across the Midlands from Coventry to Aston Villa, signing a five and a half year contract.

Having had three bids of pounds 5.1m turned down, Villa obtained permission to talk to Dublin by raising their offer to pounds 5.75m, pounds 1m less than Coventry had accepted from Blackburn Rovers last week before the player turned down the chance to move to Ewood Park.

John Gregory, the Villa manager, had earlier indicated that he would not go above pounds 5.1m, hoping that Coventry would be forced to allow him to approach Dublin because of a clause in the player's contract apparently entitling him to be notified of any bids of more than pounds 5m.

Coventry, however, were determined to obtain the maximum value for a player who had been their top scorer for each of his four seasons at the club.

"We had to meet Coventry half-way on the price," Villa's chairman, Doug Ellis, said. "In part it was to appease Coventry, in part to make sure we could tie up the deal."

Dublin will be available to face Tottenham at home tomorrow at the start of a probably critical month for Villa. The Premiership leaders are due to meet Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal in consecutive home matches up to 12 December.

"It is a challenge I'm looking forward to and the prospect of playing alongside the likes of Stan Collymore and Paul Merson is very exciting," Dublin said.

Dublin confessed to having endured some difficult times in the last week or so. Upset by some highly personal remarks attributed to the Coventry chairman, Bryan Richardson, in a fly-on-the-wall book about life at Highfield Road, Dublin was then at the point of calling in his lawyers when the club did not accept his interpretation of his contract terms and he was fined pounds 40,000 by the club when he missed their Worthington Cup match at Luton last week, since when he has been training alone.

"I'm relieved that it's all over, but I don't want to look back on that now. It is time to go forward," he said.

After rejecting the move to Blackburn, Dublin also turned down an approach from Leeds on Wednesday. He decided to join Villa, he said, both because of their League position and because he would not need to move from his home at Stratford-upon-Avon.

"I've had a taste of playing for a top six club with Manchester United and even though I have enjoyed four good years with Coventry, I have not won any silverware and it is every player's ambition to win trophies," he said.

Gregory said he admired Dublin for his skill as a striker, his leadership qualities and his grounding in the game. "He has come up the hard way," Gregory said. "He had a tough baptism under John Beck at Cambridge and I always believe that players who have had that sort of start appreciate their success and do not want to give it up."

Gregory is not worried about deciding who plays alongside Dublin against Spurs, with Collymore, Merson and Julian Joachim among his options."It will be Tottenham who have the problem," he said.

Justifying the length of contract for a player nearing 30, Gregory suggested Dublin might eventually play at centre-half. "That was not a prime reason for signing him, but it is always a possibility. Don't forget we had Paul McGrath playing here well past his 35th birthday and often he was our best player."

Gregory has spent pounds 21m since the summer, on Merson, Alan Thompson and Steve Watson. Gregory, who has been searching for a replacement striker since Dwight Yorke's move to Manchester United in August, said: "I now think we have a squad with the depth to challenge for the title."