Football: Villa's InterToto option

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The Independent Online
ASTON VILLA may apply to take part in the InterToto Cup after Uefa's decision to award a European spot to the FA Cup semi-finalists, Newcastle.

Villa, who go into action today against West Ham, are 10 points adrift of the fourth spot which is needed to guarantee qualification via the Premier League. The Villa chairman, Doug Ellis, needs to inform Europe's governing body of Villa's interest by 7 April, but the club's manager, John Gregory, would be a reluctant participant - it would mean starting the season in July - and is to have further talks with Ellis over the weekend.

Ellis said: "Because the start of the season is so early it is not too much different from going on tour. We had planned to do that between 17 and 24 July and could play in this competition instead."

Gregory said: "Europe is a minimum requirement for a club of Villa's stature. It has been a necessity to qualify and the club have been a regular [in European competition] for the past five or six years. Ideally you wouldn't want to take part but the InterToto Cup represents a route into Europe if we fail to do it through the league.

"I suppose you could say it is impossible to turn down because of the money that Europe generates and the carrot of attracting players. Teams who have taken part in the InterToto Cup have gone on to have good runs in the Uefa Cup. Bordeaux got to the finals two years ago and Bologna are in this season's semi-finals."

As West Ham prepared yesterday for their visit to Villa Park, Harry Redknapp, never afraid to take a gamble on a controversial player, revealed how he once tried to sign Stan Collymore for West Ham. The Villa striker will be missing from today's game after being admitted to a clinic for the rest of the season suffering from clinical depression.

"I was looking at Stan for a very long time," said Redknapp. "He was playing for Crystal Palace reserves and was available for pounds 50,000. I must have watched him a dozen times.

"Then I sent Frank Lampard to have a look at him and in the end I decided against buying him. He moved on to Southend soon after - so look at the money I've lost out on!"