Barcelona's Saviola next target as Villa capture £6.5m Petrov

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The Independent Online

Aston Villa's pursuit of Stilian Petrov finally reached a successful conclusion yesterday - and Martin O'Neill may bring in Barcelona's out-of-favour Argentina striker Javier Saviola before the transfer window closes at midnight tonight.

Petrov became the first signing of the O'Neill era at Villa Park when he signed a four-year contract worth £32,000 a week in a deal that will earn Celtic £6.5m up front, rising to £8m depending on appearances by the 27-year-old midfielder.

The £2m arrival of the Denmark and former Everton midfielder Thomas Gravesen at Celtic from Real Madrid freed Petrov to fulfil his ambition of playing in the Premiership.

O'Neill, who continued his assessment of the squad by watching the reserves' defeat at Reading on Tuesday night along with Villa's prospective owner, the American businessman Randy Lerner, is well aware of Petrov's capabilities after working with him for five years in charge of Celtic.

"I think 'Stan' will help us because he is young, athletic and can score some goals for us," the Villa manager said. "At 27 years old, his best years are ahead of him. He's the right age, but he also has plenty of experience. He has that winning mentality from his years at Celtic, but I think he had that anyway."

Petrov, who is currently with the Bulgaria squad for their World Cup qualifying fixtures against Romania and Slovenia, is likely to make his debut for unbeaten Villa at West Ham United on 10 September. The fee effectively eats up the transfer budget set aside for O'Neill by the outgoing chairman, Doug Ellis.

Meanwhile, Saviola's agent Alfred Cabrera claimed that Villa had joined clubs from Spain and Italy in making an offer to Barcelona for the player. The 24-year-old, who featured in his country's World Cup games during the summer, is in the final year of his contract at the Catalan club.

If O'Neill does not land Saviola, he may try an audacious offer for the Tottenham and England striker Jermain Defoe. However, with Lerner not officially taking charge until 5 September, the question of funding could prove problematic for Villa.

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