Gregory banks on Ginola to lift Villa

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The Independent Online

David Ginola once dreamed of displaying his skills in a major European city beginning with B. Yesterday he arrived not in Barcelona but Birmingham, to sign a two-year contract with Aston Villa.

David Ginola once dreamed of displaying his skills in a major European city beginning with B. Yesterday he arrived not in Barcelona but Birmingham, to sign a two-year contract with Aston Villa.

The deal, worth £3m to Tottenham, ensures that Ginola will see out his career in England where last year he was voted footballer of the year. Like the signing of another 33-year-old, Paul Gascoigne at Everton, his arrival will have an impact on season-ticket sales which the chairman of the Aston Villa Independent Supporters Association, Ian Robathon, describes as "pretty abysmal". Ginola will not play in tonight's Intertoto Cup tie with Celta Vigo, where Villa are looking to claw back a one-goal deficit, but is likely to make his debut in a friendly with Benfica on Friday.

Ginola's arrival coincided with Villa announcing that a £20m operating profit had been transformed into a £4.9m loss, which the chairman, Doug Ellis, blamed on a 24 per-cent increase in players' wages. The balance sheet will not have been eased by the Frenchman's arrival; one reason the deal took more than a month to conclude is that Ginola is reputedly the highest-paid player at Villa Park. But, as he says in his adverts for a shampoo, "I'm worth it".

"Maybe I will be a bargain," he said. "It was flattering that Villa were prepared to pay £3m; that was the key issue."

Approaching the twilight of his career, Ginola said he detected no diminishing of his powers. "I have read things saying that biologically at 33 you are not prepared to make the necessary effort," he said. "I can tell you I am prepared to do my best."

Having gone to Cambodia on behalf of the Red Cross, Ginola was horrified to learn that the Tottenham manager, George Graham, with whom he had enjoyed the uneasiest of relationships, was prepared to let him go. He has described feeling in limbo, which is why he has said that the move to Villa lifted a weight off his shoulders.

It has also eased a burden on John Gregory, beset by a queue of players, led by Gareth Southgate and Ugo Ehiogu, demanding to leave. "We lacked a bit of flair last season," Villa's manager admitted. "It was especially noticeable in the FA Cup final but Ginola can win a game on his own."

Gregory is sensitive to charges that his is an ageing squad; now with six first-teamers over 30, he boasts the oldest squad in the Premiership. Yesterday he signed two members of Toulouse's Under-17 team, Christophe Grondin and Mickaël Sabathier, for 10 times the wage they earned in France.

He said: "I know I have been criticised for signing players in their 30s but I don't think being over 30 has done Leboeuf, Desailly or Deschamps any harm. They have gone on to excel in the Premiership. David looks after himself extremely well."

And that includes looking after his own interests. Asked if the negotiations had been tough, Villa's hard-bitten Ellis said: "In a word, yes."

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