Gregory warns Chelsea to stop 'tapping' Southgate

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The Independent Online

The Aston Villa manager, John Gregory, yesterday accused Chelsea of "tapping" the England defender Gareth Southgate, saying: "They should pay the right amount or leave him alone."

The Aston Villa manager, John Gregory, yesterday accused Chelsea of "tapping" the England defender Gareth Southgate, saying: "They should pay the right amount or leave him alone."

However, Gregory's claims have been denied by the Chelsea managing director, Colin Hutchinson, who revealed that the Blues had made three bids to sign Southgate, the latest a £6m offer last week.

Chelsea - who are determined to keep Gianfranco Zola until at least next summer and will not bid for Steve McManaman - are believed to be unwilling to go any higher as Southgate is almost 30 and ineligible to play in Europe this season after appearing in the Intertoto Cup.

Southgate also seems unlikely to attempt to force his way out of the three years remaining on his contract. However, Gregory's outburst may well have the desired effect of making the London club think twice about pursuing their interest in a defender who they believe is being over-valued by Villa. That would appear to be considerably more than £6m, given that Gregory described the £5m offer - already labelled as an "insult" by the Villa chairman, Doug Ellis - as "probably [enough to] buy his right leg".

The Villa manager further alleged that Chelsea had made contact with Southgate, who requested a move in June but has not been placed on the transfer list and is not allowed to speak to other teams without the club's permission.

"Gareth has been placed in an awkward situation by Chelsea," Gregory said yesterday. "Without any shadow of doubt he has been tapped. They have had a word in his ear and now it's difficult to focus on the job in hand."

But Hutchinson, whose club have already spent £25m on three new signings this summer, said: "It is not our style to tap players. Aston Villa have known of our interest in Gareth Southgate since the beginning of June. We have made a total of three bids to Aston Villa for Gareth Southgate. The most recent was last week before their Intertoto Cup game and was for £6m. It was impossible to have a dialogue with them about it. They won't put a price on him and the situation is at a stalemate."

Hutchinson revealed that two agents had made contact with the Stamford Bridge club a fortnight ago in an attempt to sound them out about any possible interest in McManaman. He spoke to the Chelsea manager, Gianluca Vialli, about the situation but they decided not to bid for the Real Madrid midfielder.

Hutchinson said: "Although he is a great player there is no way that we could fit him in to play in his preferred role at the present time."

Aston Villa have been handed a bye into the third round of this season's Worthington Cup, where they will join the six Premiership clubs who have qualified for European competition. The Midlanders have been chosen because they were the highest-placed team in last year's Premiership table who did not earn a place in European competition.

Paulo Wanchope has completed his club record £3.65m move to Manchester City from West Ham. The Costa Rican international striker passed his medical yesterday and has signed a five-year contract.

Wanchope, 24, will report for training with his new team-mates this morning. The City chairman, David Bernstein, has no doubts about Wanchope's ability and he believes he will do well for the Blues. "Paulo has strength, pace and quality and he should do the business for us," he said.

Wanchope opted for the Premiership new-boys after asking the club for 24 hours to talk the move over with his father. He was unsure about moving north after just 12 months in London, but the City manager, Joe Royle, persuaded him that he was doing the right thing.

Bernstein confirmed City had pulled out of the bidding for centre-back Ugo Ehiogu after Aston Villa rejected their latest £7.5m bid. "It would have been an enormous fee, particularly for a defender," he said. "We have put in our best bid, they have said 'no' and we have gone on to new things."

Birmingham City have made a second raid on France to sign the Toulouse midfielders Christophe Grondin, 16, and 18-year-old Mikaël Sabathier. Last summer, Birmingham signed the French teenagers Tresor Luntala and Jacques Williams on free transfers.

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