Villa ready to pay £6m for reunion of Petrov and O'Neill

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The Independent Online

Martin O'Neill is poised to make Stilian Petrov, the Bulgaria midfielder who served him for five years at Celtic, his first signing as Aston Villa manager for an initial outlay of £6m before the transfer window closes at midnight tomorrow.

Petrov, 27, will be allowed to leave provided Celtic can tie up a £2m deal with Real Madrid for the former Everton midfielder Thomas Gravesen. The Dane briefly interested O'Neill when it appeared Petrov may join Portsmouth or stay in Glasgow.

Celtic's asking price for Petrov had been £7m, which Villa could pay if he makes a certain number of appearances for the Premiership club. Portsmouth were ready to pay it, pushing O'Neill beyond his £5m valuation, only for the player to express a desire to be reunited with his former manager.

Petrov, who is in Sofia preparing for his country's World Cup qualifiers against Romania and Slovenia, is understood to have been offered a four-year contract by Villa. His agent, Tony McGill, was at Bodymoor Heath, the club's training headquarters, to discuss personal terms on Monday.

The player popularly known as "Stan", who was recruited for Celtic by John Barnes from CSKA Sofia in 1999, has scored 56 goals in 228 league appearances. He signed a new contract in January, supposedly keeping him in Scotland until 2010. Petrov said yesterday: "It's no secret that I'm a close friend of Martin and his assistants, and I'm very glad that they have made such an impressive start. But let's wait and see whether I'm going to become a Villa player."

Another of O'Neill's Celtic squad, the right-sided midfielder Didier Agathe, has trained with Villa for the past week and played for their reserves against Reading last night with a view to a possible contract. The former Hibernian player spent part of the summer on trial with Blackburn Rovers.

Gravesen, meanwhile, will become the highest-paid player ever in Scottish football - reportedly earning £45,000 a week - provided Celtic fend off late interest from Premiership suitors. The player had a medical at Celtic on Monday. However, Gravesen left to join up with the Danish squad without agreeing a contract, increasing the likelihood of Newcastle, Bolton, Middlesbrough or his former club, Everton, moving in for the 30-year-old during the next 24 hours.

Tottenham Hotspur enhanced their attacking options yesterday by re-signing Mido, the 23-year-old Egyptian striker, from Roma for an undisclosed fee. In a separate deal, the South Korean full-back Lee Young-Pyo is set to leave Spurs for the Italian club, making a renewed offer from the north London club for Wigan Athletic's French defender, Pascal Chimbonda, a near certainty before the deadline passes.

Mido spent a season-and-a-half on loan at White Hart Lane and became a crowd favourite, but returned to Rome last season after sustaining a leg injury.

Middlesbrough will learn before tomorrow's deadline whether Jonathan Woodgate is willing to join his home-town club on a season-long loan from Real Madrid. Woodgate, 26, has played only 14 matches in two injury-affected years for the Spanish giants and has asked for time to think over the move.

Gareth Southgate, the Middlesbrough manager, faces competition from Woodgate's previous club, Newcastle. Both Southgate and his Newcastle counterpart, Glenn Roeder, retain an interest in Robert Huth, the £5m-rated Chelsea defender. Roeder has also targeted a new striker as a priority before midnight tomorrow.

Roman Grill, the agent acting for Owen Hargreaves, the England midfielder, has said there is "no chance" of his leaving Bayern Munich for Manchester United unless the German club have a change of heart.

As Arsène Wenger ponders the possible signing of Steven Naismith, having met the 19-year-old Kilmarnock striker on Monday, Arsenal have allowed the Irish attacker Anthony Stokes to join Falkirk until January. An official of the SPL club hailed Stokes, 18, as "one of the hottest properties to have graduated from the English academy system".

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