Houllier set to make 37-year-old Pires his first signing at Villa

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The Independent Online

Robert Pires is due to sign for Aston Villa later this week. The move, which will be a return to English football for Pires four years after he left Arsenal, was confirmed yesterday by Villa's assistant manager, Gary McAllister.

"It's perfect. I am sure he will arrive at the training ground in good condition," said McAllister. "He's a player everyone can look up to because of what he has achieved."

The 37-year-old Pires enjoyed a successful spell at Arsenal, between 2000 and 2006. He won two Premier League titles while with the Gunners, in 2001-02 and 2003-04. In the latter, the "Invincibles" season, Pires played all but two of Arsenal's 38 league games. He was also part of Arsenal's FA Cup wins of 2002, 2003 and 2005, the last of those being Arsenal's most recent major trophy.

While at Arsenal, Pires was also named in three consecutive PFA Teams of the Year, and was chosen as Footballer of the Year by the Football Writers' Association for the 2001-02 season. Overall, he played 283 games for Arsenal, scoring 84 goals. In May 2008, he was voted the Gunners' sixth greatest player of all time by Arsenal supporters.

He left in summer 2006 to join Spanish side Villarreal on a free transfer and enjoyed four seasons at El Madrigal before being released this summer as the Spanish club tried to cut their wage bill, and has been training at Arsenal's London Colney facilities for the last few weeks to maintain his fitness levels. Pires also has 74 French international caps and was part of the squads that won the World Cup and European Championship in 1998 and 2000 respectively.

Pires will be Gérard Houllier's first signing since becoming Villa manager in September and will bring elite experience to a team that has been increasingly youthful this season. It mirrors Houllier's recruitment of current Villa assistant McAllister to Liverpool, as a 35-year-old veteran, when Houllier was in charge at Anfield.

An experienced player who will not be joining Houllier's Villa is Manchester United's Michael Owen. The striker had been linked with a move to Villa, having been managed by Houllier at Liverpool, but when asked about the possibility the French coach rejected it. "No, no," he said. "In terms of some strikers Emile [Heskey] and John [Carew] will come back. There is no point." Houllier did, however, express an interest in Real Madrid's Karim Benzema.

Pires' time at Arsenal

Robert Pires signed for Arsenal in 2000 for £6m from Marseilles. He went on to make 283 appearances, scoring 84 goals.

* Won five major trophies with the Gunners: the Premier League twice (in 2002, and as a key part of the unbeaten 'Invincibles' in 2004); and the FA Cup three times (2002, scoring the winner in the final in 2003, and 2005).

* Comfortable on both wings and a prolific scorer, but could not agree to a shorter contract and joined Villarreal in May 2006.

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