Aston Villa are confident that the United States goalkeeper Brad Guzan will soon be handed a work permit and become their second summer signing. Yesterday the saga over captain Gareth Barry's transfer took another turn with Villa's manager, Martin O'Neill, denying that the club were close to selling him to Liverpool.
O'Neill is eager to add to the Chivas USA keeper to a squad which has been bolstered by the arrival of the midfielder Steve Sidwell from Chelsea. Villa failed with an attempt to sign the 23-year-old in the last transfer window but O'Neill is heartened by the player's recent international outings and believes they could tip the balance in favour of the move.
O'Neill said: "As everyone knows we chased [Guzan] last January and were hopeful at the tribunal for the work permit and it was narrowly defeated. Since then he has played quite a number of games for the USA, not only in friendly matches but also in competitive games by playing a couple of matches in the World Cup [qualifiers]. His position would have improved immensely, so we are very hopeful."
O'Neill hopes to make further signings before the season gets under way, their number and quality dependent on funds resulting from Barry's move to Liverpool, which could net as much as £18m.
"We have started the ball rolling with Sidwell and hopefully, with a bit of luck, the goalkeeper will come in," said O'Neill. "We have a number of players that we would look to bring to the football club and that is what we are progressing with."
Various cash-plus-player deals have been speculated upon regarding any transfer for Barry but O'Neill said Liverpool had failed to make a renewed bid in the last week.
He said: "There is not a grain of truth in this story that the club or Randy Lerner agreed any deal with Liverpool. We have waited over a week for them to come back to us and respond to our price for Gareth. They know what it is but their original offer hasn't changed."
Villa, who begin their Intertoto Cup campaign against Turku or Odense this Saturday, were beaten 2-1 by FC Zurich in a friendly last Saturday. Sidwell made his debut but otherwise it was an unhappy afternoon for the tourists, who fell behind early on when Martin Laursen felled Florian Stahel in the box and Almen Abdi converted the penalty.
Gabriel Agbonlahor looked to have levelled almost instantly but his volley from Marlon Harewood's right-wing cross was from an offside position. Agbonlahor got one that counted in the 17th minute, powering his way into the box and slotting a low, angled drive beyond Johnny Leoni.
Villa wasted more than one chance to take the lead, partly thanks to some excellent goalkeeping from Leoni. They were made to pay when Zat Knight brought down Admir Mehmedi with 11 minutes remaining and Abdi slotted home the winner.
Also in Switzerland, Everton lost 1-0 to Sion on Saturday in their first pre-season friendly. David Moyes' side were missing a number of big names through injury, while the American goalkeeper Tim Howard and the club's African contingent have yet to return from their summer breaks.
An inexperienced line-up was second best throughout, the hosts deservedly winning through a 58th-minute goal from Didier Cretterand. The midfielder played a neat one-two to open up the Everton defence before calmly putting his finish past Iain Turner.
The Everton substitute Kieran Agard should have restored parity straight away but his header was glanced wide.
Moyes, the Everton manager, said: "It was a good run out when you consider what we've got available to us. The boys did really well and we're pleased because we've worked them really hard this week up in the mountains."