AT BOARDROOM level, the battle for control at Aston Villa has turned into a three-way tug of war. Early favourite, American billionaire, Randy Lerner has seen his first approach refused by maverick chairman, Doug Ellis but is still in the running. Local consortium leader, Michael Neville is in danger of being muscled out in the financial stakes by both the overseas interest and latest bidder, Athole Still, acting on behalf of former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson.
All three candidates favour Martin O’Neill to take on the management role, and the former Celtic boss would readily take charge given a sizable war chest to revive the old club’s fortunes – any takeover will have to happen quickly though, as the transfer window closes on August 31.
At Sunderland, new chairman, Niall Quinn has stopped looking for a manager and decided to don the coach’s tracksuit himself until a top man for the dugout can be found. Former boss, Mick McCarthy has taken on the role vacated by Glen Hoddle at Wolves, prompting overlooked candidate Paul Ince to quit the club.
On the pitch, Manchester United are slowly rumbling into action, finally agreeing to sell Ruud van Nistelrooy for 15.5 million euros to Real Madrid. The cash was immediately reinvested in the 19 million transfer of Tottenham’s England star, Michael Carrick, who could be replaced at White Hart Lane by Argentinean captain Juan Pablo Sorin. United are expected to find another 14 million for Villareal’s Brazil-born Spanish international midfielder, Marcos Senna, who should arrive this week. Liverpool have added 23-year-old Birmingham winger Jermaine Pennant to their bulging squad for around nine million euros, while Blackburn have ended Benni McCarthy’s seemingly endless ‘will he-won’t he’ transfer saga. The Porto striker, who has spent time with Ajax and Celta de Vigo since moving to Europe from South Africa in 1997, was originally intended to partner Craig Bellamy up front, but now replaces the Liverpool signing. Lastly, Arsenal and Chelsea are still at loggerheads over the future of Ashley Cole: the North London club are holding out for 40 million euros for their England defender, while the champions are only prepared to pay 30.