Mellberg set to sign new Villa contract

August 7, 2006

Aston Villa skipper Olof Mellberg is ready to commit himself to the club following the appointment of Martin O'Neill as manager.

The Sweden international, who is to quit as Sweden skipper - although will carry on playing for his national team - has been subject of speculation linking him with moves abroad since his return from the World Cup finals.

Mellberg's relationship with previous Villa manager David O'Leary had become strained and there were indications the Irishman was willing to sell him to fund new players.

But sources close to Mellberg are adamant the player, signed from Racing Santander five years ago, is happy to stay.

O'Neill will also hope to convince Gareth Barry he should be part of his plans after the midfielder had been unsettled by the uncertainty at the club.

The Irishman will begin the job for real today after a watching brief at Saturday's goalless draw against Hanover 96.

He said: 'I think it is difficult to assess what I need to bring to the team at the moment. I should have a better picture by the end of the week when we will have played another two games.

'It's difficult to judge when some players haven't played for a long time and others have just come back from holiday.

'Olof Mellberg, for instance, has played in the World Cup and has only recently come back. People have short-term injuries, long-term injuries and so on.

'That's why it is good to be out here to assess things. I need all the time in the world to do that.'

An encouraging sign for Villa was the return to senior action of central defender Martin Laursen, who had been troubled by a knee problem for nearly two years.

The Danish international played the final 17 minutes against Hanover and can expect to feature again in tomorrow's friendly against Dutch team NEC Nijmegen.

O'Neill said: 'I don't think Villa fans have seen the best of Martin Laursen because of his injuries.'

O'Neill has little time to bring in new players before the Premiership opener against Arsenal on August 19 and has been linked with Celtic midfielder Stilian Petrov.