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My Favourite Villan: John Gregory on Olof Mellberg

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My Favourite Villan: John Gregory on Olof Mellberg

We have asked members of the claret and blue family - celebrities, fans, journalists, staff - to give us their all-time hero. Here former boss John Gregory chats about Olof Mellberg.

Olof Mellberg must have wondered if he'd made a big mistake on his first day's training at Bodymoor Heath - we introduced him to the delights of cricket!

Olof had just joined us from Spanish club Racing Santander and was probably expecting to get straight down to fitness work.

But it was a warm, sunny day and we decided to have a game of cricket on the astro-turf pitch as a gentle start to our pre-season preparations.

Olof admitted he had never played before, and it showed. He was hopeless.

We tried to show him how to bat and how to bowl but he didn't know which end of the bat to hold!

It was quite a strange introduction to Premier League football for him but once we got down to more serious business Olof was immense.

Despite giving the impression of never exerting himself, he was a player who always had something in reserve when he needed to extend himself.

He was very focused on everything he did, and he never went missing in a game. You knew you could always rely on him.

Before we signed him I'd read a few things about him and one or two scouts had mentioned him but when you are a manager people are telling you about players all the time.

Sometimes you take note, sometimes you don't, but I decided to go out to Spain to watch Olof play for Santander against Real Madrid at the Bernabeau.

He played right-back on that occasion, although I was more interested in him as a central defender which is where he played for Sweden.

I wanted someone with pace. I'd always admired Des Walker for that and I thought it would be a great advantage to have someone in the Villa defence who was really quick.

Olof played well that night so I went back to the hotel where Santander were staying to have a word with him.

After that I ended up following him around Europe, whether he was playing for Santander or for his national team.

Before one game against Switzerland, I decided it was make or break time. If I liked what I saw, I would try to sign him.

After 15 minutes there was a long ball over the top of the Sweden defence but Olof sprinted past the Swiss striker and cleared the danger.

I called his agent there and then, and said: "I'll take him!"

The agent was at the meeting when we got together with Doug Ellis to discuss details of the contract but he may as well not have been there.

Olof told us what he wanted and he wouldn't budge. After about four hours, we agreed to everything he had demanded.

He is a typical Swede - very stubborn and meticulous in everything he does.

Olof carried on doing the business for other managers after I left in January 2002 but I managed to persuade him to give me his shirt after his final game at Villa Park against Wigan six years later.

That's one of my most treasured mementoes.

Olof's popularity with the fans was understandable. He always took the time to sign autographs and pose for photos.

And what a great gesture it was when he gave a replica shirt to every Villa supporter who attended his farewell game at West Ham.

He will never be forgotten here.

Make sure you pick up tickets for Newcastle.

AVFC Official
By @AVFCOfficial 14th January 2013
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