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Skipper's dire warning to Villa players

RON VLAAR has warned his Aston Villa team-mates that relegation from the Premier League will have a major impact on the entire club.

The Villa captain insists the club are not only fighting to stay in the league but are playing for the futures of all the club's employees, with severe financial ramifications expected if they drop into the Championship.

The new lucrative TV deal that starts next season guarantees every Premier League club a minimum of £60m, ensuring the pressure on top-flight managers is arguably greater than ever.

With Paul Lambert in danger of becoming the first Villa manager since Billy McNeill in 1987 to take the club down – Villa are two points clear of the bottom three with four games left – Vlaar has delivered a bleak reminder that relegation could have grave repercussions for more than just the playing staff.

"We have to realise that it's not only about the players; it's about everybody involved in the club."

Villa have not kept a clean sheet for 18 Premier League games and Vlaar, a £3.2m summer signing from Feyenoord, accepts they must stop leaking goals if they are to survive.

There will be added spice in tonight's crucial clash following gestures made by Sunderland boss Paolo di Canio when Aston Villa played Swindon Town – the club he then managed – in the League Cup in October. The Sunderland manager insisted his signal towards Swindon's supporters was about the League One side dominating the game. The visiting fans took it as a gesture that their side was going down.

Di Canio brushed off any possible suggestion of bad blood. "I wasn't worried about Newcastle, who are the worst enemy supporters for us, so you can imagine, I'm not worried about Villa Park," said Di Canio.

"For me, it's like going to the theatre or seeing Pavarotti when he was still alive. It's an easy place to go. I hope they are going to concentrate their energies on me, I'm not worried. It's important that my players get the result we want and then celebrate.

"If I receive another 2,000 bad words about me, I can add that to the millions I got in the past in Glasgow, Rome and Milan. It's not an issue." (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent