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Sep, 30, 2009

Mellberg tips Agbonlahor to shine for England

Former Aston Villa hero Olof Mellberg has told ESPN Soccernet that in-form Gabriel Agbonlahor has the potential to become an England regular under Fabio Capello.

Mellberg, who left Villa to sign for Juventus on a free transfer in the summer of 2008 and has since joined Olympiakos, still follows the progress of his former team and has not failed to notice the impressive impact made by Agbonlahor, who has scored in each of his past five games for Martin O'Neill's side.

The forward is no stranger to the national squad under Capello and was even entrusted with a surprise starting role when England defeated Germany 2-1 in Munich in November 2008. But Agbonlahor has not featured since a humbling 2-0 defeat to Spain in February and appears to have only an outside chance of making the 23-man squad for next summer's World Cup finals.

Mellberg, though, has always held Agbonlahor in high regard and expects the 22-year-old to stake a strong claim to join the party that travels to South Africa in June.

"When I was there he was very young and was one of our top performers in that season [2007-08]," Mellberg told ESPN Soccernet following Olympiakos' 2-0 defeat to Arsenal on Tuesday night. "I definitely think he has a good future in the England squad. I think [he always had the potential].

"He had a really good season when I was there. I didn't see that much to have a great opinion but I heard that maybe last season he didn't have the best of seasons. But from everything I have seen of him he is a really good striker. He is really strong, quick and has the ability to score goals."

After spending seven years at Villa, Mellberg departed for Italy on affectionate terms and, in a unique gesture, even gave every supporter who attended his final game a Villa shirt with his name and squad number printed on the back.

He remains a popular figure at Villa Park and although both Manchester City and Tottenham have started the season in impressive fashion, Mellberg hopes that his former team-mates can cling onto a European place this season.

"I have seen highlights from the games and follow them all the time," Mellberg said. "It was a bit of a strange start for them. They lost a couple of games maybe against opponents they were looking to beat and then they won against Liverpool. They are up there challenging and hopefully will be at the end of the season as well."

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