By Alex Stevens
Aston Villa are interested in signing Joey Barton as he edges towards the Rangers exit door, according to a report.
The Chronicle claim that manager Steve Bruce wants to land the controversial midfielder as he steps up his Villa overhaul.
Leeds have also been credited with a strong interest in Barton as Garry Monk looks to guide the Championship club to a play-off spot this season.
Burnley boss Sean Dyche has previously refused to rule out a return to Turf Moor for Barton, 34, after a superb season last term that saw him lead the Clarets to the Championship title.
Bruce has achieved an immediate turnaround since taking over at Villa Park, steering the club to three wins and two draws in his first five matches in charge.
Barton has agreed a pay-off deal with Rangers that will leave him free to join another club in the January window.
The Englishman penned a Rangers two-year deal worth around £20,000 per week when he became the highest profile signing of the summer in Scottish football and completed a switch from Burnley.
It is said that Barton was offered around £250,000 to walk away from his deal which runs until summer 2018, and he agreed to take it on Tuesday night.
But the extraordinary saga, which began when the one-time England international had been suspended following a training ground spat with fellow midfielder Andy Halliday, is now almost over with both parties set to sign a pay-off deal on Wednesday.
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Barton, 34, who was banished from Ibrox since the 5-1 Old Firm defeat to Celtic in September, could have held out for significantly more money.
Nonetheless, Rangers fans will be angry that a player who caused such problems in the dressing room has been handed a bumper pay-off simply to leave the club.
The former Manchester City star had returned to training last Thursday, but was told to train with the Rangers’ academy side to work his way back into the good books of manager Mark Warburton.
Barton has had to endure taunts from home and away fans after a dismal start both on and off the pitch.
Poor performances on the pitch have led to calls claiming he was unfit, while an investigation led to Barton being charged for 44 counts of betting after joining Warburton’s side.
The 34-year-old midfielder is no stranger to controversy after receiving the Premier League’s second largest ban of 12 matches following his actions after a red card against Manchester City, as well as serving jail time during his Newcastle days.
In other Aston Villa transfer news, Bruce wants cover for an £8million ace and has turned to a 38-cap international.