The agent of Manchester United defender Axel Tuanzebe claims that the arrival of Steven Gerrard at Aston Villa forced his client to cut short his loan spell with the Birmingham club.
Tuanzebe was recalled by United at the start of January and has already secured another short-term move. The defender made five Premier League starts for Aston Villa before November, but lost his place as Esri Konza and Tyrone Mings established a solid partnership.
The 24-year-old will line up for Napoli for the rest of the season on loan and hopes to find more playing time than under the ex-Liverpool legend.
What was said about Steven Gerrard?
Manchester United and Liverpool is one of the biggest rivalries in the Premier League, and therefore the world. Gerrard, a former Liverpool player where he made 504 appearances and became a club legend, played in that rivalry many times.
According to Tuanzebe's agent – who also happens to be his brother – Gerrard gave in to that allegiance, causing Tuanzebe to fall out of favor with the new Aston Villa boss.
"Axel is very excited to begin a new chapter in his football career, playing abroad and for a club with so much history behind it and fans who worship football," Dimitri Tuanzebe told ESPN. "Axel didn't decide to move until it became very clear that he isn't the manager's first-choice centre-back and the Napoli offer was very tempting."
"I have a lot of mixed emotions when it comes to Axel's time at Villa. He is loved by the fans as he contributed highly to the club's success in the Championship, where he was one of the key players that helped Villa return to the Premier League. However, following the arrival of Steven Gerrard at Villa Park, it felt as if the rivalry between Manchester United and Liverpool came to life."
"For the avoidance of doubts, Axel was very open to staying at Villa, he loves the fans, being in Birmingham, but he also has a career that he can only build and reach his full potential in an environment where opportunities to play are fair."
Axel Tuanzebe will spend the rest of the season at Napoli but brother and agent Dimitri says the move only came about after concerns Steven Gerrard was letting Liverpool’s rivalry with Man United get in the way of picking him at Aston Villa https://t.co/ZDMb4nCLKW @ESPNFC— Rob Dawson (@RobDawsonESPN) January 10, 2022
The bigger picture
Tuanzebe is a graduate of the United youth academy, having first joined the Red Devils at the age of eight. He made his first-team bow in January 2017 but has failed to claim a regular place in the United line-up, racking up just 37 appearances with the club in the five years since his debut.
The former England Under-21 youth international had experienced better fortunes on a previous loan spell at Villa in 2018-19, which ended in promotion back to the Premier League for the Villans. His most recent stint fell short of that success, though, and while he started the season as a first-team regular, Tuanzebe was restricted to just eight minutes of action following Gerrard's November appointment.
Tuanzebe made his Napoli debut on Sunday, coming off the bench for the final 10 minutes of Napoli's 1-0 win over Sampdoria.
Arsenal Transfer News: Latest January 2022 window player signings, loans & sales
Arsenal transfers: Defender has suitors
TOTY FIFA 22 vote: Finalists, release date and upgrades for FUT Team of the Year
FIFA 22 TOTY finalists, release date & voting
Man United vs. Aston Villa live score, updates, highlights for FA Cup
Live: Man United vs. Aston Villa
January transfer window news: Ronaldo to leave Man United, Traore to Tottenham, latest on Digne, more
Today's transfer news: Ronaldo wants out, Spurs eyeing Traore