Freddie heads for Bouma time at Villa

Dutch recruit completes dream squad for O'Leary. Ronald Atkin talks to the newcomer
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Like Flintoff, Bouma is not a born-and-bred Freddie, having been named Wilfred. "But back in Holland I was always called Freddie," he said after an initial session at the club's Bodymoor Heath training ground on Friday. "It's a much easier name on the pitch."

Bouma, a member of Holland's World Cup qualifying squad but not, at the moment, in the team, has long been coveted by Villa's manager, David O'Leary. The go-between was another ex-PSV man, Mark van Bommel, now at Barcelona. "I have known Mark a long time," said O'Leary. "I tried to sign him a few times. He was a big help. He has always known how I admired Freddie, and was able to tell Freddie what I was about as well."

Bouma, who played in the PSV side alongside Van Bommel for seven years, insisted: "Mark and I talk a lot to each other, but he didn't tell me I had to go to Villa or anything like that. The decision was my own."

It was a decision received joyously by O'Leary. Following the earlier capture of Milan Baros from Liverpool, the manager claimed: "We finished fifth in my first year at Villa and I have a better squad now than I did then, more numbers, more quality."

The aim is to get back into Europe, and though O'Leary acknowledges "there are a lot of others chasing the same dream", he feels that at last he has the squad to achieve it.

With the chairman, Doug Ellis, firmly in control of the pennies, Villa had bought sparingly in O'Leary's reign. "Since I have been here the club have been very straightforward, saying they have very little money and that we had to reduce the staff. We have done that, we are tighter- knit. Up to a couple of weeks ago we had to bring people like Patrik Berger in on a free, and bought Kevin Phillips for just £750,000."

What changed the scenario for O'Leary was the £2m sale of Darius Vassell and the return to Newcastle United of Nolberto Solano for £1.5m. "Once, the sale of someone like Vassell would have meant us buying four people with the money," he said. "Instead it has been spent on a quality forward in Baros. And when we got from Newcastle more than we had paid them for Solano in the first place, that money helped to buy Freddie.

"I have more quality in a smaller squad now. For the first time in a long time I am starting to have my own team, and a lot of the established players will be looking over their shoulders. For the first time in two years JLloyd [Samuel] has competition for the left-back position."

O'Leary is convinced his newcomers chose Villa because of the type of football the club produce. Certainly, Berger's input was helpful in persuading his fellow Czech Republic international Baros to join him, and Bouma confirmed that it was a combination of Villa's history and the way they play the game that clinched his own decision.

Freddie's ambition had always been to play his football in England eventually, ever since as an 11-year-old he started to watch BBC's Match of the Day at home in Holland. "Now my dream has come true. It is a whole different game here, a lot faster. From the first minute to the 90th, 100 per cent high tempo, that's what I like."

Bouma is not concerned that at PSV he has left behind a club where he spent 15 years from the age of 12, a club who reached the European Champions' League semi-finals. Villa's absence from Europe does not worry him, since he feels that every Premiership game will be what he calls "high level", unlike the Dutch League.

"Sometimes you played a game there that was real easy. Friends who have played in England tell me there are no easy games over here. They told me, 'You are going to love it, the stands are huge when you run on to the pitch and there is 90 minutes of yelling'.

"They told me also that Villa is a great club with a huge history."

Although a left-back, and a fine one, for many years, Freddie was, like most other boys, keen on becoming a striker. "Although I started as a striker, my former trainer told me it was maybe better if I moved back to midfield. And then he told me it was maybe better to go way back, so I became a defender. He was right, because I became a Holland international."

The club Bouma watched most on BBC as a youngster were Liverpool. He has heard that Liverpool were interested in buying him, but does not know if the reports have any foundation. There were certainly, he reveals, other English clubs in the hunt, clubs he declines to identify.

He merely explained: "I didn't have a good feeling with those other clubs. I wanted a new challenge and a new opportunity. This is a good decision I have made." Busy rebuilding Villa's image, O'Leary would agree.