O'Neill claims victory in race for Young

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The Independent Online

Aston Villa appear to have won the race to sign Ashley Young from Watford. Marton O'Neill, Villa's manager, said last night that the exciting young striker had "verbally agreed" to join the Midlands club.

"In principle he has agreed to come," O'Neill said. "I'm hopeful and I think, from speaking to him, he would be pretty pleased to come here. But, like everything else, you cannot take anything for granted."

Young, 21, who has been O'Neill's No 1 transfer target, has turned down the chance to sign for West Ham, but looks set to join Villa in a transfer worth what would be a club record £9.65 million. The Hertfordshire club left him out for their trip to Villa yesterday, where they lost 2-0.

O'Neill had been worried that Young would delay his decision to see whether Tottenham would make an improved bid for him.

O'Neill said of Young: "I believe he has got the potential to go on and do great things. You think whether somebody will be of value over the next four or five years and you base your decision to go for someone on that. I think he is capable of playing for England because he has the ability, the natural ability."

On the prospect of the deal going through, O'Neill added: "I will not be rushing anybody into making a quick decision. It will take a bit of time."

O'Neill views Young as a potential long-term capture but he is also ready to bring in short-term buys to help Villa through the remainder of the campaign.

He said: "You don't mind paying a bit more for someone you think has got a future but if I was getting people in with a bit of experience on a short-term basis, I don't mind doing that as well."

There is little argument about Young's potential, but there was a time when the idea of two of Europe's leading clubs scrapping over the services of Owen Hargreaves would have seemed unlikely to fans of the game in England, especially the ones who booed the midfielder when he came on during an international.

Some exceptionally committed, energetic and inventive displays at the World Cup changed all that and now his club, Bayern Munich, are playing hardball over a £20 million offer from Manchester United. Even his broken leg has not cooled United's determination to take him to Old Trafford, but as Hargreaves celebrated his 26th birthday yesterday it looked as if he would be staying in Germany until the summer at least.

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the former Germany international who is now Bayern's president, said: "In the summer we will see how things work out."

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