Stuttgart sign Hitzlsperger as fans doubt Villa's '£20m kitty'

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Thomas Hitzlsperger, the Aston Villa midfielder, has agreed a move to VfB Stuttgart.

Thomas Hitzlsperger, the Aston Villa midfielder, has agreed a move to VfB Stuttgart.

The German international will leave Villa Park on a free transfer to the Bundesliga club in the summer. Hitzlsperger, who joined Villa from Bayern Munich's youth team in August 2000, has been unable to agree terms over a new contract in a long-running saga.

The player, nicknamed "The Hammer" by Villa fans because of his explosive shooting, has become frustrated by his lack of first-team opportunities this season, although he was back in the side for Saturday's 3-0 win at Newcastle.

He has still shown enough potential to have been included in the Germany squad by the coach Jurgen Klinsmann and has his sights set on being part of the 2006 World Cup plans. But Hitzlsperger knows that to achieve that objective he needs to be playing week in, week out. "I am happy that the transfer to VfB has now become concrete," Hitzlsperger said. "I decided to go to Stuttgart because of the positive sporting perspective and the very positive conversations I have had [with Stuttgart]."

The Stuttgart coach, Matthias Sammer, added: "This is an important step regarding the new season. Thomas succeeded as a young player in England and has lots of potential."

The Villa manager, David O'Leary, admitted before the trip to St James' Park that "the talking is over with" in terms of a new contract. He said: "I find it hard when Thomas said that he has to play games. He has been playing games during the last two years. That's why he has got himself into the German national side. What he has been doing at Villa has enabled him to achieve that."

O'Leary has denied reports that he is keen to sign the left-back Gregory Vignal who has spent this season on loan with Rangers from Liverpool.

While Hitzlsperger is on the way out Villa fans want to know where the club's projected summer transfer budget of £20m has come from. It is a change of policy from the chairman Doug Ellis who indicated there was only around £4m in the kitty for O'Leary.

Villa Fans Combined (VFC) spokesman Jonathan Fear commented: "I think fans share David O'Leary's shock at the news that the club may actually be backing him to the tune of £20m. But we have heard this sort of talk before though so we hope this time to actually see it happen."