DWIGHT YORKE'S nine-year affair with Aston Villa, which began when they ventured a down-payment of pounds 5,000 on a raw teenager spotted by Graham Taylor during a Caribbean tour, ended acrimoniously yesterday when the 26-year-old striker joined Manchester United for pounds 12m in time to be eligible for their Champions' League campaign.
The Villa chairman, Doug Ellis, who has been on the receiving end of "poaching" complaints himself when appointing managers, accused United of "tapping up" the Trinidad and Tobago international while he was still under contract.
Ellis claimed that the process had been going on for nearly a year, but added that Villa had reluctantly concluded there was no point in keeping a player whose heart was no longer in the club.
Only 24 hours earlier, Ellis argued that Yorke could fulfil all his ambitions with Villa and insisted there would be no deal. His manager, John Gregory, reiterated his unwillingness to do business unless he could have Andy Cole in part-exchange.
In the end, however, Villa accepted a sum pounds 4m less than their "non-negotiable" price after United had increased their "final" offer of pounds 10m.
Ellis, who admitted he was both angered and saddened to see Yorke go, rationalised the about-turn by suggesting that while Villa could keep him physically, they had lost him mentally. "He was determined to get away," he said. "In effect he was saying: `I don't want to play for Aston Villa, I want to play for Manchester United'. As the manager has said, if he doesn't want to play for us, there's no point in going on resisting.
"This has gone on since last September when he was first tapped - I hate using the word, but it's a fact and I've spoken to Martin Edwards [United's chairman] about their modus operandi. In the end we came to the conclusion that we shouldn't continue to resist.
"I've had five meetings with Dwight and his agent and eventually we've had to bite the bullet and accept the money. At least we've got the figure we placed on him right from the very beginning, which was a minimum of pounds 12m, and there are add-ons as well."
Yorke, who drove to Old Trafford for a medical before signing in time to beat Uefa's midnight deadline for the Champions' League, expressed his gratitude to Ellis and his various managers at Villa Park, in particular Brian Little, for helping him become a success in the English game.
"Coming from Tobago, which is such a small island where football comes second to cricket, it was a dream opportunity to play here. Aston Villa gave me that chance and made me the player I am. I've got a new life now and I hope I can win some silverware here as well."
The deal represents a record for United, relieving Jaap Stam of that tag two months after his pounds 10.5m transfer from PSV Eindhoven. It is also the second biggest transaction for an English-based player behind Alan Shearer's pounds 15m switch to Newcastle.
Yorke's defection comes at the end of a summer during which Alex Ferguson failed in his attempts to recruit Gabriel Batistuta and Patrick Kluivert. The United manager seemed destined to be frustrated again before a poll of Villa fans on Wednesday gave Ellis and Gregory their "get-out clause". A surprising 75 per cent of those who called a Birmingham newspaper said they should cash in on Yorke after he had made it clear he was desperate to play for a rival club.
Gregory is already seeking reinforcements, according to Ellis, and is sure to be linked with Nottingham Forest's disaffected striker Pierre van Hooijdonk and Chelsea's Tore Andre Flo. Villa's interest in Atletico Madrid's Christian Vieri and Juninho is also well chronicled, although they may also lose Yorke's closest friend, the unsettled Australian goalkeeper Mark Bosnich, before the season is much older.
Ferguson, meanwhile, must trust that Yorke revives his side after the Charity Shield mauling by Arsenal and the stumbling Premiership draw at home to Leicester. On Tuesday, purring over Eric Cantona's "comeback" in the Munich memorial match, he conceded that there was a long list of players, most of them forwards, who had under-achieved with United because they were overawed by playing for England's biggest club.
Boom time for boy from Tobago, page 18
Dailly for Rovers, page 23
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