Aston Villa boss Martin O'Neill today got his man when he clinched a £12 million (Dh72m) swoop for England winger Stewart Downing. The Middlesbrough midfielder, who celebrates his 25th birthday next week, signed a four-year contract a day after the two clubs agreed terms. A statement on Villa's official website said: "Villa have completed the signing of England international Stewart Downing. "The four-year deal was finalised after the left-sided star agreed terms and passed a medical. "Downing becomes Martin O'Neill's first summer signing and adds more quality to the manager's claret and blue squad."
Downing arrived at Villa's Bodymoor Heath training complex on crutches to discuss terms and undergo a medical as he continued his recovery from foot surgery, the legacy of his clash with new teammate Stiliyan Petrov in the penultimate game of last season. He is expected to have a screw removed from the fractured bone in September and may not be available to play until October at the earliest. However, O'Neill moved swiftly to head off the competition amid a feeling that some potential buyers might wait until January. Downing said: "As soon as I spoke to the manager at the training ground, I wanted to play for Villa and I wanted to play for him.
"He has great ambition and wants to build a good squad to take the club forward. I want to be part of that. "As an outsider looking in, it was obvious that Villa were a club on the up. You can see a chairman and manager who want to build great things. "They have done that over the past few seasons, particularly by finishing sixth last time around, which was great. "But once you get here and see the stadium, the training ground, the people behind the scenes and the manager with his ambition and hopes for the future, it's even better than you realised." Downing admitted it had been hard to leave the club he has supported all his life, but insisted he had little choice if he wanted to keep alive his dream of playing in next summer's World Cup finals in South Africa.
He told Boro's official website: "Leaving Boro feels strange because I have always been at the club. "I supported them when I was young and I will always be a Boro fan. "But I hope the fans will understand that I'm ambitious and want to win things. This move gives me a chance of that. "Also, I definitely want to play at next year's World Cup, so that's my aim ? to get back to full fitness, get back playing and get myself in the England team for the World Cup. "I don't just want to go there to sit it out this time either. I want to be in the team. "I loved the last World Cup, it was brilliant, but I want to play a bigger part this time. "I have to be with a good Premier League side if I want to do that."
Downing was denied a move to Tottenham in January after handing in a transfer request, but chairman Steve Gibson promised him then he could leave if a big club came in for him this summer, and Boro's relegation at the end of the last campaign simply opened the door wider despite his injury problems. He was part of the squad when then skipper Gareth Southgate lifted the 2004 Carling Cup at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, and played in the Uefa Cup final defeat by Sevilla two years later after the Teessiders' remarkable run to Eindhoven. He said: "I have got some great memories of my time with Boro. "I was part of the Carling Cup-winning squad and I will never forget those two amazing comeback games against Basle and Bucharest in the Uefa Cup. "And the Boro fans have been brilliant to me. I would like to thank them for all their support, but especially for sticking by me after all the speculation in January. "In hindsight, it was a mistake to ask for a move at that point. I was frustrated, but I know now I should have waited until the summer. "Boro mean a lot to me, but I'm ambitious to achieve things and fulfil my potential, so I need to be in the Premier League." * PA Sport