Man United’s Axel Tuanzebe left Aston Villa due to Steven Gerrard arrival

Axel Tuanzebe is aiming to help Napoli win the Serie A title for the first time in more than 30 years after leaving Aston Villa over concerns Steven Gerrard’s history at Liverpool was affecting his chances of getting first team football at Villa Park, his agent Dimitri Tuanzebe told ESPN.

Tuanzebe joined Villa on loan from Manchester United in the summer but the deal was cut short in January to allow the defender to join Napoli for the rest of the season.

Following Gerrard’s appointment in November, Tuanzebe was restricted to just eight minutes of football, prompting brother and agent Dimitri to broker a move to Italy.

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There were fears Liverpool’s historic rivalry with United had become a factor in Gerrard’s decision to overlook Tuanzebe but the 24-year-old is delighted to have been given a fresh start with Napoli.

“Axel is very excited to begin a new chapter in his football career, playing abroad and for a club with so much history behind it and fans who worship football,” Dimirti, who runs Millennial Sports Management, told ESPN.

“Axel didn’t decide to move until it became very clear that he isn’t the manager’s first-choice centre-back and the Napoli offer was very tempting.

“I have a lot of mixed emotions when it comes to Axel’s time at Villa. He is loved by the fans as he contributed highly to the club’s success in the Championship where he was one of the key players that helped Villa return to the Premier League.

“However, following the arrival of Steven Gerrard at Villa Park, it felt as if the rivalry between Man United and Liverpool came to life.

“For the avoidance of doubts, Axel was very open to staying at Villa, he loves the fans, being in Birmingham but he also has a career that he can only build and reach his full potential in an environment where opportunities to play are fair.”

Tuanzebe remains highly-rated at United and has a contract until 2023, with the option of another year.

The Old Trafford academy graduate showed exactly what he is capable of by keeping both Kylian Mbappe and Neymar quiet in a 2-1 Champions League victory over Paris Saint-Germain in October 2020 and Dimitri has praised the way the club handled the decision to leave Villa for Italy.

“The move was very easy,” Dimitri added. “Man United was very supportive of the move, made sure that it was in favour of Axel’s career and Napoli did everything within their power to make the deal possible. As Axel’s agent, I made sure that the deal went ahead by working in collaboration with trusted partners in the UK and Italy.

“Man United contacted me directly to notify me of Napoli’s interest, I added them to the list of clubs interested and then assessed all options with the help of my family, trusted partners and Axel.

“After multiple meetings with interested clubs’ sporting directors and managers, we all concluded that Napoli is the best option.

“Axel was persuaded by the clear path into the team, also a success story of players who have enjoyed playing time since they signed for Napoli after a lack of opportunities at their previous clubs.”

Tuanzebe made his Napoli debut just hours after the move was confirmed, coming on as a substitute in the 1-0 win over Sampdoria on Sunday.

Luciano Spalletti’s side are third in Serie A, six points behind leaders Inter Milan and chasing their first title since 1990. There is also a mouth-watering Europa League tie with Barcelona to look forward to in February.

“Napoli is in a great position in Serie A, the league title is in sight and they’re also in the Europa league where anything is possible,” Dimitri said.

“Axel will play his part when called upon by the manager. Barcelona is one of Europe’s top clubs, filled with an attacking force. Axel just wants to play football and show everyone what he can do, especially against one of Europe’s giants.”