Aston Villa talk with Stewart Downing

Stewart Downing headed straight for showdown talks with manager Alex McLeish today as the Aston Villa players reported back for pre-season training.

Stewart Downing headed straight for showdown talks with manager Alex McLeish today as the Aston Villa players reported back for pre-season training.

The 26-year-old England international wants a move to Liverpool, so far denied him by Villa’s rejection earlier this week of a £15million offer.

The Anfield club are expecting to time Downing’s first face-to-face meeting with the new Villa boss with an improved offer of £18million – nudging ever closer to the £20million target fee set by Villa’s hierarchy.

But if the club continue to rebut Liverpool’s advances, the normally compliant Downing is expected to hand in a written transfer request to formally lodge his discontent at staying in the Midlands.

They are the ingredients for a difficult first few hours for McLeish, as he tries to restore unity among a group of players bewildered by a series of tumultuous events at Villa during their summer break.

The departure of boss Gerard Houllier and his assistant Gary McAllister was followed by the controversial appointment of McLeish, fresh from Birmingham relegation, the sale of star player Ashley Young to Manchester United and exit of senior goalkeeper Brad Friedel.

Downing’s exit would represent a further blow to Villa’s profile and credibility but Liverpool are expected to keep up the pressure – determined to force through a deal in time for their target to join them on a tour of the Far East next week.

McLeish will make his pitch to try to persuade Downing to stay for at least one more campaign at their meeting today, having declared that last season’s Player of the Year was not for sale.

But, with funds again tight at Villa Park this summer, the Scot privately recognises the reality of a top-dollar fee plus unhappy player is a recipe for a sale.

[24link]