Stewart Downing believes he can beat the likes of new Aston Villa team-mate Ashley Young to a regular place in Fabio Capello's England side. The left winger's £12m arrival from Middlesbrough yesterday does not, however, spell the end of the former Watford player's spell with the midlands club, according to manager Martin O'Neill.
With the likes of Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and even Real Madrid said to be interested in Young, speculation has been rife that he could be on his way from Villa Park. The signing of Downing only adds more fuel to the fire.
However, O'Neill insisted last night: "There have been a lot of stories about Ashley - and that's what they are, stories. No-one has come in and asked us about Ashley Young and I have got to tell you, if they did they would get short shrift."
South Africa the target
Downing, who celebrates his 25th birthday next week, signed a four-year contract a day after the two clubs agreed terms. He arrived at Villa's Bodymoor Heath training complex on crutches yesterday, to discuss terms and undergo a medical as he continued his recovery from foot surgery.
The injury may delay the start to his Villa career, but Downing believes he has plenty of time to play his way into the centre of Capello's plans for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. "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," he said.
"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 Hotspur in January after handing in a transfer request, but Boro chairman Steve Gibson promised him then he could leave if a big club came in for him this summer, and the Teessiders' 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 Carling Cup at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium in 2004, and played in the UEFA Cup final defeat by Sevilla two years later after Middlesbrough's remarkable run to Eindhoven. Downing admitted leaving Boro was a "strange experience", but cited O'Neill as a major factor in his move.
"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 said. "He has great ambition and wants to build a good squad to take the club forward. I want to be part of that."