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FOOTBALL: Angel to light up life for O'Leary; Aston Villa v Manchester United.

Byline: Ged Scott

Juan Pablo Angel, whose form over the past month has made him a target for Arsenal, has confirmed that he wants to remain at Aston Villa for as long as David O'Leary is manager.

Angel has 18 months left of his present contract and, if he wanted to, could sign a pre-contract agreement with another club this time next year. However, he remains committed to Villa and could sign a new deal this summer.

Nine Premiership goals at the halfway stage have added significantly to Angel's value but, according to O'Leary, is set to commit himself to Villa.

Angel has recovered from a minor injury and will take his place in the Villa team for the match at home to Manchester United in the FA Cup third round tomorrow.

O'Leary will want to ensure that the situation concerning Angel runs smoother than the one concerning Darius Vassell, who waited until the final year of one contract to sign another one.

'To nail down a new deal for Juan Pablo is a priority,' O'Leary said. 'I have said that to the people at the club that matter. As long as I am here, I want Juan Pablo to be here.

'I have spoken to Juan Pablo and he has said that he hopes I'm here a long time and he wants to sign. That side of things has got to be sorted out.

'He wants to stay. In our talks he said he would love to stay as long as I am at Aston Villa. That is the type of attitude he is showing. I want him here like the Villa. That is what I will say and I will take that to the table when it comes to trying to sort out a new contract. I hope it would be sorted out before the summer. I think it needs to be sorted out by then.

'But it is up to the financial people to sort out the financial package and whether it will be good enough for him. He wants to stay, I want him to stay, the fans want him to stay. And I think he will stay.'

O'Leary was surprised to learn that Arsenal are targeting Angel as a possible partner to Thierry Henry - 'That is just speculation' - and has had no official approach from any cub.

It is a dramatic turnaround in fortunes for Angel, who was so disillusioned during Graham Taylor's spell as manager of Villa that he expressed a desire to leave Villa Park.

It was O'Leary who persuaded Angel to stay at Villa after the striker had initially indicated he would be looking to leave last summer. The pair have developed a close bond which never existed between Angel Taylor.

O'Leary believes that Angel has the potential to become a top-class striker but that he needs to be judged over a longer period, not merely a three-week blitz.

Angel's performance in the 2-1 victory against Chelsea in the Carling Cup last month was memorable but, according to O'Leary, not enough in which to judge a player.

'He has that potential but comparisons shouldn't be made over a little period of time,' O'Leary said. 'But the potential is there because he wants to learn.

'He wants to talk, take things on board and improve. He has got the stability off the field family-wise which can only help that cause. He has a great belief and determination to do well.

'I have a lot of admiration for the way he played against Fulham [December 29] because he had been carrying a knock but insisted that he played for us. He scored and nobody deserved a goal more than him.'

Mark Delaney, the Villa and Wales international defender, is rated as doubtful because of a knee injury. O'Leary says that the player has more chance of being fit for the Premiership match at home to Portsmouth on Tuesday.

Dion Dublin, left out against Fulham because he was feeling the exertions of playing on Boxing Day, will be pushing for a recall in defence.

Delaney says that the Villa team to take on United tomorrow will be different from the one that lost 4-0 to United at Old Trafford in December.

'Our form has been fantastic,' Delaney said. 'We are playing with confidence. We are a different team from the one beaten at United which was the low point for us.

'Maybe we needed that defeat to kick us in the proverbials. Since then we have done really well. Our performances have turned completely. We cannot put our finger on why.

'There has always been confidence among the players from within the dressing room. We stuck together and never let our heads drop.'

CAPTION(S):

Juan Pablo Angel (right), celebrates his goal with Mark Delaney during the Carling Cup tie against Chelsea last month Dion Dublin may line up in the Villa defence against his old club
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jan 3, 2004
Words:822
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