Steven Gerrard has been accused of not using Aston Villa loanee Axel Tuanzebe because of the rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester United.
Tuanzebe joined Aston Villa on loan in summer 2021 for the third time in his career, having enjoyed fruitful Championship spells in the Midlands from January 2018 and through the 2018/19 season.
But the 24-year-old was recalled by Manchester United and sent to Serie A side Napoli after making just nine Premier League appearances – only two of which, comprising a total of eight minutes, came under Gerrard.
The manager publicly expressed his desire to retain Tuanzebe but has been accused by Tuanzebe’s agent and brother Dimitri of letting his personal rivalry with Manchester United as a Liverpool legend get in the way.
“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,” he 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.”
The comments come in the aftermath of another Tuanzebe representative blaming Manchester United for their part in his client’s struggles.
“I believe that Manchester United has made particular decisions for the growth of their young players, I don’t think they have a policy to improve their training,” Fabrizio Ferrari told Radio Punto Nuovo.
“They are confusing in the management of players under contract. Tuanzebe has returned to these managerial changes.”
Further adding to the confusion, Dimitri actually praised Manchester United for their conduct.
“The move was very easy,” he said of the Napoli loan. “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.”