AXEL TUANZEBE left Aston Villa because Manchester United's rivalry with Steven Gerrard's former club Liverpool 'came to life'.
That is the astonishing claim from the player's brother and agent Dimitri, who believes it restricted the defender's game time at Villa Park.
Gerrard was appointed as Dean Smith's successor in November, and gave Tuanzebe just eight minutes of pitch action.
That has prompted the 24-year-old to join Napoli on loan from United.
Liverpool legend Gerrard has made a decent start to his first job in the Premier League – but it hasn't featured United academy star Tuanzebe.
Now, speaking to ESPN, Dimitri has hinted there was underlying reasons for his brother not getting a chance this season.
He explained: "I have a lot of mixed emotions when it comes to Axel's time at Villa.
"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.
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"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 played nine Premier League games on loan for Villa this season – but all came under Dean Smith.
Napoli will pay United a £500,000 loan fee with an extra £500,000 potentially to be paid in bonuses, reports Fabrizio Romano.
Tuanzebe has been involved in England youth teams at multiple levels and is highly-rated as a versatile centre-back.
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