Aston Villa's two latest signings, Wilfred Bouma and James Milner, already have much in common.
Signed on the same day, they are happiest in wide roles and clearly have a big part to play at Villa Park this season. But it has not taken long to appreciate which one has worked with Villa?s highly-respected fitness coach Steve McGregor - and which one hasn?t.
Milner was part of McGregor?s ?M for Murder? fitness plan when he was breaking through as a youngster with Leeds United. The fact that he operates on the flank for Villa with so much energy that manager David O?Leary refers to him running off ?a long-life battery? bears testimony to the work put in.
Bouma, by contrast, has only just started seeing McGregor on a daily basis, since signing for Villa four weeks ago. But, having so far eased him gently into first-team duty, O?Leary is already counting the days to when Bouma will also resemble a Duracell bunny - all the better for his encounter with Mr McGregor.
?We?ve got Freddie working one-to-one with Steve McGregor, but it might take six months before you see him in peak condition,? said O?Leary.
After a full 90 minutes alongside fellow debutant Milner in the 4-0 thrashing at West Ham, Bouma has since been nursed through in his battle to cope with Premier-ship fitness standards.
He has been substituted 20 minutes from time in both of Villa?s last two matches.
Having been allowed to skip last Tuesday?s Carling Cup win at Wycombe, he has yet to appear on the winning team. But, having signed a four-year deal, the #3.5 million signing from PSV Eindhoven is aware that he has time on his side.
?The important thing is to be patient,? he said. ?Of course, I want to be at the same level as the other lads as soon as possible, but I have to work on my muscles and Steve McGregor is the man to get me right.
?But the main thing that keeps me positive is that I know the manager has confidence in me.
?That is the most important thing for any professional footballer. I have known players go through the worry of knowing that the manager does not want them and that?s a bad thing to experience.
?Having spoken to Arjen Robben, who I know from the international squad, I already knew just how much I wanted to be part of the Premiership.
?But, from the first couple of conversations I had with David O?Leary, I knew what he wanted and that he wanted me and that was really important.
?It was a busy time for me when I arrived, coming over here just one day from the deadline, then having to get back home to link up with the Dutch squad but I am just enjoying being here, trying to improve on my fitness and help the team improve our results.?
While Bouma tries hard to make his mark, O?Leary is not in the least bit surprised that Milner - joint top scorer with Steven Davis on three goals - has made such a good start. ?I didn?t want Nobby Solano to go [to Newcastle United] but we got two great years out of him, got our money back and got James Milner,? he said.
?When you talk about good, young prospects, he?s one of them. I remember Sir Bobby Robson phoned me to ask about him before he took him to Newcastle, although it was [assistant manager] Roy Aitken and Steve McGregor you have to thank for bringing him on.
?He?s the sort you want to come through. He under-stands the game, he has the ability to fill in different roles. He just keeps going up and down the pitch like a long-life battery. It?s hard to realise he?s still only 19 but he?ll be a better player once he?s had a long run in the team.? nLee Hendrie will today become the fourth Villa player this season to undergo knee surgery.
Scans revealed a small amount of cartilage damage and Hendrie is expected to be absent for ten days. It is another setback for O?Leary who is already without Gavin McCann, Martin Laursen, Aaron Hughes, Kevin Phillips and Mark Delaney.
?It is a blow, coming so soon after Hughes, but these things happen and we just have to get on with it,? he said.