It is a measure of how successfully Thomas Hitzlsperger has integrated at Aston Villa that the German midfielder not only speaks fluent English, but he does so with a Brummie twang.

Hitzlsperger's commitment and passion for Villa has been questioned by some supporters after it emerged earlier this month the 23-year-old will be returning to Germany on a free transfer this summer.

But Hitzlsperger, who has agreed to join VFB Stuttgart on a two-year contract, says it was not a decision he took lightly.

And the popular midfielder knows he will miss the club and all his friends enormously after five enjoyable years in the midlands.

"I don't know how I will feel after the last time I pull on the Aston Villa shirt," said Hitzlsperger, speaking to The Birmingham Post ahead of Villa's remaining three Premiership matches this season.

"I guess it will be emotional because I have been here a long time. I am prepared for that but it will still be sad.

"Professional footballers get moved on quickly and tend not to stay too long at one club.

"But I have met and made some good friends over the years here. I will always come back and hopefully watch the club do well over the next few years."

Hitzlsperger's concern for Villa's future welfare is not some convenient soundbite to appease supporters before he rides off into the sunset.

The amiable and intelligent footballer genuinely has connected with both the area and the club during his stay in England - as his regional accent highlights.

"I have picked up the Brummie accent and I will probably keep it now," he smiled.

"I have enjoyed speaking the language and it shows I was really interested in settling in.

"It also helped me identify with the club because they have all done so much for me at Villa.

"Some people come over here and don't speak the language but I think that is the key to communicating and enjoying yourself."

When Hitzlsperger first arrived in England five years ago as a raw 18-year-old plucked from the Bayern Munich youth set-up, adjusting to a new club and a different country was challenging.

There were some testing times initially for the son of a Bavarian farmer, but Hitzlsperger believes the move worked out well.

"The first year was certainly tough settling in," added Hitzlsperger. "The club gave me a lot of support but I was young and had left my family behind in Germany.

"I come from a big family so it wasn't very easy but I got through it and I think I became a stronger person.

"I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Everyday was a day to learn to try and take something from it.

"The reason I came here was to become a professional footballer and I achieved that after a couple of years.

"Now I have played nearly 100 Premiership games and even got into the German national squad.

"But I want to take the next step because I don't want to stop here. I have hopefully got a lot more years left and I want to become an even better player, stay in the German side and hopefully win trophies."

After spending some time in Hitzlsperger's company, it is hard to imagine the footballer not fulfilling most of his aspirations because he is so focused.

He is intelligent enough to grasp opportunities when they arise and he also has the necessary desire and application to prosper in professional sport.

Hitzlsperger is frequently the last man off Villa's training ground at Bodymoor Heath, where he usually stays behind to practise his free-kicks and shooting.

And he is neither too complacent or arrogant to think he doesn't need to listen to advice from more experienced men in the game.

He said: "All three of the managers I have played under at Villa have helped me get where I am now and I have learnt from all of them.

"They were different, John Gregory was a real character. He was my first manager in professional football and it was good to see what he was like.

"Unfortunately I didn't get many games but then Graham Taylor arrived and he put me into the first team - that's when my career really got going. He left the club and David O'Leary came in and I then took the next step."

Hitzlsperger has gone on to make 112 appearances for Villa as he has developed into a combative midfielder with a penchant for spectacular goals.

But the German international has not played as much as he would have wished this term - often falling behind Gavin McCann, Lee Hendrie and Steven Davis in the midfield hierarchy.

However Hitzlsperger, who has started Villa's last three matches, is keen to dismiss rumours of a rift between himself and O'Leary.

He said: "People are trying to make out there is something bad between the manager and myself which is just wrong.

"I listen to him now and he still gives me advice even though I am leaving the club.

"He tells me what is best for me and has been really good to me. I still enjoy it at Villa and the manager has been fair to me - I will thank him for that."

Hitzlsperger is also keen to thank the club's supporters for backing him during his time at Villa Park.

He said: "The fans have been tremendous over the years and I can't thank them enough.

"John Gregory said I had a special left foot when he signed me it stuck in their heads.

"I scored a few goals from long range early in my career here and someone called me Der Hammer. It stuck with me and it is a good thing to have I suppose.

"I will always remember that goal against Birmingham City last season but I think my goal against West Bromwich Albion two years ago was even better. I scored a late winner and I can remember people jumping up on their seats."

The midfielder, who has already netted memorable goals at Bolton Wanderers and Portsmouth this season, would sorely love to sign off for Villa at Liverpool on the final day of the season with another one of his trademark strikes.

His ideal scenario would be to help Villa finish seventh in the Premiership and qualify for the Uefa Cup.

But although he is anxious to help Villa achieve that aim, Hitzlsperger is honest enough to admit he is keeping an eye out for Stuttgart's results too.

"When I settle down and relax I do look at how Stuttgart have got on because it is going to be important for me," he added.

"They are third at the moment and on course to qualify for the Champions' League which would be great for them and for me too.

"It is everyone's dream to play in the Champions' League - it would be good for developing as a player and also playing international football."

Hitzlsperger is sad at the prospect of leaving Villa, but with the World Cup in Germany next year and Stuttgart performing well under manager Matthias Sammer, he has a lot of look forward to as well.

He said: "Stuttgart have been a top side over the last three years in the Bundesliga and they have a good group of young players.

"They also have a decent manager so it is exciting and I am keen to achieve something there.

"I signed because Sammer said he regards me highly and thinks I am a good player.

"He rates my attitude and thinks it is a good thing I have been in England for five years.

"He knows I have the competitiveness and strength I picked up here. He wants me to bring that experience from playing abroad and all I have learnt back to Germany.

"They don't just want me to fill up their squad, they want me in their team. They haven't got too many left-footed players either which is a bit of a bonus."

Hitzlsperger has played left-back in all of his four appearances for Jurgen Klinsmann's national team.

But Sammer sees him strictly as a central midfielder and Hitzlsperger hopes that by playing there regularly in the German league he could earn a spot in the engine room of their national team alongside Michael Ballack.

The German side are in transition, but given their long-standing pedigree, their chances at the 2006 World Cup certainly cannot be discounted.

Indeed, it is not totally inconceivable Hitzlsperger could help the hosts win the tournament.

"Winning the World Cup would be amazing," he said. "But I don't know what the future holds.

"I am going to Stuttgart for at least two years and hopefully I will become a better player.

"If I develop as a player and do well in the World Cup there will be big clubs interested in me."

There he goes again, always looking to the future and setting new aims - Villa fans are sure to follow his progress with interest.