Nolberto Solano's increasing importance to Aston Villa has made him the firm favourite to clean up in the club's end-of-season awards.
The Peruvian's impressive deliveries from the right flank and accurate passes are capable of unlocking even the meanest defence. A consistent performer, Solano (pictured right) is also capable of contributing goals himself as he is the team's leading scorer this season with seven goals from midfield.
The only problem is that the 30-year-old's excellent form this season has not gone unnoticed at rival clubs in the Premiership.
Villa chairman Doug Ellis illustrated as much yesterday when he confirmed reports that the club turned down an attempt by Newcastle United to re-sign the right-sided player in the January transfer window.
Ellis said the approach was "rejected out of hand" as Solano has become an integral part of David O'Leary's team since his bargain £1.5million move from Tyne-side in January 2004.
Ellis said: "It is true that Newcastle approached the manager [O'Leary] about Nobby but we rejected the interest out of hand and made it clear to the Newcastle manager, Graeme Souness, that it wasn't going to happen. I suppose it's not surprising they wanted him back as anyone who has seen Nobby in action for Villa will know we pulled off a real coup when we signed him last year.
"He's our top scorer this season and adds a real creative flair to the side. He was a big favourite on Tyneside and is now a big favourite with our supporters.
"Newcastle may feel they made a mistake in letting him go. We had no intention of making the same mistake when they asked about resigning him."
With Solano contracted for another 18 months, Villa are confident of retaining the midfielder.
Villa also hope to hang on to fellow midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger but, unlike Solano, the German international is out of contract in the summer. Bundesliga champions Werder Bremen had expressed an interest in Hitzlsperger before another German club, Schalke 04, last night emerged as contenders to sign the 22-year-old.
Hitzlsperger, signed on a free transfer by John Gregory from Bayern Munich as an 18-year-old in August 2000, is happy at Villa but the left-footed player has not been playing as much as he would have liked this season - he has started only ten of Villa's 27 Premiership matches.
With the World Cup in his native country next year, Hitzlsperger knows he needs to be featuring more for his club if he is cement his place in Jurgen Klinsmann's national squad. Consequently, a return to the Bundesliga could prove an attractive option as it would give him a better stage on which to showcase his talents and impress the national coach.
But any transfer is effectively a gamble as a player is never certain how he will settle in a new environment and, if Hitzlsperger features prominently in Villa's remaining 11 games this term, he will probably remain in the Midlands.
Souness, meanwhile, is determined to strengthen his squad and did not deny an interest when Michael Owen's name was put to him. The unsettled Real Madrid and England star is being tipped for a return to the Premiership and Souness said: "I was asked who we would like and his name was mentioned.
"I will say the same as I said last night - that type of player is the type of player we would be interested in but we would not be alone. I would imagine there would be a lot of clubs out there interested in Michael Owen and people like him but there are not too many people like him around."