Jermain Defoe could be Aston Villa's first big signing of 2008 if an acceptable fee with Tottenham Hotspur can be agreed for the 25-year-old striker.

A source close to the player claimed last night that the unsettled Spurs striker had visited Villa's Bodymoor Heath training ground yesterday for talks with manager Martin O'Neill who is known to have an attacking forward on his list of targets.

If £10 million-rated Defoe joins O'Neill's young guns he will become the club's seventh English player and could overtake Ashley Young as the club's most expensive transfer.

O'Neill has long been a fan of sourcing players close to home although he has also stated that he would not rule out buying foreign talent if the right player came along.

The source said: "Jermain has been to talk to Villa - the problem is now negotiating the fee and that may prove to be the sticking point."

A Villa spokesman said last night he could neither confirm nor deny the speculation but it is known that Defoe has long been admired by Villa's Northern Irish boss.

It is thought that the diminutive striker first had talks with Villa in the summer before deciding to see things through at Tottenham under then-manager Martin Jol even though he and the Dutchman failed to see eye-to-eye in the past.

But with Juande Ramos now at the helm at White Hart Lane Defoe has become similarly frustrated and although he has played more games in recent weeks he still faces stiff competition up-front from Dimitri Berbatov, Robbie Keane and Darren Bent.

Just last month Defoe revealed Ramos was prepared to let him go even though the striker was willing to battle for his place. He claimed at the time that he was being "forced out" and said his new manager had refused to confirm his position even when Berbatov was linked to a possible move to Chelsea.

At the time Defoe told the press: "The manager said you can leave if you

want to. I still cannot believe the manager said that to me. It is a bit bizarre as people on the board have been telling me they want me to stay but I am being forced out of Tottenham by the manager."

Defoe did play a part in Tottenham's 2-0 defeat of Reading in the FA Cup third round replay in midweek and is said to have met with Villa officials on a day in which the club was also tying up a new contract for Villa defender Martin Laursen.

Defoe has several friends among O'Neill's squad including former West Ham United team-m a t e a n d E n g l a n d under-21 skipper Nigel Reo-Coker, defender Curtis Davies and England newcomer Young.

Just last summer ReoCoker joked that if Defoe ever asked his advice about a possible move he would be more than happy to recommend Villa as a good career

move and Martin O'Neill as a boss particularly as the manager has brought about something of a revolution at Villa Park.

The club is enjoying an incredible spell under new chairman Randy Learner and O'Neill, with capacity crowds, free-flowing and entertaining football and one of the best new training facilities in Europe.

Villa are lying sixth in the Barclays Premier League, in contention for a European place and will be an attractive proposition for Defoe who once claimed he would only consider a move to one of the big four - Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool - none of whom have so far made advances towards him.

While John Carew has been in fine form this season, he has had injury concerns and Villa still have to find a 20-goals-a-season man. If Villa were to secure the signature of Defoe it would give them an enviable forward line with his pace matched by that of Gabriel Agbonlahor and Young.

Villa defender Steven O'Halloran was last night heading to St Mary's for a month-long loan spell with League One side Southampton. The talented Irish youngster has been sent out to get some valuable match-practice having not seen first team action with Villa this season although he did play a part in the squad's summer tour of Canada and the United States.