Club captain, once a fans’ favourite and a legendary figure, ‘Mr Aston Villa’, Gabby Agbonlahor is a lucky man, coming through the academy and finding himself in the right place at the right time.
In 2006, Randy Lerner bought Aston Villa Football Club and employed highly-rated manager Martin O’Neill, a man who knew how to get performances out of players. Randy Lerner pumped millions into the club, helping modernise the stadium and revamping the club’s Bodymoor Heath training ground to give the players some of the best facilities in the country. Lerner certainly set Aston Villa up to be competitive in a bid to secure a spot in the illustrious Champions League.
Martin O’Neill saw the raw talent of Gabby Agbonlahor, giving him a chance to appear first on the right wing in an attempt to utilise the youngster’s pace. In due course, O’Neill moved him into a striking role, playing on the shoulder of opposition defenders. Martin O’Neill saw his raw talent and speed but what Randy Lerner saw was a boy he could mould into ‘Mr Aston Villa’, a one-club man who could front the advertising campaigns for years to come and, with the right leadership, become a top striker for Aston Villa and the England team.
An unwritten contract of loyalty was created. Randy Lerner trusted Martin O’Neill’s judgement regarding the youngster’s ability and therefore had no issue rewarding Agbonlahor with new contracts for performing well with John Carew and Emile Heskey in the Premier League.
However, Randy Lerner was drunk on owning a Premier League football club, perhaps not realising that his spending on Aston Villa was unsustainable despite selling key players for big money. Martin O’Neill wasn’t given cash to replace James Milner and thus tendered his resignation, leaving Agbonlahor’s development in the gutter. The club was left with very little knowledge of the technical side of football, not knowing how to build on the foundations put in place by Martin O’Neill.
Gerard Houllier was brought in to manage Aston Villa, bringing a new ethos and ideas on how to play the game, wanting players to utilise technical ability to beat the opposition. It quickly became clear that Agbonlahor didn’t fit with Houllier’s plans, signalling the beginning of his downward spiral.
After Martin O’Neill left Aston Villa, no manager saw the same raw talent in Gabby Agbonlahor. They all were happy to shift him out to the wing so he could race full backs to the by-line but he was nothing more than a player who could do a job for the team and he quickly fell out of the limelight.
His body language, his mocking of the fans when he does finally do his job of scoring a goal and his off-the-field behaviour point towards a striker who let other people in the world of football defeat him. However bad things have been at Aston Villa since Martin O’Neill left the club, Gabby Agbonlahor has had it easy. After all, he is ‘Mr Aston Villa’, loyal to the core. Due to his form over the last few seasons, where would he go? Agbonlahor isn’t a club legend. He isn’t ‘Mr Aston Villa’ and is no longer a fans’ favourite. He is a footballer who knows where the grass is greenest.
Aston Villa fans get behind players who work hard week in, week out. Gabby Agbonlahor may have done that in the past but I feel that his heart isn’t it in any more.
A club captain is someone who represents the values of a club and communicates them on and off the pitch, acting as a role model to young fans. Smoking shisha as a professional footballer isn’t acting as a role mode. Smoking shisha when you’re Aston Villa’s club captain and the team is rock bottom of the Premier League is nothing short of an embarrassment and a public relations disaster.
Gabby Agbonlahor has been riding the ‘Mr Aston Villa’ train for long enough. Instead of being a victim of circumstance and managerial changes, he is the epitome of the issues that surround Aston Villa Football Club today. Poor decision-making and short-sightedness are two characteristics I’d associate with Agbonlahor’s play in recent seasons but our board and coaching staff have also been guilty of both, particularly when it comes to ‘Mr Aston Villa’.
Piece submitted by guest blogger James Clark.