No matter what your overriding opinion of Gabby Agbonlahor is, there is no denying that the one time Holte End hero turned villain divides opinion like no other. From last minute derby day winners, England call ups and leaving the likes of Manchester United in his wake to smoking anything he can get his hands on and hotel piss ups on the day this once famous club is relegated, his fall from grace has been a slow, meandering and ultimately painful one.
For us, save one or two fleeting moments, there has only been misery. You’ll struggle to find a set of fans in world football who have had it as hard as Aston Villa fans over the last five years and at times Gabby has epitomised everything that is wrong with the club. However, before you settle in for yet another rant revolving around fifty thousand pounds a week this and fatty that, let me try and set the record straight. Please bear with me…
Gabriel Agbonlahor has had it hard too. In the blink of an eye he went from being the star striker of an upwardly mobile club under a manager who adored him in O’Neill, who built his sixth-placed Aston Villa side around his pace, to Houllier who pretty much despised the ground he walked on the second he waltzed through the door. Gabby grew from a teenager to a young man surrounded by a certain culture and failed to adjust. Perhaps there is a nonchalance to his personality, or perhaps he is, or at least was, just a little bit of a prick. Our leading goalscorer was farmed out wide, dropped, injured and sent back out wide again under successive managers.
It wasn’t until the first season under Lambert, following another injury-riddled and forgettable time for us all with Alex McLeish (Oh, how we wish we truly could forget) that he found his form again. Something that is often taken away from him is just how instrumental he was in helping the club stave off relegation that year. He scored nine goals in twenty-eight games from the wing, the majority of them during the run in. Aided by the undeniable brilliance of Christian Benteke, Gabby Agbonlahor seemed rejuvenated.
A so-so season followed in which he was, according to the manager of the time, playing through injury, and Gabby started to lose the support of the fan base. At that time, deserved or not, he became a bit of a scapegoat. He wasn’t fat, smoking pipes or giving it the big one on Instagram; he was simply low on confidence, injured and playing in a god awful side where he was unable to carry the weight of an absent superstar.
A rip-roaring, back to ‘vintage’ Gabby, start to the 2014-15 followed, along with that contract. Now, put yourself in his shoes here. You’re approaching twenty-eight years old, the club you have been at since you were a child, the club where the fans still sing your name loudly and proudly despite your wavering form, slap a four-year, £50,000 a week contract under your nose. Oh, and you’re bang in form for the first time in twelve months or so. The club is for sale, so it’s future is uncertain. What do you do? I don’t think Gabby could have predicted the turn of events to come.
His form almost instantly nosedived and the goals dried up. However, cast your mind back: the football under Lambert at that time was dreadful, tippy-tappy nonsense. We didn’t score a goal for 369 hours and Gabby played his part in that, of course, but even the much lauded Benteke couldn’t find the net. On top of that, the club was well and truly rudderless. Aston Villa Football Club was a fish rotting from the head down and Gabby paid the price, once again becoming the scapegoat for a large section of the support. His handling of his social media accounts didn’t help: promising the earth and delivering nothing at a time when actions were all we wanted, silence certainly would have served him better. Despite a short resurgence under Tim Sherwood, again cut short by injury just in time for the FA Cup semi-final, the wheels were already in motion. Gabriel Agbonlahor was about to drive off a cliff.
I’m not even going to try to defend what happened next. As an instigator of the protests that came later on in the season, I can say that whilst the players were never at the top of our agenda, at least not openly, their disgraceful displays were certainly at the forefront of my mind. From Jack Grealish photographed pissed on the Tenerife concrete, Joleon Lescott tweeting a picture of his car after yet another humiliating loss, Jack Grealish again pictured sucking on a balloon, Leandro Bacuna declaring that he’s Champions League quality to Gabby and his various displays of utter twattery, it was a horrible time for all involved except, it seemed, from the outside, for those we relied on most.
Gabby became villain number one – and with good reason. He was overweight, disinterested in anything but the next party and he let himself, the club, and, more importantly, us down badly. You won’t find anyone who will defend his actions and certainly not me. It was a season that culminated with a balloon dildo with his face on it being the defining image. It doesn’t get any more humiliating than that – and it was fully deserved.
Rather than bang on about how betrayed we all felt, I’ll leave that to other bloggers, let me throw out a few caveats for consideration.
Despite rumours to the contrary and one or two notable exceptions, every manager to step through the door has said how much of a consummate professional Gabby is and noted how much he loves the club and how hard he’s willing to work for it. O’Neill, Lambert, Sherwood and Bruce, to a man, have spoken highly of him. Those notable exceptions are Houllier and Garde, although it’s also worth noting they both utilised the same fitness coach. It’s also worth noting he was already done by the time Garde came in – and Garde was bad, really bad.
To reiterate this point, the club has handed him contract after contract and rejected all offers. Ours is an often badly run club, of course.
People ask “Why does he deserve yet another chance?” Well, it’s not really ‘yet another’ chance, in my opinion. He has suffered with form, injuries and consistency under various managers, through a tempestuous time for the club but I don’t recall him stepping so out of line in the past. Perhaps somebody has evidence to the contrary, not rumours but actual evidence. I’d be interested to hear it.
We have ‘forgiven’ the misdemeanours of other players from that period, in particular Jack Grealish. Gabby’s age should be taken into account. Of course he should know better but is it really right for us to judge a man solely on his mental maturity, particularly one who we know is not always the sharpest tool in the box? I don’t ask that of my footballers; they don’t need to pass an IQ test. I do ask for professionalism though and in return they ask us for our support. As I said, he’s not alone in failing us in that regard. Look at ‘Super Jacky Grealish’ now.
Let me touch briefly, and finally, on one slightly unrelated thing that has been grinding my gears over the years. Gabby is by all accounts a good father and a good man. He does a lot of work for charity. It is not our right to question his personal life outside of football, just as it is not his to question ours.
Rather than embrace the post-truth society, rather than allow Twitter and Facebook to spoon feed us our opinions or hate to blind us, I think we need to get back to basics with Gabby Agbonlahor. So much has been written about a man who has offered us so little on the pitch over the last three and a half years that it’s easy to forget what he was. He was a very good Premier League striker, the tormentor of St. Andrew’s and the man who burst The Baggies. Winners came against Chelsea and Arsenal. Who can forget that brace? He scored the winner at Old Trafford and a hat trick against Manchester City. Inconsistent at times, infuriating at others, ultimately for a long time, as Jack Grealish is now, he was ‘one of our own’.
Should that enough for us to forgive him? Probably not. Maybe forgive is the wrong word, though he has, to be fair to him, apologised and asked us for forgiveness. Maybe the phrase ‘don’t look back in anger’ reveals the right path for us to take. We’re told by Steve Bruce, a man who evidently takes no nonsense, that he’s working hard, he wants this and he knows he has a lot to make up for. Boy, has he!
So go on then, Gabby, prove us wrong. Earn the right to call yourself a Villa fan once more. This blogger certainly won’t stand in your way.
Up The Villa,
Blog post submitted by David Plant.