The Villans’ horrendous form took yet another turn for the worse on Tuesday night in the humiliating loss at home to Barnsley. With emotions understandably running at fever pitch, the gripes and moans about Steve Bruce and the other usual suspects came to the fore. However, an unexpected new target for fans frustrations has also seemingly emerged – Jonathan Kodjia.
Kodjia is our top scorer (by some distance), with eleven goals in twenty-three games so far. That’s not scintillating by any stretch of the imagination, although I would say it’s a reliably consistent ratio, especially in a team which has frankly been struggling for much of the season. However, it isn’t so much his goal-scoring record which is causing issues. There is a growing weariness that Kodjia is either ball-greedy or just unable to look up and play in a better positioned team-mate.
I do see the potential dilemma. Personally, I am a big fan of Kodjia. I have written before that I like the fact that he tries the sensational at times. I like the fact that he has the confidence and belief to try the audacious. I absolutely do not think that trying to knock that out of him is the answer. We’ve already stifled enough players. I can see that there are times when the Ivorian could perhaps have played in an unmarked strike partner instead of shooting. I can recall a couple of times with Ross McCormack, especially where a simple square pass would have presented an easy chance. In particular, there was a glaring opportunity in Bruce’s first game against Wolves at Villa Park. The great strike partnerships in football work due to a balance between being selfish at the right time but also both players working well together to create chances. By all accounts, new signing Scott Hogan has already begun to look slightly miffed by playing alongside Kodjia. I certainly think that McCormack may have felt exasperated at times. I think McCormack and Hogan were similar in so much as runs were/are being made and decent positions being taken up.
Nevertheless, Kodjia remains the only player regularly scoring the goals. He is getting into the right positions to meet crosses. He is the player who is taking opportunities when they are presented to him. There is nothing stopping Hogan, Agbonlahor, McCormack or whoever else is playing from taking their own chances. Kodjia isn’t sucking out all the chances that we create in a game. He is not to blame for other players’ inability to convert. He may be guilty of sometimes making the wrong decision and taking a shot instead of passing but to berate him and identify him as a reason for our current situation is absolutely preposterous.
I don’t believe that Kodjia is knowingly ball greedy and he certainly isn’t selfish. This was demonstrated in the game against Cardiff City at Villa Park earlier in the season. With Villa 2-1 up, we were awarded a nintieth minute penalty. Instead of grabbing the ball himself and adding another goal to his tally both for that day and the season so far, he donated the opportunity to strike partner Rudy Gestede in the hope that a goal would kick start things and give his team-mate some confidence. You couldn’t identify a more selfless act in a striker. These are players who are ultimately judged by the number of goals they score. This alone should show that, whatever Kodjia’s faults may be, he isn’t looking for the glory all for himself. He is simply doing his job of trying to score goals. This demonstration of being a team player has not received enough recognition.
Off the pitch, he has also shown his humility and class. When club legend Paul McGrath recently criticised him, his response was incredible. Unlike so many of his spoilt peers who have been embroiled in public spats on social media, Kodjia took it all on board and acknowledged both McGrath’s opinion of him and legendary status with exemplary humility. McGrath quickly softened from his original statement. For such a figure to backtrack in such a way speaks volumes. Instantly, he won the respect of the man we still refer to as ‘God’.
We are lucky to have a player like Kodjia at Villa. I think he has many attributes that many other strikers do not possess. His skill and touch on the ball are superb. He has pace to burn. He has the ability to score spectacular goals. He stretches the play for us when tactics allow him to do so and he is unpredictable, which is perhaps what I like most about him. His efforts at goal may not always come off yet there is always a feeling that you might be about to witness something spectacular. After being treated to some of the most mundane football imaginable for so long, Kodjia is giving us some excitement.
To pick him out as a factor responsible for our current problems is typical of a certain section of supporters looking for the next thing to moan about. Kodjia is not the problem. He isn’t even anywhere near the problem that this team is experiencing right now. Maybe there have been times when he could have passed the ball instead of shooting but show me a striker worth his salt who hasn’t been guilty of that. I’d rather have him full of confidence and attempting to score than letting the situation and opinions get to him and passing when he should have been taking the shot on himself.
Those lambasting Kodjia need to be very careful of alienating and wearing down a player who is one of the bright sparks in an increasingly bleak season.