Alan Hutton is fast becoming a cult figure at Villa Park. Despite being much maligned by many around B6, Steve Bruce last week announced that the former Scotland international had triggered a one year extension to his contract. Widespread disbelief was the overriding reaction. However, there was, curiously, also a larger than expected minority in favour of this development.
The details of the extension are not exactly clear. We know that Hutton was set to be out of contract at the end of this season but Bruce’s use of the word ‘triggered’ implies that Hutton has reached certain targets which automatically dictate that he is given an extension. If this is the case, this is very different to the club sitting down and deciding to actually present an offer of an additional year. Judging by the mess we have gotten ourselves into with contracts drawn up by previous chief executive Tom Fox, it is entirely possible that Hutton will be rewarded simply for his mediocrity
Is there a case for Hutton to have actually earned this contract reprieve? It’s hard to argue‘for’, I have to admit. Since Alex McLeish brought him in from Tottenham Hotspur for around £4 million back in 2011, Hutton hasn’t exactly been a fan favourite. A disappointing first season saw the knives come out. With Paul Lambert then coming in to replace McLeish the following season, Hutton became part of the infamous ‘bomb squad’. Indeed, it would be another two years before Hutton would pull on a Villa shirt again.
With several loan stints at Nottingham Forest, Mallorca in La Liga and Bolton Wanderers, Hutton’s days looked well and truly numbered at Aston Villa. It was surely only a matter of time before either his contract expired or a club came in with an offer of permanent football. Neither of these outcomes occurred. Instead, a remarkable turnaround materialised. Hutton enjoyed a decent pre-season and started the 2014-2015 season as first choice right back. Incredibly, soon after, he was rewarded with a new three year contract, albeit on reduced, but still lucrative wages. Despite often being seen as one of the weak links of the side, he has somehow managed to remain in the team pretty much ever since.
Hutton’s fairly sizeable wages will no doubt have helped to put off any potential suitors willing to take a punt on him. This has contributed to his long stay with us. The amount of competition that he has seen off, one way or another, is astonishing. Just when you think he is finished at Villa Park, he somehow settles back into the first team.
Whether Hutton is practising voodoo or merely has more lives than your average moggy, it is absolutely incredible that he is still in this team. Lambert’s signing of the initially promising Matt Lowton was the original catalyst for Hutton to be bombed out. After the ex-Sheffield United man’s departure to Burnley, Hutton had little competition for the next couple of seasons, the exception being the makeshift option of Leandro Bacuna. The perseverance last season with Micah Richards at centre back allowed Hutton further licence to remain in the side
This season has perhaps been most remarkable of all. Despite arguably being fourth choice, injuries to Richards, De Laet and now even Bree have meant Hutton retains his place. Right now, with a little bit of form behind him, it would be a tough call to displace him.
Injury to others has clearly been a huge factor in Hutton making more than one hundred appearances in claret and blue yet it cannot be denied that there is a resilience about the Scot.
It would have been easy for him to hide away. To be honest, he was treated appallingly during the Lambert regime simply for being on a big contract and found himself frozen out by the same administration that initially handed him that contract in the first place. That would certainly have an effect on my commitment to the cause. Hutton makes as much, if not more, effort on the pitch than anyone else despite this club forcing him out for two years, despite new players being brought in, clearly to replace him, and despite the vast majority of fans using him as a scapegoat for many of our failures over the last five years.
In our darkest days last season, I lost count of the number of times that people said that they could almost accept that the players weren’t good enough, as long as they were putting the effort in. Here is the crux of things: it can’t be denied that Hutton puts a shift in. He’s up and down the pitch for ninety minutes. He’s committed in the tackle. However, the harsh reality is that whilst effort is certainly appreciated, no matter what any of us say, it isn’t really enough.
Even though he has been producing what were arguably man of the match performances in the last few games, which have interestingly coincided with the triggering of the contract extension, there are still too many episodes of leaving huge gaps in his position and too many incidents of not tracking his runner. His crossing, which we have relied on for a long time, has never been good enough. How many times has a mistimed tackle given away cheap free kicks to put us under pressure? I must also mention the seemingly constant tripping over the ball too.
Supporters’ criticism of Hutton does seem to be softening and his name is sung with warmth these days. For me, that is evidence that his status is now secured at Villa as a cult figure. He’ll never be remembered as a great footballer but his effort and commitment have rightly earned him a degree of affection at the very least.
However, an extra year’s contract is not the right move for the club and, in truth, is probably not right for Hutton either. At thirty-two years old, it is in the player’s best interests to find a club that can offer him regular first team football next season. Bree and De Laet are likely to be fighting it out for the right back position next season. With options such as Richards and Bacuna who can also fill in if needed, Hutton will struggle to make the bench. The least that the club can do is give Hutton a free transfer, especially after freezing him out for two years of his career. The player is still fit, surprisingly quick and I would say he is still able to do a job for a team somewhere at this level.
For us and our ambitions to be challenging at the top of this league, Hutton isn’t the player we can be relying on.
Despite an extension to his contract, I would still expect this season to be the Glaswegian’s last at Villa. If Hutton decides to get out his voodoo dolls out again, we may still be talking about him as our first choice right back for yet another season; lord knows he has returned from much more impossible situations.