When all is said and done, it is safe to say this season has hardly been a vintage one. A solid midtable finish is not exactly what we all hoped for in the Championship, but there is an argument that at least the rot which set in during last year’s disastrous relegation from the Premier League has been stopped.
As with any season, there is always a need to have an inquest into what has happened and also consider what the future might hold. When we look back for bright spots, it is obvious that the recent 1-0 derby win against Birmingham City was something to cherish with – of all people – Gabby Agbonlahor returning to the team to grab the winner and, in turn, all of the headlines.
As we’ve discussed elsewhere, there is a huge amount for Steve Bruce to sort in the summer with talk of a change in keepers being one such matter. However, another item on his to-do list undoubtedly is to consider whether the club truly does stick or twist on the future of Gabby.
With his contract up in June 2018, it is clear that Villa needs to take a decision on whether Gabby truly still has something to offer the club. Reported attitude issues and his recent injury record have meant many fans would be happy to see the back of him, but there is something romantic in the idea that his priceless derby winner could prove to be a turning point. Could it be the chance for the player to rediscover both his form and confidence?
To be fair, he did post a message on Instagram following the match regarding what the win and goal meant to him, even describing it as his favourite in all of his derby games. This gives off a sense that his heart remains in it – but the question is whether the club feels the same.
Obviously, his record at the club is undeniable. Following his debut against Everton in March 2006, he went on to surpass Dwight Yorke as Villa’s all-time Premier League goalscorer in 2013 and was pivotal to the club’s fortunes for a number of years. However, his fitness and off-the-field issues in recent years have left many wondering whether all of his initial promises has ever truly been built upon.
Looking back at this season, in particular, WhoScored reveals his goal against Birmingham is his only one in 504 minutes of football which consisted of four starts and nine substitute appearances. This is fairly strong evidence that he is hardly pulling up trees, yet Steve Bruce does seem to give off the impression that he thinks the old magic might still be there. As well as giving Gabby the chance to score the derby winner, he also brought him on for about 30 minutes in the 1-0 defeat to Blackburn Rovers.
A Villa future?
Gabby’s focus has to be on staying fit and impressing during pre-season, with a view to being key to the squad next season. Can he turn his career around? Steve Bruce has suggested there is always a chance for him if he could. Who are we to bet against him – bookmaker Betway Sports will give odds on him signing a new deal.
If you had asked the Villa Park faithful in January whether Gabby might have a role to play at Villa beyond this season, they would have probably shaken their head and walked away. However, is it possible that he is on the cusp of a surprising and thrilling career renaissance? Or were his recent derby day heroics purely a final hurrah for a player whose best days are behind him? The ball is now firmly in your court, Mr Agbonlahor.