Since the World Cup kicked off last week, Aston Villa fans have been casting a keen eye over several current and former players making appearances for various countries. Whilst the likes of Birkir Bjarnason and Australian Mile Jedinak has impressed, the same cannot be said of ex-Villan Carlos Sanchez who was sent off for deliberate handball after 3 minutes for Colombia.
Most noticeable of all was Bjarnason’s heroic performance in Iceland’s 1-1 draw against mighty Argentina and in particular his battle with the world’s best player (sorry CR7 fans), Lionel Messi.
Bjarnason has had a strange time of things in B6. Since sealing a move from Swiss champions Basel in January 2017, he has been in and out of the team. In addition to this, when he has featured, he has been deployed in all manner of positions. Bizarrely seen as some sort of a utility man by Steve Bruce, Bjarnason was used as a left wing-back on several occasions and has also filled in at right back as well as playing on the left wing at times. This is a man who has primarily played as a centre midfielder throughout his career.
Unfairly, in my opinion, Bjarnason has received more than his fair share of the supporters disdain and was quickly labelled as not being good enough for us. There seemed to be little acceptance that he was never given a run of games and when he did feature he was constantly being played out of position. Hardly a basis to fairly judge a player on.
Unsurprisingly, the Icelander’s best form came last season when used as a holding midfielder. It is perhaps no coincidence that his most consistent run in the side in that position came during the run of games throughout January where Villa put together an impressive run of seven straight victories. Yet even still, Bjarnason was overlooked for certain games even then could justifiably feel hard done by to be dropped in favour of the aforementioned Jedinak for the 2-0 victory against Birmingham City for example.
Despite his exclusion after impressive showings, Bjarnason plugged away reliably whenever called upon. His mazy run and toe-poke finish was a delightful goal in the 4-1 rout of Wolves and he notched again in the 3-0 win against Reading in April. In fact, despite much less game time and no positional stability, he matched Jack Grealish’s tally of three goals for the campaign.
Bjarnason started just eleven games last season. I can certainly see the merit in sometimes using Jedinak at times instead. However, Bjarnason’s energy and athleticism in the middle of the park were massively underused. The playoff final especially is a perfect case in point.
Which brings us back to Iceland’s game against Argentina last weekend. Bjarnason was immense in his given task to shackle Lionel Messi. And he still carried an attacking threat himself, albeit fluffing an early golden chance to grab himself a goal.
Whilst this was only one game, we must also look at the fact that this is a player with Champions League experience. And he’s been part of a successful international tournament team in Iceland’s incredible Euro 2016 campaign. To think that he isn’t good enough to play at Championship level for us on a consistent basis is laughable.
Whilst it is great to see Villa players doing well at the World Cup, it may be the case that we don’t want Bjarnason to be quite so eye-catching in the next couple of games. There are reports that Parma, returning back to Serie A, are looking into the possibility of making a move for him. When you’ve just done a number on the best player in the world (I’m sticking with it, Ronaldo fans), you’re going to get noticed; another impressive display in the World cup could see those raised eyebrows turn into something more.
And if an offer did come in, who could blame Bjarnason for wanting to leave? He’s currently at a club where the manager doesn’t use him correctly or consistently. And when he does play well, it still isn’t enough.
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think Bjarnason is a world beater. I actually think his contribution on the ball against Argentina was fairly limited at times. But defensively he was brilliant. And he still got into excellent attacking positions despite his defensive duties.
I do believe that he is a player that could be really important to Villa if given a chance at this level and especially next season with our current financial mess we need to utilise the talent we already have at our disposal.
It would be typical of the club to lose a player through overlooking him but only realising that mistake once he’s gone. Sadly, Bjarnason may have already done enough to make that a reality.