Aston Villa tried their best to make huge waves when they splashed into the Championship back in the summer of 2016. The plan to bully teams into accepting extortionate amounts of money for their best players failed miserably. It very nearly threatened the existence of the club. The cost of that extravagance is still being felt and the club will never recoup anywhere near the huge costs spent on players.
There is somewhat of a forgotten man from that initial summer splurge, however. Aaron Tshibola was signed for a not insignificant £5.31 million from Reading. At the time, with the club spending money as if still a Premier League outfit, it kind of felt like somewhat of a throwaway deal. The fee seemed pretty immaterial at the time. We had the money after all (or didn’t as it turned out). And compared to other transfers, it paled into insignificance to an extent.
Reading supporters were genuinely saddened to see Tshibola move on. This was due to a combination of some impressive performances for the Royals but also due to losing their young starlet so soon after his breakthrough into the first team. In total, he had only made thirteen league appearances.
Despite some energetic performances and promising glimpses during Roberto Di Matteo’s short reign, Tshibola was clearly struggling to adapt. A loan move to Nottingham Forest yielded just four appearances from January until the end of that season.
This led to the decision to let Tshibola drop down a level the following year and a season-long loan to MK Dons. Worryingly, this agreement was cut short by the Dons after just twelve outings. Of course, it led to concerns over the player’s attitude and work ethic. To be fair, at the time there were also suggestions that things at Stadium MK were far from ideal for Tshibola also.
Just as Tshibola’s career was in real jeopardy and with seemingly no other interest, Steve Clarke offered the player a lifeline. The midfielder joined Clarke in Scotland at Kilmarnock. Clarke has been highly influential in Tshibola’s career. It was he who first gave the DR Congo international his initial breakthrough at Reading. It was clearly Clarke, as part of Di Matteo’s staff at Villa, who was the brains behind the deal in bringing him to B6.
After an initial six-month loan deal from January last year, Clarke was keen to retain Tshibola’s services. A season-long agreement was made for this current campaign.
Finally, with stability, Tshibola seems to have found some form. Supporters of the Ayrshire side were certainly happy to see him return after impressing during his first loan spell. He is again playing regularly in a Kilmarnock team. They are currently chasing their best finish in the Scottish top flight since the 2002-03 season. By all accounts, there have been some positive displays and he has more than played his part in Killie’s campaign so far.
Worryingly, I have also seen less favourable comments from Killie fans. Including one stating that his most recent performance in a 1-0 defeat to Livingston last weekend was ‘garbage as usual‘. Despite what has been an overall successful season for the club so far, it is worth bearing in mind that Killie’s recent form reads as no wins in seven. We know how fans can turn on players during a losing run.
It is also well worth bearing in mind that Tshibola had been absent for a few weeks with a thigh strain. This game marking his first start since the beginning of the month. Has his absence been key in Killie’s dip in form?
Of course, this has all been building to one question – could Tshibola have a future at Villa still?
His current contract expires at the end of the 2019-20 season, so there is still another season to run on the deal. Villa either needs to look to sell him this summer. Or recoup whatever they can in terms of a transfer fee or surely utilise him in some way.
Realistically, despite having spent over £5million, looking to recover even £1 million for a player who, whilst may be playing well, still has a lot to prove. And also has just 12 months remaining on his contract, will prove a challenge. We can forget about any hopes that Killie will come in and spend that sort of money. Their record transfer fee paid out was set was back in 1995 and totalled just £340k. A seeming reliance on Steve Clarke to tease the best out of him is a concern.
Tshibola does seem to possess certain physical attributes which potentially could lead him to become a useful player. He’s strong and rangy and can run all day long. His passing is decent and he isn’t shy of putting in a tackle. And he fits in with Dean Smith‘s objective of lowering the age of the squad.
Importantly, this summer could prove to be the perfect opportunity for Tshibola to really make good on all of the promises he’s made previously to push on. Really make the most of his chances and vowing to fight for his place.
Glenn Whelan and Mile Jedinak are out of contract this summer and unlikely to be retained. There is a certainly a need for reinforcements in the defensive midfield area. If ever Tshibola was going to force his way into things at Villa, this summer is it.
Despite a recall clause in his loan agreement, allowing Tshibola to continue up at Rugby Park for the remainder of the season seems like the correct call.
Smith to take a closer look
Smith absolutely has to take a look at the player upon his return and try to see if he can mould him into an option that he can use. Steve Bruce clearly didn’t fancy him and pretty much wrote him off straight away.
Villa is simply not in the financial position to give up so easily on a 24-year old that holds a degree of potential. Whilst the Scottish Premiership isn’t of the highest standard or known for its competitiveness, at least there are finally signs of Tshibola showing form and having a prolonged and settled run in a side that is at least attempting to challenge the established stranglehold in that league.
Previously, we have only seen failed loans and an underwhelming waste of potential. There is finally a chink of light. It’s been hard to make a case for Tshibola’s future at Villa Park. But maybe, with a huge opening coming up in the squad and some confidence behind him, he’ll finally be ready to grab his opportunity. He could avoid becoming just another example of how Villa wasted a huge amount of money when they sunk into the Championship.