Mark Delaney’s U23 side have this season fallen off the pace at the top of the Premier League 2, Division 2 table with four loses since January. Only one win in their last five came against bottom club Sunderland, a win that has kept Villa away from their League One counterparts at the wrong end of the table.
Whilst in recent years Villa have championed results, promotion and silverware over core development of key individuals in the academy set-up, Villa CEO Christian Purslow have since altered Villa’s vision towards youth football.
In January’s AGM meeting, Purslow claimed that Villa’s system is failing. He said: “22-year-old footballers at Aston Villa need to be in the first team. The ultimate goal is to populate the under-23 team with 11 outstanding 16, 17 and 18-year-olds, then I will know it’s working.”
Aside from the two well-publicised teen sensations Louie Barry and Carney Chukwuemeka, Villa also boasts other promising youngsters who have caught the eye of academy staff.
From overseas talent to wonder-kids who grew up a stone’s throw away from Villa Park, Bodymoor Heath is taking the right steps to produce youngers who are connected to a club that so often became accustomed to producing regular internationals.
Though in the past two decades bar Gareth Barry, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Jack Grealish, very little in the way of first-team regulars have been produced. Such unsustainable methods of producing within the club has been highlighted by Purslow as he begins to recruit new youth staff for the academy.
Names that have gained in popularity over the past few years in the Villa academy, Callum O’Hare, Jack Doyle-Hayes and Andre Green have all yet to play a Premier League game with their boyhood club. This cycle needs to be reversed. Here are some more names that Villans can get behind for years to come.
Powerful forward Dmitri Sea hasn’t caught the limelight like Barry or Chukwuemeka, but his development in youth squads at Aston Villa hasn’t gone under the radar for officials at Bodymoor Heath.
Sea joined Villa from French amateur side A.C.B.B two summers ago. Born and raised on the outskirts of Paris, Sea was tracked by a host of top clubs in France but chose Villa and penned a contract until 2020.
Technical director of Athletic Club Boulogne-Billancourt (ACBB), Bertrand Rebours attended an under-13 tournament eight years ago hoping to bag himself a couple of young talents to be developed within his academy and he told Birmingham Live exclusively that Sea was a bright spark.
He said: “He was much smaller than the others but I was immediately attracted by his qualities of speed to reach the goal and his collective intelligence. I thought he was 12 and it was not bad. Upon seeing his educator he told me he was only 10 years old and he was upgraded. So it became a priority for me.”
Sea, 18, is the latest in a long line of young talents to emerge from ACBB, who pride themselves on their ability to nurture raw talent. Son of World Cup-winning defender Lilian Thuram, Marcus now plays for German giants Borussia Mönchengladbach. Whilst Newcastle’s Allan St Maximin, Red Bull Leipzig’s Jean Kevin Augustin – now on loan at Leeds – and Hatem Ben Arfa have all come through ACBB’s academy.
Prior to joining Villa in 2017, Sea was the star performer and top scorer at the national championships in France as ACBB defeated professional clubs Le Mans, Dijon, Bordeaux, Rennes and Metz to become the first amateur club to win the competition.
It begs the question, why were French clubs reluctant to sign Sea themselves?
Rebours explained: “They did not understand that Dimitri is raw and must be seen in competition. He’s not a training player, he’s a match killer. He has a spontaneous technique, he goes fast, he jumps up, very good head play, an incredible strike and an impressive collective sense.
“When you have Dimitri in your team you know you can win at any time. He is a rare scorer, he just needs a ball to find the net. For me, it is incomparable to another player.”
The deal to bring Sea to Villa Park was brokered by a team of football agents well known to the player’s brother, Gaetan. Sea underwent testing in England before Villa’s scouting team travelled to a match in Boulogne-Billancourt for a final check.
The Ramsey brothers
Let’s start with Jacob, Villa’s closest thing to dare I say it, a number ten after ‘super Jack’. Aged 18, Ramsey joined up with former Baggies boss Darren Moore at Doncaster for a season-long loan deal.
On his debut for the Rovers, Jacob scored twice, before netting the winner at MK Dons in Doncaster’s most recent League One game. He’s really impressed at the Keepmoat and at such a tender age.
Born in Great Barr, Jacob has made the fleeting cameo in the past two seasons with Villa and has rapidly emerged as a new leading light emerging from its renowned academy. Having joined Villa’s academy aged six, he recently penned a ‘long-term’ first professional contract which illustrates the club’s willingness to invest in promising teenagers.
Jacob’s younger brother Aaron is also making waves at Bodymoor. He also plays as an attack-minded midfielder in Villa’s academy and has become the star of the U16s team and club officials reckon he could even break into the U18s before the season is out.
Like his brother, he grew up just a short way away from Villa Park in Great Barr and attended Barr Beacon school. He’s been a regular with England through the age groups and hopes to challenge his brother for a place in the Villa team in the coming years.
Aaron has won caps at Under-16 and Under-17 level for England after his Three Lions bow came in July last year while his most recent appearance for England was in a 2-2 draw with Poland in September.
The Guardian described the young hopeful as “a technically gifted attacking midfielder who has the ability and vision to create chances for others.”
Soon after Villa secured Dmitri Sea for the U18 side, Colin Odutayo also joined in the summer of 2017 from oversees.
Netherlands youth international Odutayo has since become a star in the side after joining Villa from Belgian club Genk. He can play either on either wing or through the middle of an attack. Though Odutayo is thought to have preferred the left flank so he can cut inside on to his stronger right foot.
The young Dutchman, who has now and the step up to U23’s football has electric pace, an eye for goal and the odd trick as he hopes to excite Villa Park in the coming years.
In a similar fairytale to that of boy-wonder Jack Grealish’s, Tyreik Wright could have taken to a GAA field have things worked out differently as a boy.
Wright was born in Cork and as a kid, a keen Gaelic football player before he turned his attention to the game we are all more familiar with.
The young forward was was spotted by a Villa scout at the age of 14 and after initially joining Villa on trial, he signed scholarship forms with the club in July 2018.
Wright has notched four-goal contritions for Mark Delaney’s 23’s this season, and the predominantly leg footed attacker has since caught the eye of Dean Smith who has since called him up to training with the senior squad and also an FA Cup visit to Fulham earlier in the year.