AVILLAFAN XI (1990-Present) – Centre Midfielders
As with our centre backs, we found it hard to decide as to how to best divide the central midfielders up, so we again decided to let the Aston Villa faithful choose their perfect partnership. From the off, we have said we would go with a traditional 442 which makes the challenge even harder if you want to pack in midfielders!
By not separating midfielders that have played well through the middle either defensively or attacking, it means, you were in complete control of picking your dream duo.
Special mentions to Stiliyan Petrov, Paul Merson, Andy Townsend who were mentioned several times amongst others who were also popular amongst the Villa faithful.
Ultimately the two standout names that clearly came up most were Gareth Barry and Jack Grealish.
*Again we are fully aware they have played in other positions too!
D.O.B.: 23rd February 1981
Aston Villa career statistics
Appearances – 428 (Competitive)
Goals – 50 Assists – 27
Gareth Barry joined Aston Villa from Brighton and Hove Albion in 1997. At the time he was a trainee and the move was controversial, as transfer demands from Brighton totalled £2.5 million for the signing of both Barry and Michael Standing.
Barry would make his first-team debut for Aston Villa on 2nd May 1998, coming on as a substitute in a 3–1 win away against Sheffield Wednesday. He made a good impression and had been receiving rave reviews since signing as part of the academy sides.
His first goal would come in April 1999, when he replaced Dion Dublin and went on to finish Steve Stone’s cross to seal a 2–0 home win over Nottingham Forest.
This was seen as a well-deserved reward for his hard work in becoming a regular within the first team in what was a breakthrough season.
Barry made 37 appearances across all competitions including three UEFA Cup games as Villa went out in the second round to Celta Vigo (Spain).
The following season was a big season for Barry and the entire squad. The side would finish 6th in the Premier League after a flying start which saw them in December.
In the cup competitions, John Gregory’s men would reach the semi-finals of the League Cup, losing to eventual winners Leicester City.
But the main headline of this season was reaching the F.A. Cup Final which would be the last at the original Wembley Stadium and Villa’s first since 1957.
Barry scored his penalty in the semi-final shootout against Bolton Wanderers but would go on to suffer heartbreak in the final as Villa would lose 1–0 to Chelsea.
On a positive note, the successful season would give him his first cap for England as he was called up and would subsequently come on to feature in a 2-0 win over Ukraine in May 2000.
The following season would see Barry help Villa to qualify for the UEFA Cup through defeating FC Basel 5–2 on aggregate in the final of the Intertoto Cup. But that would be as good as it got as Villa would have a largely average season.
From 2002-2007 Villa would go through a series of most forgettable seasons and would be close to relegation at times.
The following season would be the second full season under Martin O’Neill and under the ownership of Randy Lerner, the club would look to drive on in the Premier League on the 11th placed finish in the previous season.
In November 2007, several reports stated that Aston Villa would look to award Barry with a testimonial, which was seen as a surprise as at the time he was just 26. The idea was to recognise his 10 years at the club.
He would also become the youngest player to appear in 300 Premier League games. Beating the previous record held by Frank Lampard.
Later in the season, Barry helped to secure a 4–0 victory over Bolton Wanderers, scoring two goals and providing two assists.
With his consistent performances, many would say if Barry had a bad game, Villa had a bad game as he seemed to be at the heart of so much.
Perhaps inevitably, around May 2008, Barry would be linked to a move away from Villa Park and Liverpool made a series of bids which were rejected by Aston Villa.
There would be a huge talking point as Barry publicly criticised his manager, Martin O’Neill, for making no attempt to keep him at the club, and cited Champions League football as the primary reason for his wish to move to Anfield.
Barry would be officially disciplined for his interview before a further bid from Liverpool of around £15 million was rejected.
Barry would then be stripped of the captaincy and fined whilst being made to train away from the first team.
Despite this, he didn’t lessen his efforts as a player and he would remain an Aston Villa player, scoring early in the season against FH Hafnarfjordur (Iceland) in a 4–1 win to help towards UEFA Cup qualification
On 18 September 2008, he made his 400th appearance away to Litex Lovech (Bulgaria), scoring a penalty as Villa won the match 3–1.
In the group stages, Barry scored again as Villa beat Ajax 2–1 in a memorable night at Villa Park.
Newly-made captain Martin Laursen would suffer a bad injury later on in the season and the captaincy was restored to Barry in January 2009. Another testament to his hard work and profession focus.
On 2nd June 2009, Barry signed a five-year contract with Manchester City, much to the dismay of Aston Villa fans who criticised him for this move considering his alleged desire to play in the UEFA Champions League.
Barry responded to this positively and wrote a letter to thank the Villa fans for their support while he was there.
He would become a favourite at Manchester City and would go on to win the FA Cup in 2010 and the Premier League in 2011-2012.
Barry has since played for Everton, where he was voted Player on the Season in 2015-2016 and West Bromwich Albion where he became the all-time leader for Premier League appearances.
Gareth Barry would also make 53 appearances for England and was a part of the 2010 World Cup squad that went to South Africa.
Credit to Sky Bet
D.O.B. – 10th September 1995
Nationality – England
Aston Villa Statistics
Appearances – 177 (Competitive)
Goals – 24 Assists – 31
Jack Grealish is a product of the Aston Villa Youth system after joining the club when he was six years old, back in 2001. Grealish, a life long Aston Villa supporter, was part of the clubs u-19 team that won the 2012-13 Next-Gen Series.
Notts County & Soccer Sevens
Notts County signed Grealish on loan in September 2013 on a youth loan deal until January 2014. After a successful spell, the loan deal was extended until the end of the season. The Solihull born midfielder went on to make 37 appearances for County.
At the end of that season, he made his professional debut for Villa when he came off the substitute bench for Ryan Bertrand in a 4-0 away defeat to Manchester City.
That summer he travelled with the Youth side to The Hong Kong Soccer Sevens competition. He finished the tournament as top scorer with six goals as Villa won the shield.
Grealish signed a new four-year deal in October 2014 and this was the season that he began to make a name for himself. After many substitute appearances, he began his first match for Villa in a 3-3 home draw against Queens Park Rangers, in a performance that saw him highly praised.
It was Wembley where he really made people stand up and take note. Grealish played a part in both goals, including an assist for Fabian Delph’s winner in a 2-1 win over Liverpool in the FA Cup Semi-Final. He played the entire 2015 FA Cup Final but Villa lost 4-0 to Arsenal.
The 2015-16 season was one to forget for both Grealish and Villa. The club was relegated from the Premier League for the first time in their history. Jack played in 16 games that season, all defeats, creating a new record for the most amount of defeats in a row for a single player.
Grealish had started to reach the potential many had believed he would. As you would expect, he was massively loved by Villa fans and therefore hated by those across the city.
On March 10, 2019, English football witnessed something they had not seen since the dark days of football. Grealish was assaulted by a Birmingham City supporters, who ran onto the pitch, during a derby match at St Andrew’s. The assault didn’t appear to hurt Grealish, as he laughed off the attack as the offender was dragged out of the ground.
It was Jack who would have the last laugh though when he scored the only goal of the game in the second half to give Villa the second-city bragging rights.
Grealish was named captain following an injury to James Chester in March, during a period that saw the club record a club-record 10 league wins in a row. This helped Villa into the playoff positions. Villa went on to beat Midlands rivals West Bromwich Albion and Derby County which gained them promotion back to the Premier League following a three-year-absence.
Credit to Super 6