Earlier this year, Aston Villa CEO, Christian Purslow, stated that “22-year-olds playing in an under-23 team means your system isn’t working.” This suggests that some academy players may no longer have a future at the club.
For some of Villa’s homegrown players, many who have been with the club since the age of 6, this was an alarming revelation as most are only contracted until 2020. Therefore, meaning that unless new contracts are put on the table within the next few days, among others, the likes of Callum O’Hare, Rushian Hepburn-Murphy, Matija Sarkic and one of last season’s stars, Andre Green, will all be let go by the club.
This level of upheaval is staggering considering that only two years ago, many of these players were involved in Villa’s trophy lifting, U23 side that won the Premier League Cup; a reserve team competition, formatted on the UEFA Champions League.
What’s Gone Wrong?
It would be customary to assume that after such success on a nationwide stage, a prosperous cluster of capable, young talents would be on the periphery of the first team; and two years on, regulars in the matchday squad at least. However, this has simply not been the case.
Whilst Green has been the most successful with the Villa first team, playing a major role in the promotion push of 2019, he was loaned away from the club twice this season and even with a shortage of players in his position (on the wing) he was clearly not in Dean Smith’s plans.
Whilst the academy system over the last five years has to take part of the blame, the Villa hierarchy must also take a certain degree of responsibility. The lack of willingness to utilise the strengths of the academy and instead, opting to sign players from elsewhere, has been the strongest factor for the failures of progression for the reserve team.
Using Green as the example again, he impressed everyone in the 2018/19 season with his pace and trickery, however after scoring the goal that many of the players involved have stated as the catalyst for the final promotion push, (the equaliser against Sheffield United), he wasn’t given a place in the squad for the following Premier League season. The reason for this, Villa had signed a winger from abroad to replace him (Trézéguet).
Below are some of the other academy players that were mentioned at the beginning whose contracts expire at the end of the month.
At 21 years of age, the youngster was still playing in the reserve side at B6 until he was loaned out to Carlisle United in 2019, and this season, to Coventry city. The combination of his age and his mere nine appearances all round for Villa’s first team are exactly what Purslow was talking about when he referred to players who simply haven’t been able to bridge the gap from the reserves.
Despite never sustaining a long-term position in the first team at Villa, when on loan, the attack-minded midfielder has shined. His performances in 2019 at Carlisle caught the eye of many as he recorded 3 goals in 16 games, with several man-of-the-match awards, including one on his debut.
Despite playing a role in the preseason for Villa this season, in late August he signed a season-long loan deal with Coventry where he played 40 games, scoring 4 goals and helping them win the league one title.
The young academy striker holds the record for the youngest player to appear in a match for the club in the Premier League when he was substituted on in 2015 at the age of 16.
Despite playing 15 games for Villa’s first team, he is yet to score for the club whilst in 27 appearances on loan at Cambridge and Tranmere respectively, he has only scored 5 goals.
In 2020, Derby County signed Hepburn-Murphy, however, he has only recorded one appearance for the rams reserves.
At 21 years old now, his Villa days are numbered.
The goalkeeper is a Montenegrin international and has already received a cap for his national side where he played in a 2-0 win against Belarus in November 2019.
The academy keeper has had a position on the bench for Villa on numerous cup game occasions, Sarkic has never played for the first team.
Sarkic, on loan at Scottish Premiership club Livingstone, has impressed despite having to settle for a place on their bench for the opening 7 games of the campaign. Whereas, by the end of the season, he had started 14 league games, keeping six clean sheets along the way.
Regretfully for these players, after long periods hovering around an academy system that has produced the likes of Jack Grealish, they never hit the heights they seemed destined for.
Today, the club officially announced their released list, with the full list below:
Isaiah Robert Graham Bazeley
Jack David Birch
James Grant Chester*
Doyle Hayes, Jake Billy
Borja Gonzalez Tomas
Andre Jay Green*
Rushian Marcus Amori Hepburn Murphy
Anton Abeku Hooper
Callum Luke O’Hare
Colin Ladipo Odutayo
Dimitri Disseka Sea
Jamie Spencer Searle
* Contracts extended to the end of the current extended Premier League season.