As the transfer window entered its final hour before slamming its shutters on Monday night last week, clubs up and down the country scrambled to finalize any deadline day deals they had been meticulously planning for months or had strung together that evening.
Although, having already fulfilled their main aims throughout the earlier parts of the window, Aston Villa were ready to see someone out the door, rather than someone through it.
That man was Orjan Nyland, the Norwegian goalkeeper signed from Ingolstadt as Steve Bruce’s third signing of the 2018 summer transfer window – months after playoff heartache lead to a summer of trepidation that had nearly torn the club apart.
A week on from the shock departure, we take a look at the two years Nyland spent in the Midlands.
Difficult Debut Season
Arriving as Bruces’ number one, Nyland took to the field in his new colours for the first time in the second round of fixtures in the new championship campaign – an eventful 3-2 win against a Wigan Athletic side consisting of Reece James. As well as Nyland, another debutant for the hosts that day was a newly signed central midfielder from Hibernian…
Despite losing just two of his first nine games for Villa, Nyland struggled to keep the ball out the back of the net. After another hap hazardous performance against Bristol City, Bruce made the decision to bench the goalkeeper for the next game, which eventually was his last as Villa manager.
By the next week, Nyland had returned to the lineup, however. Caretaker boss, Kevin MacDonald restored faith in the Norseman as did lifelong Villa fan, Dean Smith, when he took the vacant managerial role in mid-October.
Keeping a clean sheet for the new manager in his opening game was enough to nail down his position in the team until a freak ruptured Achilles ended his debut season in England, in late December.
“He was warming up and then it’s just gone. He will have an operation next week and that should put him out for the season” said Smith before recalling Jed Steer from a loan at Charlton, and bringing in Lovre Kalinić to bolster his goalkeeping options.
Fulfilling his “boyhood dream”
In his months of rest, recovery and rehabilitation, Nyland had watched the club’s position in the Championship table pivot dramatically, as the return of the newly appointed captain, Jack Grealish, lead Villa into the Premier League.
In the summer that followed triumph at Wembley, Nyland returned to training with Villa once more, ahead of the club’s first return to the top flight, since relegation in 2016.
However, in that time, England international Tom Heaton had been signed by the club to add even more quality (and personnel) to the goalkeeping ranks at Bodymoor Heath. As a result of this, Nyland saw his somewhat limited playing chances diminish again, and he was the third choice goalkeeper until Heaton was injured in a training session days before the trip to Molineux in November.
In another stroke of bad fortune, backup goalkeeper Jed Steer, (who had started the game against Wolves in Heaton’s absence) was injured less than ten minutes into the action. This led to the third choice of only a few days prior, being thrust into Premier League proceedings for the first time. Added to the shock return to the team, was the fact that Nyland had almost gone twelve months without a minute of first-team football since a 1-1 draw with Preston, in December 2019.
On his Premier League debut, Nyland was unable to prevent Villa from losing 2-1.
As Jed Steer’s scan came back showing an Achilles tear, Nyland was promoted to the role of substitute goalkeeper in the league, whilst he was given a starting role in the Carabao Cup games – that eventually lead to Wembley.
On his return to starting at Villa Park, Nyland gave an astounding performance in the night that he will be remembered for in years to come – as Villa beat a young Liverpool team 5-0 in December 2019.
As he began seeing out the league season from a sideline view, Tom Heaton was struck by the goalkeeping injury curse on New Year’s day, meaning that Nyland was once again required to step into the action from the bench.
A five-minute cameo at Turf Moor was followed by a full 90 minutes of Premier League football against Manchester City. In a day to forget, Nyland performed poorly as Villa were thrashed 6-1 at home to the defending champions.
The coming days saw the arrival of world cup winning goalkeeper, Pepe Reina, who took the presiding position between the sticks.
For all his pedigree, in the six games that followed, Reina was ever more becoming a liability, and many thought that after a mauling by the foxes, Reina’s short time in net for Villa had come to an end.
Enter, a global pandemic.
More than three months on from that night in Leicester, Villa finally took to the field again. The opponents were Sheffield United, at Villa Park, as the nation tuned in to watch the return of football.
As had been predicted pre-pandemic, Reina was left to look on from the bench as Nyland started only his second game in the Premier League, upon the resumption.
Although an overall dull affair, Nyland was involved in what will turn out to be one of English football’s iconic moments.
Carrying the ball over the goal line, following a freekick hoisted in his direction, the technology implemented by the FA appeared to have still been on furlough when the referee was left unalerted (via his watch) to the fair goal scored by the visitors. The match went on to finish 0-0.
A lucky man on this occasion, the error from Nyland went unpunished. As did the free shot he allowed Diogo Jota of wolves, after spilling the ball out of his hands when attempting to throw the ball to a teammate ten days later.
It was after this match that Smith pulled the plug on his trusting relationship with the Norwegian, and for the subsequent six games left of the season, Reina was preferred in goal.
In this move by Smith, Villa were able to collect eight points from a possible twelve after successive losses to Liverpool and Manchester United respectively.
The points gained in the last four games was just enough for Villa to escape the jaws of relegation, and secure another season in the top flight.
Leaving behind a legacy?
Whilst it wouldn’t be frowned upon to label Nyland’s two years at Villa Park as unsuccessful, despite the frequent mistakes, and somewhat unsettled appearance when playing, Nyland was a well-respected, likeable member of the squad by the supporters.
Regularly seen celebrating the team’s successes through his social media platforms either from home or in the stands, Nyland was always incredibly open and honest in his self- evaluations.
Added to this was his clear love for the fans, as seen in his farewell message to the football club.
“A special mention to all the supporters for the amazing support throughout my time here.”
In two years at the club, Nyland made 36 appearances and was pivotal in the League Cup run of 2019/20.
During his relatively short time, the club achieved promotion, reached a cup final, and beat the odds to a relegation survival on the last day.
Perhaps a stretch too far to call it a legacy, he leaves B6 with the fan’s best wishes.
The Norwegian goalkeeper who evaded goal line Technology, and was world-class against the kids.