Anwar El Ghazi’s eighth goal of the Premier League season against Everton has once again reaffirmed that the Dutchman has a vital role to play in Aston Villa’s bid for European football next year.
So far this Premier League campaign, El Ghazi’s goals have won a total of 10 points for Villa, with three match-winning goals against Wolves, Leeds United and now Everton coming in between a goal at Stamford Bridge that won Villa a solid point on the road in December.
The winger has also scored three goals against West Bromwich Albion this season and his goal against Crystal Palace on Boxing Day was one of five he managed in a three-match run in which he released the best form of his Villa career to date.
Although, despite deputising for the injury-stricken Jack Grealish with some impressive performances of late, only seven months ago, El Ghazi was subjected to vile online abuse after Villa were knocked out of the Carabao Cup in October.
He was targeted on social media after Stoke City beat Villa 1-0 and in the aftermath of the defeat, El Ghazi suspended his Twitter account alongside fellow teammates Henri Lansbury and Kortney Hause.
Ten weeks later El Ghazi scored his first Premier League of the season to help Villa win only their second game in six as his well-taken spot-kick in the 90th minute at Molineux set Villa up for a fine run of form through the Christmas period.
The morning after Villa’s win at Wolves, mental health advocate and Villa teammate Tyrone Mings took to Twitter to dig out those who previously “berated and hounded” El Ghazi back a few weeks before.
He said: “Good morning villains. I really hope all you who were berating and hounding El Ghazi enough to make him suspend his social media, are in his DM’s today, apologising. A team game utilises a WHOLE squad and we need everyone… may your apology be as loud as the disrespect.”
Good morning villains. I really hope all you who were berating and hounding El Ghazi enough to make him suspend his social media, are in his DM’s today, apologising. A team game utilises a WHOLE squad and we need everyone… may your apology be as loud as the disrespect.
— Tyrone Mings (@OfficialTM_3) December 13, 2020
Dean Smith meanwhile, said of Mings’ message to Villa supporters: “I think for the modern player now, social media platforms are part of their life. I’m from a different generation so I don’t use it anywhere near as much as the players do.
“A Premier League player now understands that if he wants to get a point across, it’s important they can, they have to be mindful of their responsibilities. They are employees of Aston Villa FC. But it’s also there for people to criticise. Not just performances, it can be your looks, what you’ve said, anything can be critiqued on there.
“If that’s going to be of any harm to you or your mental welfare, then keep off it is my opinion, or block people’s accounts you don’t want to hear from. Unfortunately, it’s part of the world we live in now.”
On El Ghazi and the criticism fired his way, Smith added: “The players will know that better than I do but I think (he deleted Twitter) after the Stoke game where he got some stick on there and he decided to leave which is everybody’s right.
“I’m glad he did, because he’s looked a stronger person, coming on to score the penalty against Wolves shows he was strong as he won the game for us.
“It’s an individual thing, some people need to read the critique they get or the praise they get. Some can handle things without that.”
Anwar El Ghazi’s sacrifices for Aston Villa
Villa completed the permanent signing of El Ghazi from Lille in June 2019 after triggering the option to buy the 26-year-old winger following his successful loan spell at the club in the 2018/2019 Championship campaign.
El Ghazi scored six goals for Villa during his first season with the club, but there’s one that will particularly live long in the memory of Villa fans far and wide.
During a career that has taken the Dutchman from BVV Barendrecht, Feyenoord, Sparta Rotterdam and Ajax during his youth career, a move to Lille would eventually prove to become the stepping stone to secure a cult-hero like status at Villa Park.
Wherever his career may turn next, his back-post arrival under the Wembley arch in 2019 will never be forgotten nor underestimated in the grand scheme of Villa’s climb back amongst the upper echelons of English football.
El Ghazi went as far as breaking his fast for Ramadan to guarantee he was at his peak for the 90 minutes in which Villa secured success in the richest game in football. He said he would make up the time and that he hoped his God forgives him.
Speaking on the Ajax Podcast, El Ghazi shared what Villa fans were like leading up to that pressure-cooker of a final nearly three years ago before stating the difference between his current fans and those in Amsterdam.
“Every time I did groceries or whatever you had people everywhere,” said El Ghazi. “Everywhere you had Aston Villa people and saying ‘we have to win this game’. Young people, old people, mothers and fathers. Everyone.
“Then when I scored that goal. I don’t know what feeling came through because if I watched the crowd it was just so amazing, especially after the game when you see people and how happy they were. It just gives me a good feeling if I can make people happy.
“If they come to you they are not like ‘El Ghazi, El Ghazi!!!’. It’s like quiet come to you. ‘Can I have a picture?’ Sometimes when I am at a restaurant, they let me eat first before they come to me.”
The former Ajax player would then become Villa’s second summer signing after the club’s promotion back to the Premier League following the arrival of Spanish attacker Jota from rivals Birmingham City.
Since joining the club permanently in 2019, 20 players have joined Villa on a permanent or loan basis, but El Ghazi has a knack for proving doubters wrong and will continue to earn the admiration of a fanbase indebted to his contributions in claret and blue.