If you were to travel back five or six months in time and mention the name Karim El Ahmadi around B6, most Aston Villa fans would speak of how useless the Moroccan-born central midfielder had been since his move from Feyenoord in July 2012.
Karim failed to impress last season, looking lacklustre on the ball and failing to show any real desire when on the field, leading to the 28-year-old spending most of his time on the Villa bench.
Nobody of a claret and blue persuasion seemed to have any more faith in El Ahmadi bar one man; that man was Paul Lambert. During April of last year, El Ahmadi found himself falling out of the Villa starting eleven due to poor performances and a seeming lack of interest. Paul Lambert pleaded with fans, insisting that El Ahmadi would improve.
Following the 3-0 defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford last season, El Ahmadi came off the bench and impressed, which led to Paul Lambert throwing down the gauntlet regarding the player. In the wake of the defeat Lambert spoke out about the midfielder, stating, “There’s still more to come from him. He’s only really been here seven or eight months or so. It’s his first season in the Premier League but he’s definitely a good technical footballer, that’s for sure, he’s been unlucky.”
Before the start of this season, not many fans, myself included, were particularly convinced by the Moroccan midfielder. Paul Lambert does not get many things wrong and he has proved this yet again by showing faith in a player he signed who the fans didn’t take to at first.
How right was Lambert to give him another chance this season? From watching El Ahmadi in our first four competitive games of the season, it is safe to say that he has come on in leaps and bounds and looks like a completely different player from last season. He has proven that he is now more composed on the ball, as well as being able to cover in defensively to give our attacking midfielders, such as Delph, the freedom to burst forward.
El Ahmadi is here to do a job and can bring the best out of our other central midfielders, Delph and Westwood, through his defensive qualities. If we take a look at his first three games in the league this season, bearing in mind how tough the opposition was, his performances were outstanding and he was a key figure in ensuring we picked up three points against Arsenal.
One of the things I have noticed from the beginning of this season is that El Ahmadi’s work rate has improved significantly. I don’t know if Lambert has had a word with him about this but I’m sure he has had an influence in one way or another. The pressure that he puts on the ball when the opposition are in possession is outstanding and if he can keep up that work rate this season I am sure he will be a big player for us.
More than a year on, from the day Paul Lambert brought El Ahmadi to Villa Park and the Villa manager is starting to see glimpses of the player he knew he had signed all those months ago. Lambert recently commented on the start Karim has made to the season, and is delighted with the progress the midfielder has made since the end of last season.
“Karim came out at the start of the season and did really well. We lost him to the African Nations last season and he found it hard to come back in after that. He has come back from pre-season and has been the player that I thought he could be, said Lambert.”
We have the one and only Paul Lambert to thank in no small part for the start that Karim El Ahmadi has made to the 2013-14 campaign. Without his ongoing faith in the midfielder, El Ahmadi could still have been rotting on the bench to this day. Lambert recognised that there was quality in this player and knew that it would take time for it to shine through. The risk of starting Karim in the first game against Arsenal paid off for Lambert and the Moroccan has only improved since then.
Thank you, Paul Lambert, for showing faith in your signings and helping to reshape Aston Villa for the better.
What are your views on Karim El Ahmadi? How do you think he has performed so far this season? Comment below.