With Ron Vlaar, the club captain, out for the Newcastle game after receiving two yellow cards on Saturday, one of which led to Stoke’s winning penalty in the final minutes of the game, an opportunity has now opened up for somebody new to try to take leadership of the team.
This has obviously happened before and different players have been tried as captain for one off games. The most obvious choice for Saturday’s game would perhaps be Agbonlahor, the vice captain. At first glance, Agbonlahor seems like a good choice as he has spent his whole career at Aston Villa and knows the club better than most. However, anyone who has seen him play in recent seasons knows that he doesn’t deserve the armband. Under O’Neill, Gabby Agbonlahor used to score about ten goals a season. Now, he scores two or three. Of course, it’s not all about goals. What about work ethic? Is he a role model? Is he capable of motivating a team that is on its knees? Well, I’m sure you would all agree that he looks like a player who can’t be bothered any more and, in my opinion, he needs a change of scenery, regardless of whether we stay up or go down.
With Agbonlahor out of the frame, I turn my attention to Ciaran Clark. This season, twenty-five-year-old Clark has developed into one of our best centre backs, as well as a fantastic, natural leader. A product of our youth academy, Clark captained the Villa youth teams as well as the England national team at U19 and U20 level before he pledged his future to the Republic of Ireland in 2010.
There are also some things about Clark that set him apart from the rest of the team: he plays with a real passion and desire for our club, putting his body on the line and making last ditch tackles. He genuinely looks like one of our best centre backs at this moment in time and responded well to the challenge of captaining the Villa side in the FA Cup against AFC Bournemouth last month. His communication skills and drive are also evident. Even alongside Vlaar, Clark is the one who is constantly barking out orders to the rest of the team. The Republic of Ireland international is the one who sorts the defence out and he is always the one to congratulate a player on a job well done or to console a team-mate in a time of need. Clark’s palpable passion for the club has led to many fans calling for him to be the Villa captain for the next game – and beyond. He’s done it before – and he was good at it. I believe Clark is a natural leader and, unlike some, he will respond to the responsibility of wearing the armband and understand what a privilege it is as he continues to develop at Aston Villa Football Club.