At the time of writing, press reports suggest that Tim Sherwood is closing in on French left back Jordan Amavi from Nice. This deal sounds very promising for the club, with Amavi said to be on the cusp of the French national team and having had a stellar 2014-15 season in Ligue 1. The Frenchman would undoubtedly be a coup for the club, as I’ve seen many a neutral impressed by him. Hopefully, he wants to join Aston Villa as he is exactly the kind of player we should be looking for and is the type of player teams like Swansea City have snapped up.
If Sherwood manages to persuade the French under-21 international to trade Nice for Birmingham then he could be on the way to solving what has been a problem position for the club ever since Wilfred Bouma was forced to retire following an injury picked up in 2008. Bouma had just enjoyed a great season in claret and blue, in which he proved dependable at the back. While Bouma was never the strongest defender going forward, he possessed more than enough common sense to join in attacks down his side. His injury was a blow.
Nicky Shorey, who had earned a couple of England caps, was purchased to fill in for Bouma. Costing a reported £5 million in the days when money was pretty easy for Martin O’Neill to come by, he was seen as a sturdy acquisition. Shorey fitted in with O’Neill’s British transfer policy but soon found himself out of favour. In his early games Shorey struggled and Villa fans did not warm to him. Shorey lost his place, with Luke Young, who had been purchased to solve our right back problem, forced to swap sides and centre back Carlos Cuellar moving to right back. Shorey won his place back towards the end of the 2008-09 season but the writing was on the wall: he was good going forward but a manager who liked defensive solidity never fully trusted him.
Shorey began the 2009-10 season in the side but O’Neill was soon reminded of why he had dropped him during the previous campaign: in the first game, against Wigan Athletic at Villa Park, Shorey let the ball drop over his head and Hugo Rodallega let fly with a sumptuous strike which flew past Friedel. The Villans went on to lose the game 0-2.
Before the summer deadline, Stephen Warnock was purchased to replace Shorey. Warnock, signed from Blackburn for approximately £8 million, had usurped Shorey in the England pecking order and had enjoyed a good season. A niggling njury saw his form slide slightly at the back end of the campaign but he was selected for England’s 2010 World Cup squad and it looked as if the Villans had found their left back. Shorey departed and Bouma was released, having not played a game since his injury. Only one of the two players was missed.
Warnock began 2010-11 in the team but the manager who signed him did a runner and Gerard Houllier took over. Houllier had managed the former Liverpool man before and had not really given him a chance. It wasn’t long before Houllier grew tired of him. Warnock’s standards had slipped and Houllier was making big calls, trying to put his own stamp on the side. Warnock did not play in 2011 and was widely expected to move on that summer.
Houllier’s poor health led to the ridiculous appointment of Alex McLeish and Warnock was reinstated. Starting the 2011-2012 season well, with the defence looking reasonably sound, Warnock’s form plummeted. A disastrous mistake against Swansea at home in December cost us a goal and this error was followed by a dreadful own goal against QPR at Villa Park in February 2012. By this point, Warnock was receiving a lot of abuse from the Holte End and there came a time when his every touch was booed. Nevertheless, he remained in the side as there was no other specialist left back at the club. An injury crisis forced him into midfield late in the season. Having stayed up by the skin of our teeth, another Villa left back’s career was teetering on the brink.
Paul Lambert replaced ‘Big Eck’ and, along with Alan Hutton, Warnock was told that his services were not required. Joe Bennett was signed from Middlesbrough, in keeping with Lambert’s ‘young and hungry’ transfer policy. Bennett enjoyed a torrid 2012-13 season and became a hate figure. Thrown in at the deep end, Bennett struggled. Eric Lichaj spent some time in the position, despite being more comfortable at right back, and Nathan Baker also filled in when Bennett was missing. The former Boro man did get a vital assist in the 3-2 win against QPR but was still struggling defensively. Having been sent off earlier in the season at home to Norwich, he was very fortunate not to be dismissed in the return game at Carrow Road after giving away a penalty whilst on a booking.
Antonio Luna was signed from Sevilla to provide competition at left back. Bennett got injured in pre-season so it was the Spaniard who began the 2013-14 season in the team. Luna got off to a great start, scoring on his début against Arsenal at the Emirates. It soon became clear that ‘Tony Moon’ was not up to standard as he was often caught out of position, making Clark and Baker look bad in the process. Luna was one of the worst players I have ever seen in a Villa shirt. You could have forgiven his defensive frailties if he had been any good going forward but he didn’t even offer a threat.
Luna was rightly cast aside and Paul Lambert had a third go at trying to solve the left back conundrum by adding Ryan Bertrand from Chelsea on loan in January 2014. Bertrand started fantastically but, like other left backs, he soon dropped his standards. Bennett was still at Villa, playing very well against Bertrand’s then parent club Chelsea in a 1-0 win at Villa Park.
2014-15 rolled round and Bennett and Luna were sent on loan, while Bertrand ended up at Southampton. Lambert had his fourth roll of the dice when Aly Cissokho joined from Valencia. The Frenchman had been on loan to Liverpool the previous season but had received less than stellar reviews from the Merseysiders. Like others, he started well enough. I felt he made us look a lot more solid at the back than we had done for years with other suspect left backs but he did not offer enough going forward.
Lambert was finally sacked and, unfortunately for Cissokho, he does not seem to fit in with Sherwood’s style. I expect him to be sold.
Kieran Richardson ended the season at left back and he is a useful member of the squad, in my opinion. Joe Bennett also remains. Sherwood is said to be impressed with him. Should Amavi arrive, the new signing will undoubtedly go straight into the side. Our recent history with left backs has not been good so in a sense Amavi doesn’t really have any boots to fill at all given that the bar has been set very low.
If Amavi signs and proves to be half as good as he is supposed to be, we could have, finally, filled a problematic position. Fingers crossed!