Aston Villa’s relegation to the Championship is disastrous. Ours is a club in disarray, with chaos reigning at every level. The players in particular have been shambolic on so many different levels. The shame of being relegated will likely still not be enough to shock some of our players into life next season. However, there is one player in particular who should be eagerly anticipating the forthcoming season. Step forward Gary Gardner.
Now, I have to say, I do not subscribe to the hype surrounding Gardner. I really haven’t seen anything to get me excited and am of the opinion that if he hasn’t made it by now, it is unlikely that he will make it. However, being fair to him, I am classifying ‘making it’ as being a top Premier League player. Obviously, the remit to get into the Aston Villa side next season has changed dramatically and this is perhaps the best thing that could have happened for him at this point in a somewhat floundering career.
He will be twenty-four years old by the time the next season gets under way. That is not young in footballing terms. Superstar kids are generally making waves at eighteen or nineteen, if not even earlier. Gardner has missed that boat. That’s not to say it is too late. If anything, Jamie Vardy has proved this season at the age of twenty-nine that it is possible to be a late bloomer at the top level so I certainly am not consigning Gardner to the scrapheap just yet.
Before I get lambasted, I am of course aware that terrible injuries have hampered his progress. Two ACL injuries amounting to approximately two years out of the game is incredibly bad luck at his age. Yet, one of these happened to him as a seventeen-year-old, and so, whilst this may seem cruel, I believe it is now irrelevant when being used as an excuse due to having seven years since this set back to make an impact. His later injury was more restrictive in terms of his career as it came at a time when he had made some appearances for the first team, albeit due to the absence of Stiliyan Petrov through illness rather than forcing his way into contention. Even still, we are almost four years down the line from Gardner’s second injury and he has been unable to force a way into a poor Villa side so Gardner being held in such high regard by some Villa fans baffles me.
Not since Alex McLeish was manager has Gardner pulled on a Villa shirt. I don’t remember at that time watching him and thinking that he was the next big thing. Despite his injuries, and despite us being so incredibly poor on the pitch, surely he could have forced subsequent managers to give him a go over the last four years. Surely in training someone would have seen something to keep him at the club with the idea that he could put pressure on the first team rather than loan him out over and over again.
I have seen him play for Nottingham Forest, where he has been on loan both last season and this, a few times and, again, I have never thought he is a player who can come in and transform us. A neat and tidy player with a good shot on him, absolutely, but my point is that I don’t understand the fervent clamour over him. My opinions of his abilities clearly differs to others to the extent that I do not believe he will make a big difference to us. He looks decent but certainly not spectacular. A few great free kicks doesn’t make a great player. I have seen his various goals and highlight reels which people will argue show a high quality player. To me, that isn’t enough.
Forest fans do like him and the general consensus is that they would like to keep him so he is obviously having some effect there. The Clarets have reportedly been keeping tabs on him also yet this interest is supposedly on the wane in the face of their promotion.
Perhaps that is the key: he isn’t Premier League standard, at least not at this moment. However, in the Championship, he could prove to be instrumental to us.
Gardner now knows this division. That experience, combined with the fact that we are not blessed with talent in the middle of the park, makes a strong case for him to be pushing for a starting place come August. This is his time to push on and make some headway, fulfilling the promise that so many Villa fans hope he holds. He absolutely needs to realise this is his chance and he must do enough to force our next manager into giving him game time.
Gardner has served his time doing the rounds out on loan. These stints are now pointless, especially as we are now operating at Championship level ourselves. The competition to get into our side is at an all time low. With money likely to be tight this summer, Gardner would be like a new signing.
For me, it literally is now or never for Gardner. As another local lad (although a fat lot of good that has served us this season), I hope he proves me wrong and shows the quality that so many others seem to be convinced he possesses.