Rushian Hepburn-Murphy has been hitting the headlines of late in both the local and national newspapers. This has not been because of his performances (or lack of appearances) on the pitch but because of continued links to Glasgow Rangers. As his contract expires at the end of this season, pre-contract agreements can be signed with teams outside England come January.
Tim Sherwood was the man who ensured the forward became the second-youngest player in Aston Villa Football Club’s history when Hepburn-Murphy was introduced from the bench after we had fired four goals past Sunderland at the Stadium of Light in 2015.
This was the first time that most Villa fans had seen the then sixteen-year-old in action. Since then his other two brief appearances for the first team in claret and blue have also come from the bench this season and last, on both occasions against Sunderland’s local rivals Newcastle United.
He particularly impressed in his cameo this season and I am somewhat surprised that we have not seen him since. There are, however, a couple of factors that probably explain this: the appointment of Steve Bruce and the subsequent reintroduction of Gabby Agbonlahor to the first team fold.
When a new manager comes in, everyone has a clean slate. This was made clear by Bruce in respect of Agbonlahor especially and since the new manager’s arrival he has made five appearances whereas his fellow academy graduate Hepburn-Murphy is yet to make a match day squad in the same period.
Bruce has in recent weeks spoken of his excitement regarding the young striker’s potential and hinted that he will be closer to his plans come January when the Africa Cup of Nations starts and our forward-line is likely to be decimated. He has also talked of his plans to possibly arrange a loan move for Hepburn-Murphy and disclosed a conversation he has had with his parents with a view to getting a contract agreed.
Dr Xia too has communicated via Twitter how everyone at the club wants the youngster to stay and fight to seal promotion with his ‘Villa blood’.
Contract offers normally come down to three things: whether the terms offered are right for the player, whether the club wants to retain his services and whether the player is happy.
As mentioned, we know the club wants to keep the player. There has not really been any indication that money is this issue; I would be surprised if Rangers are in a position to offer better terms than Aston Villa. This only leaves us to question whether the player is happy.
The fact that Agbonlahor has moved above Hepburn-Murphy in the pecking order is likely to be a kick in the teeth for the England Under 18 international, especially since under Roberto Di Matteo a route towards first team football at Villa Park seemed more likely.
Whilst I of course sympathise with the position he is in and I don’t agree that Agbonlahor should be making the squad at the expense of talented youngsters, he is like everyone else and he needs to prove his ability on the training pitch. His attitude needs to be right and he has to take his opportunity when it comes his way. Bruce has pointed to experience and previous goal-getting ability for his inclusion of Agbonlahor in his squads to date, although he is yet to find the net since making his return.
If he does not sign a contract at Villa, I suspect that Rangers won’t be the only club sniffing around the Brummie. Rangers is currently in the business of taking advantage of a FIFA loophole for the signing of young players from across the border for much less than the club’s English counterparts would have to pay in compensation.
Hepburn-Murphy would have to question whether he would be better off sticking or twisting. In the case of Rangers, I am not convinced that the standard of football is a step up from that on offer in the Championship. You only have to look at Scott Sinclair as a case in point here or consider that Robbie Nielson left Hearts, the club that finished in third place last season, to join League One MK Dons. Then there is the risk of joining a Premier League club where Hepburn-Murphy could find his opportunities of first team football even more limited.
If I were Hepburn-Murphy, I would not want to leave the club I had been at since the age of eight without tasting the feeling of scoring in front of the Holte End for the first team. Surely his hard work coming through the ranks has been to get him to do just that.
With the positive comments coming from the manager and the owner, I would say there is no rush for Rushian to make a move. Ours is a club with a rich history of bringing players through from the academy so history should tell him if he is good enough and has the right attitude he can make it at Villa Park. If he is not in the manager’s immediate plans, perhaps a January loan move would be beneficial for all concerned. Then he could come back and make his mark just like Jack Grealish did.