Frédéric Guilbert will return to Aston Villa following his loan spell at Strasbourg with a point to prove ahead of the new Premier League season.
The French full-back had fallen out of favour at Villa Park following the club’s capture of Matty Cash from Nottingham Forest last season.
Cash penned a five-year deal at Villa after he became the club’s first summer signing of a window that Dean Smith was keen to utilise in order to bolster his squad.
Having conceded the second-most goals in the Premier League last season, Smith spent his fourth transfer window as the Villa boss not only adding to his team but letting a few go as well.
Guilbert was allowed to leave on loan to recently promoted Ligue 1 side Strasbourg in January having found game time hard to come by during his second Premier League campaign at the club.
The right-back made 25 appearances for the club in his first full campaign before leaving last season to secure regular minutes before the January window ended.
Strasbourg remained in the French Ligue 1 this season by a couple of points and thanks to some outstanding performances from the on-loan Villa man.
Having joined the French club hours from the January window slamming shut, Guilbert was made to wait for his first call-up to a matchday squad having sat out Strasbourg’s games against State Reims, State Brest and Olympique Lyon.
His debut for Les Coureurs came in a 2-1 victory against FC Metz where the full-back grabbed an assist – his first in any game since assisting Jack Grealish in Villa’s 2-1 win over Brighton at Villa Park back in October 2019.
A goal contribution on his debut from a right-wing-back role was the impressive start Guilbert needed for a confidence boost after sitting out of all league action for Villa since they secured Premier League safety at the London Stadium against West Ham on the final day of the 2019/2020 campaign.
A 0-0 draw against Angers was the first clean sheet Guilbert helped win for Strasbourg and the following week he grabbed another assist in a draw against the eventual league winners Lille before also scoring the winning goal against Monaco the week after.
With four games under his belt and not a minute off the pitch during that time, Guilbert assisted twice, scored and kept a clean sheet as he helped Strasbourg pull away from the trap door in an unbeaten run of four games.
Though after a tricky run of games until the end of the season, Guilbert’s Strasbourg won two of their last nine. The Frenchman assisted in both of those wins, against Bordeaux and OGC Nice, and still managed to impress in defeats to Montpellier and Paris Saint-Germain too.
Tasked with keeping Kylian Mbappé quiet is nearly impossible, but in Strasbourg’s 4-1 defeat to the Parisians, Villa’s on-loan defender had recorded more touches (69), won more tackles (4) than any of his teammates and completed more dribbles (4) than any other player on the pitch.
Frédéric Guilbert is used to battling back in his career
Guilbert made his name in French football with SM Caen before moving to Villa two years ago in a move worth around £4.5million.
He was seen as one of the best full-backs in French football but struggled to win Smith over despite building a good relationship with the Villa fans after making the move to Birmingham.
As a player at Caen, he won more tackles than any other defender in the five main European leagues and ranked second for interceptions. He was also Villa’s most prolific tackler in the 2019/2020 season despite missing the first two games against Tottenham and Bournemouth.
After winning his place back in the Villa squad and becoming a mainstay in it from thereon, Guilbert has been used to earning the right to play his whole career.
“I left home when I was 11 to join Caen’s academy,” Guilbert told The Guardian.
“I spent six years there and then they said they (academy coach) didn’t want to keep me. He said: ‘As far as I’m concerned, you’ll never be a top-flight player, nor even a second division player. Maybe third-rate, at best.’
“That was tough. Caen was the club I loved, the place I grew up.”
After getting back on his feet from quite a fall from grace in the well respected Caen academy, Guilbert was working hard at Cherbourg, a fourth-tier club a stone’s throw from Valognes, following his release from the northern French side.
After playing Bordeaux’s reserves, Guilbert was spotted by former France International, Patrick Battiston, who Arsène Wenger once said was the finest tackler he had ever seen.
Battiston saw something he liked in Guilbert and took a chance on him. Villa’s Frenchman added: “He took me to Bordeaux. Within three months I was his reserve team captain. Within six months I was part of the first-team squad.
“Then Caen called me. ‘We made a mistake, would you come back?’ I went back [on loan], then they paid to make the transfer permanent.
“I got this character because I always had that idea of proving to people they were wrong about me. Going back to Caen closed the circle. It’s a nice story.”
Guilbert had in fact hoped that the coach who discarded his talent as a youngster trying to make it at his boyhood club, was able to watch his Premier League debut with front-row seats at Villa Park.
Grateful for the opportunities he earned at an early age to prove his talent in the biggest leagues in world football and the lessons learned ever since Guilbert will be desperate to get back amongst Villa’s first team this summer.