The picture became clear under the Lambert regime as to which players would play a part in his squad and which would be banished to the ‘Bomb Squad’.
However, there remains one player with perhaps the biggest question marks of all still hanging over him – Charles N’Zogbia.
Monday 2nd of September, or Football Transfer Deadline Day as it is known to you and I, has arrived and yet there is little or no talk of N’Zogbia, despite his current injury.
While it is fair to say that McLeish’s signings – Holman (limited technical ability), Given (inexplicably signed on a lucrative five-year deal) and Hutton (no further comment required) have all been exiled under Lambert, little has been said about N’Zogbia.
He has shown before that he has the talent to win matches and as recently as late last season had some decent performances, coming off the bench and working the channels well. He has the pedigree of having played for France on two occasions and is still only 27-years-old.
While he is not as young as some of the other players who have been banished, his age doesn’t quite fit in with the nucleus of the young side. There has to be some room for slightly older players and Agbonlahor is a good example of Lambert recognising this.
On another note, N’Zogbia has been in England for many years now and despite the alien language they speak in the north east, his English must be reasonably good by now and there are also a few French-speaking players at the club which means he would not necessarily be an outsider.
Another positive for the winger is that Villa usually operate with two outside forwards, namely Weimann and Agbonlahor. This position suits N’Zogbia, who enjoys attacking. Villa also lack a top quality set piece taker from the edge of the box and N’Zogbia is also Villa’s best prospect from this position.
He still has three years left to run on his contract, worth a reported £50,000 per week. Lambert has looked to remove players who are earning excessive amounts of money and replace them with less expensive versions who can operate at a similar level. The signing of Tonev therefore clouds matters: Tonev plays in a similar position to N’Zogbia and his acquisition arguably now allows Lambert to push the 27-year-old through the Villa Park exit door.
He has also been given the number 36 shirt by Villa this season; a similar tactic saw the now departed Bent’s number 9 shirt awarded to Helenius. Bent admitted this hurt him and it is another sign that N’Zogbia has little part to play for Villa, despite the club having laid out £9.5 million for his signature in July 2011.
All of this leads me to think he has no future at Aston Villa and yet I am very surprised that he has not been linked with moves away or been branded part of the ‘Bomb Squad’. If Lambert would like to get rid of him, why has he not made it clearer so that clubs can make an approach, as he has done with Stephen Ireland?
So, until Charles N’Zogbia gets fit and we see how things will unfold, it is still a mystery and he remains Aston Villa’s Mr Inbetweener. I don’t think anything will happen in this transfer window for the winger but perhaps he’ll move in the January window.
I have asked local journalists to shed light on this but nothing has been said. What do others think? I’d be very interested to hear your views.