Samir Carruthers. It’s almost old news now that he has managed to disgrace himself at Cheltenham by “relieving” himself into a pint glass. Still, it’s reassuring to see that the modern gentleman knows how to endear himself to the wider public.
My motivation to write this now is perhaps motivated by the actions of a once promising player like Carruther’s, and how poor Villa’s output has been from the academy for as long as I’ve watched the club.
All we are ever seemingly told is the “high regard” it is held in; but where are these talented youngsters? Of those players that have emerged, why do so many drift away? Why do the few that actually “make-it” never look any better than what we’ve got?
Indeed, what happens to those starlets we desperately protect in their formative years of football in the fear they will be poached by bigger clubs?
Carruther’s is faintly remembered only for 15 minutes in a Villa shirt at Anfield. Unfortunately for the 23 year old, he will likely struggle to be recalled for his off field conduct in future, which now tarnishes him with the image of professional footballers generally. An unfair generalisation perhaps, but then the industry has young Samir (& friends) to thank for the reinforcement.
But he’s not alone, even when we just focus our attentions at Villa Park.
Lee Hendrie had all of the technical ability to be a great footballer. Yet his career never reached anything like the peak it promised. Despite suddenly appearing under the banner of “Legend” status around Villa Park of late, in truth, he is remembered more for “drinking, partying and womanising”. Indeed, it induces a cringe when placing him amongst Peter Withe or Ian Taylor in terms of status. It’s not only cringe-worthy, but actually completely inaccurate.
In 2011 Barry Bannan showed all the wrong traits as well. After a night out in Leeds he drove home, on a provisional license, missed a bend, ploughing his car into the central reservation. To compound matters he then decided to make off on foot across a field before being arrested. Twice over the legal drink drive limit, he was fined and banned for 18 months. As for his football career? Exactly.
Chris Herd was arguably one of the more complete footballers to emerge in recent seasons, but injuries and off the field antics contributed to his demise. Most notably getting involved in a fracas outside a nightclub in Birmingham as Villa teetered on the brink. He is currently on a short term deal at League One Chesterfield having been released last summer.
Then there is Jack Grealish. An exciting player when he broke into the first team, it soon went completely to his head. Rewarded with a lavish contract after a handful of promising displays, Jack was infamously pictured inhaling laughing gas (after a 4-0 defeat) and passed out in the street whilst on holiday.
And what of Jamal Thomas; the former academy player ended up being jailed for 10 years for rape.
It’s not all bad discipline, but also an issue of quality. The type of quality that is required not just to make up the numbers in a squad but to affect and change a game of Premier League football.
These are uncomfortable questions to raise as everyone wants to believe that the next kid to come through will be “the one”. However, our track record simply doesn’t support this.
Gary Gardner has had a terrible time with injuries, but even when fit and despite how poor our midfield is, constantly finds himself out on loan. At 23 shouldn’t he have broken through? Can X amount of managers be wrong?
Stefan and Luke Moore. Darius Vassell. Peter Whittingham. All of whom broke through at Villa to great fanfare & promise, but none went on to do anything of great note. There were glimpses of promise, suggestions of something, but ultimately; average at best.
Gareth Barry, an often cited success, was actually transferred from Brighton at 16.
Gabby Agbonlahor, whilst having provided moments of pure joy to us, has also either consistently underperformed or was simply never as good as we’d hoped he would be over the course of his Villa career. He will look back with regret at what could have been, but will retire a very rich man.
This isn’t a case of apportioning blame to our academy for Villa’s current demise. Rather, it’s an honest reflection that there has simply been very little to come through that has improved us. When was the last time that a youngster gave the manager absolutely no reason not to pick him at Aston Villa?
I don’t think that ultimately the failings are so obscure. These are young men rewarded with riches beyond their wildest dreams before they’ve achieved anything.
Caught within the trappings of vast wealth, free time and growing egos, it is a disaster waiting to happen.
Whilst the players themselves cannot be excused for their actions, I wonder exactly how clubs like Villa have failed to instill discipline into them. They have guardianship for countless hours as they develop as young men.
Is it so much to ask that we encourage our youngsters to develop into great players, but also support them to reap their rewards through hard work & remembering the difference between right and wrong?
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