It seems that we've been waiting for the youth for as long as I've been an Aston Villa fan. Admittedly, this isn't a very long time, but given what I kept hearing about Villa's academy players being ready to make significant contributions, I'd have expected them to carry us for the past two seasons. To some extent, we've seen a lot of upside. Marc Albrighton looked fantastic for the first half of the 2010-11 season, Barry Bannan has shown flashes of brilliance, and Gary Gardner had his moments at the end of this season. We've also had the previously-discussed Nathan Baker on defense.
One of the most promising of these youngsters, though, has been the 20-year-old Austrian striker Andreas Weimann. Though not technically fully a product of the Aston Villa academy, Andi has been very much associated with the strength in the youth system. He began the season as a substitute for Darren Bent in the League Cup match against Hereford United, and it was great to see him on the Villa senior squad for the first time since his injury against Rapid Vienna in August 2010.
In August, Weimann signed a contract that will keep him at Villa Park until 2014 and then promptly headed back to Watford where he had an excellent loan spell in the latter half of the 2010-11 season. This time, however, he only got four matches with Watford as he was recalled to cover for mounting injury issues at Villa.
The injuries apparently weren't bad enough for Alex McLeish to give the Austrian much time on the pitch, however. From his recall in September until he started against Chelsea in March, Weimann only got 61 minutes of playing time. In that stretch though, Weimann managed to net one of the most memorable goals of the Villa season, crawling his way into our memory with a 94th minute stunner to give Villa a 1-0 win over Fulham. And when I say crawling, I mean it. The goal was as tenacious as you'll ever see, but it wasn't pretty. Weimann collected a rebound from the keeper, tried to head it in, fell over, nearly overran the ball, and kicked it while crawl-running at the last second for the goal.
But once he got some starts, Weimann made the most of them. He's got a lot to learn in terms of finishing, but Andi definitely has the instinct to send the ball netward. Nowhere was this more evident than in his gorgeous curling 20-yard strike against Stoke. That goal would be wasted as Alex McLeish drew the team back to play for a draw, but it - combined with the Fulham goal - were enough to seer Andi into the memory of the fans and earn him the goal of the year (for the Stoke effort) and the young player of the year awards for Aston Villa. The Stoke goal was, undoubtedly, one of the best highlights of an absurdly depressing season.
Going forward, I think we've got a lot to look forward to in Andi Weimann. He's shown us that he can finish, even though he missed more often than not this year. Additionally, he's young, fast, and instinctual. One of Villa's most glaring needs in a striker who can finish. Darren Bent, when he was healthy, was worse than normal in that regard this season and Paul Lambert has to be thinking of finding someone to bolster the Villa attack. I hope he looks at home and notices Weimann. Maybe we don't want his as our only option heading into next season, but he's certainly one of the most exciting and promising members of the long-awaited Villa youth movement. He's raw, and he'll be frustrating, but if he can find his way, Villa will have a wonderful striker in Weimann.