If you've read up on the rest of our season review series this week, you've probably not found too many positive takeaways in Aston Villa's series. Well fear not, this piece takes a look at the performances of the players that were out on loan this year, and hey, no other teams had a year quite as bad as Villa right?
The bad news
This was supposed to be a positive piece, honest! And it still will be! But we have to get the negatives out of the way first, but I'm not going to spend too much time talking about them. So lets quickly get them out of the way before we talk about the actual good news!
First of all, a quick mention of Aleksandar Tonev, remember him? After a pretty dreadful debut season at the club, the Bulgarian winger was loaned out to Celtic where he made just seven starts before being found guilty of racially abusing Aberdeen defender Shay Logan. After serving his suspension, Tonev hasn't been seen or heard of since, and quite frankly, he has no place in an Aston Villa side.
The award for the biggest disappointment of any Villa player out on loan this season goes to Antonio Luna, though perhaps it is not his fault. A season long loan at Hellas Verona was cut short after the Spaniard failed to register a single appearance. He then ended the season with another Italian side, Spezia Calcio this time. Whilst he managed four appearances this time, his spell there was marred by a red card against Modena in his second game. A pretty dismal season for the once fan favourite, it looks like his time as an Aston Villa player is up.
Just a quick mention of Darren Bent, Enda Stevens and Graham Burke. Having spent time on loan at Derby County, Northampton Town and Notts County respectively, all three have been released by the club and therefore are no longer Aston Villa players. Darren Bent has since signed for Derby full time, Enda Stevens is now a Portsmouth player and Graham Burke is unattached.
The good news!
Gary Gardner went out on loan twice this season, and looked impressive both times. Starting the season on loan at Brighton, and ending it at Nottingham Forest, Gardner played a total of 35 games this year, giving him some vital first team experience that will surely come in useful as he returns to Villa this summer. But it isn't the appearances that will be the defining factor in Gardner's Aston Villa future, but rather his goal scoring ability. Whilst the six goals that Gardner managed from central midfield was good, if not spectacular, it would have been enough to make him the second top scorer in a Villa side that looked clueless in front of goal at times. In addition, Gardner is willing and capable of having a shot on goal from distance, and, in a Villa side that is overly reliant on crossing balls in to Christian Benteke, having a player like Gardner who acts as a plan B is not a bad thing. To summarise, Gary Gardner could well find himself filling in a Tom Cleverley sized hole in the midfield.
Another player who spent some time on the south coast of England this season was Joe Bennett, having spent the year on loan with Brighton. A player who looked devoid of confidence after his first two years at Villa, Bennett probably needed time away from Villa, in order to get more playing time in front of a less critical audience. Not a slight on the Villa fans by any means, but the loan was a good chance for Bennett to show himself, without the weight of expectation.
To be fair to Joe Bennett, he did a pretty good job. Featuring 42 times for Brighton, he managed to get himself on the score sheet on one occasion. Most importantly though, he, alongside Gary Gardner, have seemingly impressed new Villa boss Tim Sherwood, who admitted that Bennett could feature next season. Whilst this sounds like bad news for players like Aly Cissokho, Bennett is the type of player that could thrive under Sherwood's man management style, and thus is one to watch for Villa next year.
Christian Benteke looks set to leave Aston Villa, so the club is going to need a new striker right? It may well be that the club already has one striker that is ready to feature next term in Callum Robinson. Robinson spent most of the season on loan at Preston North End, and, having scored four times in 25 games, many were hoping that he would feature in Villa's last game of the season against Burnley, to no avail. Realistically, Robinson is not going to be the replacement for Benteke should the big man leave, but it's quite likely that we will see more of Callum Robinson next term, especially if Andi Weimann leaves the club.
Chris Herd went out on loan to Wigan Athletic at the start of 2015 but made just three starts before returning to Villa with a medial ligament injury. Despite now being out of contract, Aston Villa have retained him at least until he regains his fitness, suggesting that Herd may have a future at the club. He is another player that could thrive under Sherwood's management style, and his versatility makes him a useful player to keep around.
Despite a reasonably good spell on loan in his native Denmark, it is unlikely that Nicklas Helenius will come back to Villa this summer. After a torrid debut season, Helenius netted eight goals for Aalborg as he looked to regain the form that saw him signed by Paul Lambert two years ago. Considering Villa need strikers, the fact that Helenius probably isn't coming back is a shame.
The best part of Yacouba Sylla's loan move to Kayseri Erciyesspor is that he has apparently done well enough to attract the attention of potential buyers. Sylla was never particularly good whilst playing for Villa, so the hope was that he would do well enough whilst on loan to earn Villa as much of the £2 million fee that they paid back. And seeing how Istanbul Basaksehir are apparently interested in signing him, it seems to have worked!
For fringe players, a loan move can be crucial in securing a new contract with the club, and this was the case for young fullback Lewis Kinsella. His contract was initially due to expire this summer, but after impressing on loan at Luton Town for the last two months of the season, he has been given a one year extension at the club. Part of the Villa side that won the NextGen series back in 2013, it will be interesting to see what kind of opportunities Kinsella may get at Villa this year.
To sum up
So our loan report was a mixed bag, but I think the positives outweigh the negatives. We've managed to ditch some dead weight, and players like Joe Bennett and Gary Gardner were impressive and proved that they have futures at the club. And, after that season, I'll take any positives that I can find!