Rushian Hepburn-Murphy is a somewhat polarizing figure among Villa fans. A player who has demonstrated as little as he has in terms of first team productivity usually would not warrant such interest, but his situation and recent lack of opportunity set important precedents for Villa’s youth system graduates going forward. Hepburn-Murphy has been a Villa product from a young age, and just like Jack Grealish, he has shown great potential in becoming an integral part of Villa’s first team in the future. He may not be fully ready for that responsibility yet, but he has hardly been afforded the opportunity to demonstrate his worth.
When Hepburn-Murphy made his first senior appearance in Villa’s 4-0 thumping of Sunderland two years ago, he was only 16 years old: he was the second youngest player to ever appear for Villa. However, despite convincing then-manager Tim Sherwood he deserved a first team opportunity when he was just 16, he has only made two more senior appearances since and has faded back into youth team obscurity. His case is important because if he is not given the opportunity to prove himself at the senior level, it will discourage other academy prospects of their chances for success soon after graduating. Jack Grealish appears to be the only clear exception to the long periods of time Villa’s homegrown talent must wait before being given an opportunity to nail down a place in the senior team. Even Gary Gardner was sent out on numerous loan trips before finally being given a reliable opportunity in the first team this year.
Hepburn-Murphy’s lack of playing time and dissatisfaction have not gone unnoticed. Rangers and Watford are reported to be among the clubs interested in prying him away from Villa. In response to a question over Hepburn-Murphy’s potential inclusion sometime soon, owner Tony Xia had this to say:
We're waiting RHM sign the new contract to show his determination to play for Villa before we can make more wishes to his future. https://t.co/xRvhACZUyq— Dr. Tony Xia (@Dr_TonyXia) December 19, 2016
Hopefully Hepburn-Murphy will sign a new deal and put this controversy behind him. Regardless of his lack of production for the first team so far, he is still an exciting prospect who is a valuable asset for Villa. He could potentially be a useful option as soon as January, when Steve Bruce will need all the attacking options he can find as Jonathan Kodjia and Jordan Ayew depart for the African Cup of Nations.