On Villa’s social media channels, a video was put out with Alan ‘Hutts’ Hutton talking about his interests and personal life. In the video, he named the Proclaimers hit ‘500 Miles’ as his favourite karaoke song to sing (when inebriated, of course).
Funnily enough, it has been that same song that belts out from somewhere beyond the peak of the Holte End as Hutton plays the hero, sweeping in with a tackle, throwing a bullet header at goal - or in the case of Villa’s past two matches, actually creating chances for Aston Villa. He’s come a long way from featuring in Paul Lambert’s highly paid ‘bomb squad’.
Now, in the annals of Aston Villa folklore stemming from around 2010 to the present day, Alan Hutton would feature as a divisive figure. Some people toast his ability with praised dosed with toxic sarcasm, others love his right-wing buccaneer runs and see it as passion for the Lion Rampant hanging off of his chest. More people (and without judging the other sets of fans, usually the type of people well versed in football, tactics and history) point a lot of criticism at Alan Hutton.
To put it as simply as one can - Hutton is a paradox. He’s not a full-back, he’s not a winger. He fits awkwardly in-between as some kind of bastardised playmaker who gives players a kicking. Hutton’s work-rate cannot be denied - or criticised, but his passion most often drives him into the centre of the football pitch where he is far too often caught out with delusions of grandeur. Heatmaps from Villa’s last game against Bristol City show a defender putting in the vast majority of his work beyond the midfield line. If you compare this to the left-back Neil Taylor, Taylor worked a lot in the defensive phase, with a lot of touches near Villa’s left corner flag. It’s lopsided and one would doubt that Steve Bruce has suddenly discovered asymmetrical formations.
No offence, of course, Steve.
Hutton’s marauding rampages might look extremely pretty, but Hutton lacks the creativity to get out of a opposition press. This represents a bit of a worry for Villa who have seen their right flank endure 20% of their total shots against. This compares to 16% coming from the left side. To be fair, this might be a damning statement to the quality of right-wing players in the Championship, but it also points to a sorry fact that players are finding space on Villa’s right side (their left) to pull off shots. Hutton’s runs and touches usually end up outside the opposition box and the Scot cuts inside not with ninja-like precision, but with the dexterity of a drunken mother hacking at a birthday cake with a meat cleaver. It’s sloppy and he ends up going further than he ever meant to.
As spectators, we appreciate attacking play - especially if it comes from a source like Alan Hutton. An unlikely hero. The problem is, if players boisterously over commit to an attack, it can put a hideous amount of pressure on the defence if a long ball is played into areas. While it can be argued that players should attack because it increases the chances of a goal being scored, if your right back is caught out in a central attacking position then your team has a big chance of big split wide open on a break. Without throwing too much disrespect towards the quality of Villa’s opponents this year, you’d have seen Villa be pegged back on the break if this sort of play happened in the Premier League. Thankfully, Hutton is a workhorse and he will get back (eventually) - but his physical abilities and technical abilities are not on the same level as his determination.
In Villa’s past two games, Hutton has come a long way and has been effective. If luck had went his way, he might have even picked up a number of goals. Their have been plenty of cries on the back of these performances to reward Hutton with a new contract. His current deal expires at the end of this season.
Alan Hutton is currently 32 years old and is earning a fairly high wage at Aston Villa. He’s endured a rollercoaster ride at Aston Villa, from the lows of the infamous ‘bomb squad’ and relegation, to the ecstasy of goals and an FA Cup final. Despite his recent form and his workrate - one would have to be quite mad, or extremely loyal to the point of fault to renew Hutton’s contract unless there was quite the drop in wages.
The reason offering Hutton a new contract makes no sense is purely from an economical perspective. Without Hutton, Villa have five senior players (Bree, Lyden, Richards, Bacuna, De Laet) capable of playing in the position to the same degree of ability as Hutton, if not bettering the Scotsman. While the wages of two of those players might be quite low, Richards is pretty well-paid and one would find it easy to argue that Bree would be earning a fair wage packet considering that he turned down interest from Premier League clubs to join Villa. If Aston Villa renew Hutton’s contract, it’d be worth finding out the reasons for it because on the face of it, it would be a waste of money - especially when the club may very well have to worry about financial fair play regulations. It might seem quite unfortunate, but Tony Xia and Keith Wyness are not in a position at all to renew Hutton’s contract, especially with Villa’s abundant depth in the position once De Laet returns from injury.
There is also Hutton’s age to consider. While his form would usually put him into strong consideration for a new contract, Hutton will be 33 next season and every option for Villa at right-back will likely be equally paid and better in ability than Hutton. While he works hard, a new contract might not be a good idea - especially so if Villa hold onto De Laet, Bacuna and Richards over the next summer.
The heroics and passion put on display can’t be argued with, but Villa fans wouldn’t want for it for long. Micah Richards plays in a very similar manner to Alan Hutton with determined direct running and overlapping. In fact - one would have to question why Richards is criticised for the same things Hutton is praised for!
Aston Villa can’t afford to make any mistakes on and off the pitch and keeping Alan Hutton chained to the club at a high price would be just another in a growing list of terrible administration decisions and possibly the first big issue of Xia’s reign. While many will be sad to see the back of Alan Hutton, the welfare of the club has to come first - and many a football club has seen a charitable decision damn them to footballing purgatory.