For 99% of the population of Birmingham, it would be impossible to swap the colours of claret and blue for the blue of their city rivals (or vice versa). Yet in the last 15 years, eight players have represented both Aston Villa and Birmingham City. With today’s game looming, let’s have a look at those eight players and ask the question; who were they more successful with, Villa or Blues?
Davies moved to Villa from West Brom in 2007, and after a season on loan at Villa Park the defender made his switch permanent the following year. Davies formed a solid partnership with Martin Laursen that season, which saw Villa come so close to finishing in top four. Yet, in the 2009/10 campaign injuries restricted him to just two league appearances. As a result Martin O’Neill signed James Collins and Richard Dunne, whom Davies failed to oust from the team. After a short loan at Leicester, the defender was sold to Birmingham in January 2011. Injuries once again restricted him at St Andrews and he only played six league games in Blues relegation campaign. The centre-back then enjoyed two superb seasons in the Championship, and only missed one league game in that time. His impressive performances meant Steve Bruce lured him to Premier League side Hull City, where he still plays today.
Verdict: Blues, by a whisker. Despite his amazing showing in the 2008/09 season for Villa, Davies gave a great account of himself in his two full years for Blues, which just outweighs his performances in a claret and blue shirt.
Ulises De La Cruz
De La Cruz was signed by Villa in 2002 and endured a relatively dismal four years at Villa Park. The full-back spent most of his career at B6 as back up to Mark Delaney and Aaron Hughes, and never fully cemented himself as regular starter. De La Cruz left Villa to join newly-promoted Reading in 2006 and after two years at the Madjeski, was let go by the club. The Ecuadorian began training with Birmingham in 2009 in order to build up his fitness and ended up signing a short term deal with the club. In fact, it was so short he only played one game for the Blues. De La Cruz came on in a 2-0 victory against Doncaster in March 2009, and rejected the offer of a new deal at the end of the season
Verdict: Villa. Despite never being a success at Villa Park, his time with the club is certainly more substantial than the solo appearance for Blues.
Gardner came through the Villa youth ranks and made his debut for the club in 2005. He played eight times in his maiden season, and was used mainly as a bit part player in Martin O’Neill’s side over the next few years. The Northern Irishman appeared to like Gardner versatility and often deployed the youngster in numerous positions. However, injuries stunted his potential at Villa and in January 2009, having played just one game so far that season, Gardner joined Birmingham. The Solihull-born player instantly established himself in Alex McLeish’s side. In his second year at St Andrews Gardner was the club’s top goal scorer and helped the side win the League Cup. Despite the team’s success, Blues were relegated in 2011 and Gardner left his boyhood club that summer. However, via Sunderland and West Brom, the 30-year-old is now back at St Andrews and could line up against his brother in Sunday’s clash.
Verdict: Blues. Tough one to call, as Gardner never fully established himself in the Villa side. Despite being relegated with Birmingham in 2011, his goal scoring exploits that season mean he can hold his head up high. Add in his League Cup trump and his St Andrews career probably outstrips his time at Villa Park.
Heskey joined Blues from Liverpool in 2004 and enjoyed a successful first campaign at St Andrews. The striker notched a respectable ten league goals in 34 appearances for Birmingham, and was voted the Players’ Player of Year for the 2004/05 season. Yet, the following campaign proved to be less fruitful as he only managed four Premier League goals, as Blues were relegated to the Championship. Heskey was sold to Wigan in that summer, and after two-and-a-half years in the north-west he returned to the midlands, this time with Villa. The then England international scored on his debut for Villa but only registered a single strike in his final 13 games of the season. The rest of his Villa career produced a similar strike rate as he scored just 11 times in 96 appearances over the next three years. In 2012, the former Liverpool man turned his back on Premier League life and opted for the much more tranquil surroundings of Australia.
Verdict: Blues. Heskey did not enjoy much success at either club, but his impressive season in 2004/05 gives his performances for Blues a slight edge over those for Villa.
After an impressive career with Sunderland and Southampton, Kevin Phillips arrived at B6 in 2005. The striker only lasted one year at Villa Park and due to regular injuries, struggled to hold down a first team spot. His finest hour for Villa was scoring the only goal in the club’s first Premier League victory over their local rivals. However, it was one of only four goals that year and consequently he moved to West Brom at the end of the season. After a superb stint with Albion, Phillips decided to cross local boundaries again by signing for Birmingham. During his first year with Blues, a 14 goal haul helped the side gain promotion to the Premier League. However, in the top flight an aged Phillips struggled to get into the starting XI above Cameron Jerome and James McFadden. Despite starting only two league games, the striker played 19 times that season. In 2010/11 Phillips helped Blues win the League Cup, the only trophy success in a distinguished career.
Verdict: Blues. No doubt over this one. Phillips didn’t show his real talent at Villa Park, but played a vital role in Birmingham’s revival under Alex McLeish.
The second player on this list to come through the Villa youth system, Ridgewell made 93 appearances for the club. In the 2005/06 season (his third at senior level) he had forced his way into David O’Leary’s side, and played 32 league games whilst registering five goals. However, Martin O’Neill’s reign at the club proved to be less rewarding for Ridgewell. After just one season under the Northern Irishman’s tutelage, the centre-back moved to Birmingham and became the first man to transfer directly between the clubs since 1984. Ridgewell was a first team regular during a four-and-a-half year spell at St Andrew’s, including the 2009/10 season, which saw Blues finish 9th in the Premier League. Ridgewell also played 90 minutes in the League Cup triumph against Arsenal in 2011, yet was relegated twice with the club.
Verdict: Blues. Inconsistent and error-strewn performances somewhat tarnished his Villa career. At Blues, Ridgewell had matured into a much more reliable defender and his involvement in McLeish’s successful Birmingham side is proof of that.
Whilst at Chelsea, Sinclair joined Birmingham on loan for the second half of the 2008/09 season. He made 14 appearances for Blues and helped them regain their Premier League status. After a successful spell with Swansea and a period in the footballing wilderness at Manchester City, Sinclair arrived at Villa Park in 2015 for a short-term loan move. The winger enjoyed a successful spell at B6 and scored two important goals in Villa’s march to the FA Cup final. Sinclair started the following campaign brightly and scored a hat-trick against Notts County in the League Cup. However, like all those involved during the 2015/16 season with Villa, Sinclair will not be remembered fondly by those on the Holte End, as he struggled to get in the starting XI of a team who finished with just 17 points.
Verdict: Villa. Simply because he played a lot more matches for the club. Despite his glum moments in 2015/16, Sinclair did produce a few impressive displays during his 18 months at Villa Park.
Sutton only managed 18 appearances for Villa and Blues combined. He moved to St Andrew’s in January 2006 and only scored once for the club (against Villa), before being released at the end of the season following Birmingham’s relegation. In October that year Sutton rejoined his former manager Martin O’Neill at Villa Park. He also only managed one goal for Villa, and after suffering a peculiar eye injury was forced to retire aged 34.
Verdict: Villa. Neither is probably the correct answer, but after being relegated with Blues, Villa takes the win on this one.
Overall: Villa 3-5 Blues. Let’s just hope we don’t have the same outcome on Sunday.