Every so often in football, the stars align to create a singular moment of magic. Often these occurrences are a celebration of a team or individual’s character, drive to succeed and ability to overcome challenging obstacles, and are nostalgically relived and replayed for generations to come. Liverpool’s triumphs in Istanbul, Sergio Aguero’s 90th minute winner against QPR and Ryan Giggs’ solo goal against Arsenal in 1999, spring to mind. These moments only take place once every ten or fifteen years and for fans, offer rich reward for years of frustration, anger and heartbreak. For many Villa fans, it appears that they witnessed one such moment on Sunday afternoon.
Regardless of anyone’s personal feelings towards Gabby Agbonlahor, he undoubtedly changed Sunday’s game. The striker played his first match since January at the weekend, and as fate would have it, managed his first goal in 14 months against Villa’s chief rivals. The 30-year-old’s introduction brought the loudest cheer from the Holte End in the game’s opening hour. Agbonlahor seemed like a man possessed as he chased down loose balls, displayed assertive tackles and even was booked for attempting to retrieve the ball. Plain and simply, he showed desire and passion in a side that badly needed it. The 68th minute corner seemed destined to land at the feet of Villa’s longest serving player, and he showed an impressive display of strength and composure to knock the ball into the Birmingham goal.
Since Sunday’s game, social media has been flooded by Aston Villa fan pages celebrating Agbonlahor’s return to the side. The likes of Jack Grealish, Alan Hutton and Henri Lansbury (to name just a few) showed their support and appreciate of the man through their own personal social media platforms. Villa’s official Facebook page has celebrated Agbonlahor’s achievement with posts of every derby goal he has scored, his own numbers game video (which shows players answering questions) and the tag line, “Gabby, Gabby, Gabby, Gabby, Gabby Agbonlahor,” accompanying the match highlights. Oh, what a difference a year makes
April 2016 will no doubt go down as one of the darkest months in the Aston Villa’s history. The club lost all five games that month and conceded 14 goals in that time. Defeat against Manchester United on 16th April conformed that Villa would be playing in England’s second tier, for the first time since 1988. In the midst of the upheaval on the field and at the boardroom level at Villa Park, the team needed their experienced players to act as leaders for a club who were in crisis. Yet, instead of assisting Aston Villa, Agbonlahor only compounded the problems.
On 1st April it was announced that the striker was suspended, pending an investigation into pictures that had emerged of him smoking a shisha pipe, whilst on holiday in Dubai. Less than two weeks later, the club confirmed that Agbonlahor had been put on an intensive training regime, as he was deemed over weight. Instead of following the programme, the forward opted to enjoy a night out in London, which just happened to coincide with the Manchester United defeat. Agbonlahor was once again suspended following the incident after pictures emerged of him with laughing gas canisters. By the end of April, the once England international resigned as club captain and released a statement via his Instagram apologising to fans for his actions in recent weeks. Agbonlahor sought to reassure fans of his loyalty to the club by finishing his post saying, “Up The Villa. Villa Till I Die.” Fortunately for Agbonlahor his admission of guilt and supposed desire to repent was enough for many Villa fans.
However, others (like myself) can simply not forgive a man who abandoned Villa in their hour of need. Agbonlahor was (and still is) Villa’s longest serving player and captain last year. A Birmingham boy who always dreamed of pulling on the claret and blue shirt, Agbonlahor should have been the leader in a spineless squad. Instead he chose to bury his head in the sand.
His decision to visit Dubai, although fully authorised by the club, lacked taste and class given Villa’s position at the time. To be declared unfit to do your job after eight months would, in any other walk of life, result in an individual being fired. Instead Agbonlahor was given another chance by the club, one that he insultingly rejected to pursue his seemingly much more important, self indulged lifestyle.
In response some fans will highlight Steve Bruce’s comments from last week, in which he praised Agbonlahor for arriving to training at 8.30. Yet, in my eyes this exemplifies Agbonlahor’s attitude. He is more than capable of motivating himself for a game against Birmingham, but often struggles to show the required commitment throughout the rest of the season. Why has Agbonlahor not been at training early all season?
One positive performance on Sunday does not erase the striker’s years of abject performances and lack of commitment. Often Agbonlahor has looked uninterested and his goal ratio is horrendous. In the last four years, the attacker was registered 12 goals in 98 matches, roughly one every eight games. Unfortunately, a player who once heavily relied on his pace is looking laggard and is often outpaced by opposition defenders. One could argue further that Agbonlahor has rarely hit the heights of the Martin O’Neill era, since the Northern Irishman departed Villa Park.
Yet for many Villa fans, suffering from a severe case of tunnel vision, Agbonlahor can do no wrong. His position as a Villa Park idol and legend has been maintained due to his ties with the city of Birmingham, his long association with Villa and his former glories, which some fans believe he can still produce. The club itself seem willing to overlook Agbonlahor’s previous misdemeanours, as exemplified by the social media outpouring following his goal at the weekend.
The Agbonlahor debate will rumble into this summer, as Steve Bruce must choose whether to offload the 30-year-old, or retain his services whilst attempting to gain promotion. The answer in my eyes is simple, he must go. Despite what many fans think, Agbonlahor does not care about Aston Villa, as proved by his previous discretions. His performances have been subpar for years, and he is incapable of producing the level of performances demonstrated during Martin O’Neill’s days. Added to that, his lack of pace (which has been a necessity in his game for over a decade) and the numerous injuries over the past few years, it is a no brainer in my eyes.
Sunday’s goal will not live long in the memory as Gary Cahill’s over-head kick in the derby and Matthew Lowton’s outrageous volley do. Rather than highlighting his ability to overcome barriers and hardships, Agbonlahor’s match winning striker will forever remind me of what could have been. The goal highlights what a motivated and hungry Agbonlahor can do, not the disinterested striker the Holte End has worshiped for the past 11 years.