When Aston Villa signed Jordan Amavi two summers ago, it was perhaps the largest coup of what looked like an incredibly smart summer window from Aston Villa — a young, exciting player, joining at a position of need, packed with the potential to become a top-class player. A perfect fit, and a sign of some ambition from the Claret and Blues.
If we’re being honest, that year started out with so much promise. Sure, key contributors left — the years-old spine of Ron Vlaar, Fabian Delph and Christian Benteke most notably — but Amavi and the rest of the new arrivals that year represented a new dawn for Villa, a chance to finally progress beyond the relegation scraps that had plagued the club for many years. If Villa got this right, they’d be flying high, with the potential to move back into the top half of the table. Because what Villa did that summer was simple football logic for a smaller club: develop a player (Benteke), sell him for a big profit (~ £25 million), then reinvest in a few promising players that you could do the same on. Soon enough, if you stay successful, you’re Southampton, suddenly with enough in the transfer coffers to buy a squad that can regularly compete for Europe.
And if you’d have told me 23 months ago that Villa would sell Amavi to Sevilla after two seasons, I’d have been thrilled. Such a move surely would have represented progress for Amavi and, likely, progress for Villa. For years, left back was the one position Villa couldn’t fill — remember how even Ryan Bertrand didn’t look good at the position? — and Amavi represented what I’d class the first true effort to plug that gap; he certainly wasn’t a bargain signing, like Joe Bennett or Antonio Luna.
Once Amavi arrived, it wasn’t too hard to see what Villa had in him: potential. He had flashes of brilliance going forward and, as you might expect with any 21-year-old defender, his fair share of problems at the back. Yet despite them, the mood was mostly positive; for once, we looked at left back on the team sheet and held positive, not negative thoughts.
But things never seem to work out the way you’d hope they would around here, do they?
That November, while on duty with the France U21 team, Amavi tore his ACL. Villa were in the midst of what would prove to be a five-month run without a win, the defence gave up four or more goals on six occasions, and Villa went down with little resistance. Once Amavi started to regain full fitness this season, well, Steve Bruce — and the eventual signing of Neil Taylor — happened. Despite the fact that Amavi was in the starting XI at nearly every step of the club’s most successful run to that date, Bruce opted for a boring, predictable option at fullback over developing Amavi.
So it goes, as it went with about every signing that summer. Scott Sinclair went from one of Villa’s most involved attacking players when he was here on loan to about disappearing (and now scoring 20+ goals for Celtic). Micah Richards was a win for the club when he signed, but never progressed past being a liability at centre back. Idrissa Gueye was perhaps a lone positive last season, but even then, it took a move to Everton for him to play anywhere near his full potential (call it the Carlos Sánchez effect).
Jordan Ayew had flashes of brilliance, but I’m not sure a Villa manager ever got him in his best role; it certainly didn’t happen this season. Jordan Veretout, a player who was at one time pursued by Arsenal, was ignored by Tim Sherwood, then introduced under Rémi Garde, but never really got his feet under him; he played really well for Saint-Étienne this year and should become a solid midfielder in France.
Rudy Gestede had the potential to be a match-changing target man, but especially with Amavi hurt, Villa never had the right personnel to whip in the crosses he needed. Adama Traoré was the dumbest signing Villa had ever made, yet it didn’t feel like an irresponsible luxury move (he came from Barcelona!). And then there was Joleon Lescott, who doesn’t really fit here because that never looked like a good idea (and quickly displaced Traoré as the worst signing in club history!).
In a lot of ways, Amavi is no different from most of the guys he signed with; high potential, followed by a succession of management errors and misfortune.
And in many of those same ways, Amavi is no different than Aston Villa these last few years; just think back to Paul Lambert’s first season. That year, 11 players started at least half of the 38 Premier League matches. Eight of them were 23 years of age or younger. Villa survived. Better things were surely on the horizon, right?
In other ways, Amavi’s potential mirrors that of Tim Sherwood’s as a manager. When Sherwood came to Villa, he instantly reinvigorated the club and got the Claret and Blues playing beautiful, attacking football. The side that showed up a few months later looked nothing like it, though.
And, if history will tell us anything, we’ll hopefully look back in a few years and see an Amavi at the top of his game, in the France picture, and finally blossoming into the player we all knew he could be — just like Marc Albrighton a few years ago.
Amavi will become that player. It’s just a shame it couldn’t happen here.