Amongst the heroes in Aston Villa’s promotion winning dressing room, is a man who had arguably his best season in English football, but went largely unnoticed in player of the year discussions and the like. Ahmed Elmohamady, the Egyptian captain, currently enjoying a purple patch at the Africa Cup of Nations contributing two goals so far, has been a fairly consistent performer for the Villa as a utility player during his two seasons at Villa Park.
So why does he not receive the credit that other players do, despite his solid performances, versatility and assist contributions? It is worth stating that Elmo does receive praise from supporters and fan outlets, however there is often a caveat that he is seen as filling in, or about to be replaced. Indeed only Alan Hutton’s injury early on in the match against Stoke City, paved the way for ‘Elmo’ to take the right back starting berth, coinciding with the impressive winning run to reach the playoffs.
In fact it was in the following match in the 4-0 shellacking of Derby County, where he showcased the attacking side of his game, providing a wonderful cross on the run for Tammy Abraham to finish of an electric counter attack to make it 2-0. He then went on to be an ever-present during the record breaking 10 games winning run, as one quarter of one of the stingier back-fours in the Championship.
It begs the question though - would Ahmed have been able to force his way past cult hero Alan Hutton had the Scotsman not picked up his injury? During the previous season under Steve Bruce, he had made the right back slot his own, as Hutton shifted to the left side to good effect. It seemed from the stands that Elmo would just be a stop gap, until Villa purchased another right back, or James Bree came of age.
This past season however, Elmo was deployed initially in a right midfield role, where he had spent much of the early part of his career. Again, he appeared to be keeping the shirt warm for a more capable winger to arrive with both Yannick Bolasie and Anwar El Ghazi joining up shortly after the season kicked off. As ever Elmo appeared to be viewed as the perennial reserve, despite being selected regularly and performing well, in whatever role he was asked to play - including scoring two goals in the opening weeks of the season. Indeed once Dean Smith was appointed he did not appear fancied by the new boss, as Hutton was favoured at right back.
It could be argued that Elmo had too many associations with Steve Bruce, who has signed him three times for different clubs, Sunderland, Hull City and Villa respectively. Maybe those links initially served to hamper Elmo is the eyes of supporters, who wanted a clean sweep through the club and a new start?
His performances and drop in form didn’t really help though - most notably against Leeds United at home where he teed the ball up beautifully for Kemar Roofe to win the game in injury time for the visitors. Smith was rightly critical of this after the game and it appeared that the January transfer window might see Elmo leave the club. Then with the delayed signing of French full back Fredric Guilbert, who has recently joined from Caen, it seemed a nailed on certainty that the route to rejoin Brucey at Sheffield Wednesday was clearing.
This may still be the case, as I am sure Steve Bruce would love to take one of his most trusted lieutenants to Hillsborough. However, in the intervening time, Elmo has turned it all around. Consistent performances and a clear commitment to Villa’s playing style under Smith has increased his value to the team, the fans and the Head Coach. While he’s improved, Alan Hutton has left the club and James Bree seems like a player who is now well out of favour. There’s a place in the squad for Elmohamady - competing with Guilbert.
The truth about Ahmed Elmohamady is that he is not a flashy, eye-catching player. For a wide man, he is not rapid and positionally he falls in the grey area between right wing and right back. He’s okay defensively, bang-average in attack.What is underrated in modern football is the ability to just do your job well and consistently over a number of games. Players that do this are often seen as ‘weak links’ or replaceable by supporters, who are constantly looking for improvements to be made.
For his teammates, I imagine Elmo is a dream to play with. Generally well positioned, looking for space, making runs, tracking his man and available to receive a pass, without giving it away, he is a player who may not change a game with explosive dynamism but he’s certainly helping the cogs turn.
Whilst Elmo is on the wrong side of thirty years-old for Smith’s liking, there will be an understanding that some experience will be required as Villa embark on the Premier League campaign. It would be foolhardy to dismiss a player like Elmo, who has top flight experience but who is also such a valued and popular member of the squad and who will essentially do whatever the coaches ask of him for the Villa cause. Also, they cannot simply sell every single player in the squad.
For me Elmohamady stays put - like he said to KingFUT - and arguably starts the season at right back until Guilbert shows that he can push him out of the team. He is a more than worthy part of the squad and will add reliability, versatility and experience to a young and evolving dressing room.