Jonathan Kodjia has always thrived in the spotlight. Tasked with firing Villa to promotion in 2016, the Ivorian dazzled in a faltering Villa side, accumulating 19 league goals. His ability to perform under pressure was signposted even before he had kicked a ball in a claret and blue shirt.
Having signed on ‘Deadline Day’, three days later Villa’s new signing lined up for his country against Sierra Leone, with qualification for the African Cup of Nations on the line. Just one point separated the two nations before the final group game.
Cue Jimmy Danger. When Franck Kessie’s chipped ball was half-cleared by a defender, Kodjia pounced, reacting instinctively with acrobatic flair; his overhead kick helping to seal his country’s place in the tournament.
Injuries frustrated the following season. Rushed back too soon, as Villa bet the house on promotion, his struggles mirrored Steve Bruce’s side as they stuttered and stalled at Wembley.
Last campaign, it was Tammy Abraham who assumed King Kodjia’s crown. Scoring three in Villa’s opening six league games, Kodjia was eased back to the side-line as Tammy stole the show. Villa’s once-talismanic striker still had his part to play in the club’s success, though.
It is easy, now, to view the club’s ten-game winning run with a sense of inevitably, in the glow of Villa’s Wembley triumph. The team felt unstoppable.
The momentum that pushed the club over the finish line was arguably cemented in Rotherham’s New York Stadium.
At half-time, Villa were 1-0 down. Tyrone Mings had been sent off, Abraham had missed a penalty. The game – and Villa’s promotion hopes – looked to be hanging by a thread. Entering the field for the second half, Kodjia sought to change the team’s fortunes. Within three minutes, Villa were awarded another penalty. Up stepped Kodjia. He found the top corner. A player for the big occasion.
Making 41 league appearances, largely as a substitute, the 29-year-old was involved in a goal every 170 minutes. Handed rare starts at the end of the season, as Abraham recovered for the Play-Offs, he scored twice in Villa’s final three games.
As a fanbase, we’ve been spoilt with new players, made giddy by a recruitment plan that made actual sense. Prior to the deadline, there was a feeling that Villa lacked a striker. Wesley has been prided on his ability to create chances for others, but his 10 league goals last season suggested the need for a true goal scorer.
Maupay, Ben Yedder, Belotti, Augustin. Keeping what you already have will never feel exciting, by comparison. A perpetual hazard of pre-season excitement.
However, the man with the Midas touch never went away. Kodjia has always performed best when the pressure is on and this season represents a new challenge. Each game in the Premier League holds equal importance, if Villa are to succeed.
Seemingly overlooked or undervalued by some supporters, Dean Smith knows that Jimmy Danger is still a man he can rely on.