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Keinan Davis' impressive rise from non-league to Premier League is almost complete

Due to Jonathan Kodjia's injury, Keinan Davis is the new second choice striker at Villa. Here's more context on Keinan and his rise.

Aston Villa Training and Press Conference Photo by Neville Williams/Aston Villa FC via Getty Images

Ross McCormack, Gabby Agbonlahor, Rudy Gestede, Libor Kozak, Jonathan Kodjia, Scott Hogan, Rushian Hepburn-Murphy, Lewis Grabban, Tammy Abraham, Wesley Moraes. Since Aston Villa’s relegation to the Championship in 2016, this is the list of strikers who have played league matches for the Villans. Most of the names on this list were once - in their time - a shout. Now, the vast majority of them have dampened into mere whispers. Meaning, for most of the above, has faded. A few of the names have barely started at Aston Villa, one is a new signing, some names have left, another has retired. They all have meaning to Keinan Davis though, for the list above is the complete list of strikers that have stood before Keinan Davis and first-team football at Aston Villa over the years.

After starting that the bottom of this list - almost every single season - Keinan Davis has found himself as the next man up following a short-term injury to second-choice striker Jonathan Kodjia. This means that Davis will have a strong chance of making his Premier League debut in the next few weeks. Villa’s unlikely man, through hard work and small touch of luck has found himself facing a starting role should anything occur to new signing Wesley Moraes.

Had Keinan been anyone else, this would be a slightly confusing situation to be in. After all, he's only a few years removed from dragging Villa through the opening months of their second season in the Championship only to fall out of favour due to misfortune and injury.

That seems so long ago now, but once-upon-a-time, Keinan led the line for the claret & blue during Steve Bruce’s reign at the Villa in 2017/2018. Due to an injury to Jonathan Kodjia, and the fading of Gabby Agbonlahor’s once-bright star. Davis was allowed to challenge Scott Hogan for the starting role - and the competition arguably ended up in his victory. Davis was selected - and eventually favoured. It took injuries and a new marquee loan signing to eventually force him away. Davis wasn’t truly removed from action until Lewis Grabban joined in January 2018 to give Villa the senior striker that they had been looking for.

When Grabban’s loan expired, Villa simply opted for another loanee - Tammy Abraham. Abraham’s ability won out in 2018/2019 to push everyone else to the wayside. Villa’s play-off success flooded them with options at the front, but they couldn’t secure Tammy - who returned to Chelsea. Villa actioned the decision to bring in Wesley Moraes - a club record signing - from Club Brugge. This search for a main man up top hasn’t ever ended, it has just restarted in something of a perpetuity ever since Liverpool stole Christian Benteke away in 2015 - months before Villa were damned to relegation. It is this cycle that has allowed Keinan access to first-team football after he joined from non-league Biggleswade Town. The constant process of signing, loaning and releasing players in his position has somehow given Keinan a chance.

Davis’ starting opportunities at Villa have mostly appeared during the opening months of the football season as Summer fades into Autumn. While the excitement of anticipation gives these months some meaning - they are generally discarded in favour of our memories of the football seasons resolution. For instance, our memories of avoiding relegation, succumbing to relegation, consolidation, play-off defeat and play-off victory hold larger weight in our minds than Aston Villa vs Norwich in 2017 or Aston Villa vs Liverpool in 2015 or Villa vs Ipswich last season. We can recall these early matches, but they aren’t often the first things on our mind as they do not mean as much to us as the footballing events that occur at the end of the season - the moments that we believe to matter the most. Football doesn’t just happen in May, but the matches that mean great things to Keinan Davis are hardly worth recalling in the mind of the average Aston Villa fan, such is the fickle nature of our fandom - something that relies on seasonal conclusions - the damning march of time, and our own cognitive bias. Time itself is an enemy because as it creeps forward - we lose touch with what Davis achieved in 2017. Looking back, it was a rather exceptional breakthrough that became normalised due to the sheer necessity of Davis’ selection.

Biggleswade picked up Davis after his release by Stevenage in 2015. In another world than this one, Davis might be lining up for Stevenage under Dino Maamria week-in and week-out. In further alternate dimensions, Davis might still be working in a barber-shop having graduated to shaving and trimming following an apprenticeship in sweeping up cuttings from a tiled floor. The reality we currently occupy is a timeline in which Davis is succeeding - and he’s on track.

Critiques of Keinan are usually started after a google search and a quick tally of his goals. There aren’t many. However, that is only a valid criticism of Keinan in a world where context is removed and rendered void. As a deep-lying forward, Keinan has succeeded as a focal point for the attack - where his ability to dominate territory in the final third and create chances is valued over his capacity to finish striking opportunities. Davis can win the ball, press, hold off tackles and connect with the wings in a manner that makes him an incredibly useful option to have - should he make an appearance for Villa.

His hold-up abilities, work-rate, ball skills, strength, aerial prowess and demeanour have made Keinan an asset to Aston Villa - and one that was scouted by a large amount of Championship sides. Villa rejected advances for Keinan in August with Villa Head Coach Dean Smith showing faith in the young striker following a promising training camp in July. The measure of that faith was shown as Villa’s own transfer committee opted against the signing of another forward on deadline day, choosing to stick with the trio of Wesley, Kodjia and Davis.

Wesley stands in front of Keinan, and he won’t lose out on his starting position lightly. The Brazilian forward has endured a tough and testing path to the top himself, so it would be folly to count him out simply because his first match didn’t stun the world. However, it will only take one single event to occur in the next few weeks to propel Davis onto the pitch. History has proven that this probably wouldn’t stunt Aston Villa, but the Premier League is a whole new ball game.

The list of strikers at the start of this article reads somewhat like Arya Stark’s list from Game of Thrones - with each name being struck off slowly, and with purpose (though Keinan's is a lot less fatal, he's shown just as much needle). After another Jonathan Kodjia injury Keinan Davis’ hard work has put him in line for another opportunity. He’ll be able to offer consistancy, hard work, and perhaps even a goal (or two). At any rate, Keinan’s story is far from over and it probably has a better chance of ending on a more gratifying note than the blockbuster HBO series. Keinan's rise is almost complete, and it's been a long road to the top.