Anyone who knows me personally will testify that, when it comes to Villa, I’m generally ‘glass half full’. I am perpetually optimistic and hopeful for the fortunes of the team and the individual players. I have had long running disputes with other fans over players and managers, where I will back them to the hilt, possibly too much at times, for example - a certain Steve Bruce.
However there is one current Aston Villa player, whom for me, has come to the end of his tenure at the club.
Jonathan Kodjia is entering his 4th season at Villa Park after we signed him from Bristol City for around £12million, during our first summer after relegation to the Championship. During that season he was quite simply magnificent, scoring 19 goals and ensuring that the rather disappointing 13th place finish was not decidedly worse.
His finishing was clinical, he could make chances on his own and he was a brilliant exponent of the counter press, often winning the ball off a centre half or a full back in dangerous areas. He was a true talisman for the team at a really problematic time and it appeared that his Villa career would only go from strength to strength, provided we could keep him from the clutches of the circling Premier League big boys.
In fact it was serious injury which halted his continued rise to legend status, picked up in the final knockings of that first season. Of course this meant he would stay at Villa, but when would he be back leading the line for us and who would take up that mantle in the meantime, if we were to mount a genuine promotion push. The answer to part one, is too soon. He was rushed back and simply did not appear the same ‘Jimmy Danger’, as he struggled for match fitness with what was seemingly a more complex injury than many of us has assumed.
Then disaster! The ill fated, poorly advised international trip with the Ivory Coast where Kodjia picked up a severe injury that would again keep him out for a number of months, if not the entire season.
By this stage our young striker Keinan Davis was making a name for himself, bullying opposition centre backs, if not weighing in with the goals to replace Kodjia. A brief flurry of notches by Scott Hogan and the January loan acquisition of Lewis Grabban ensured that Bruce’s team had the fire power to comfortably reach the playoffs and by the time Kodjia returned there was no place for him to make any kind of impact.
By the start of the 2018-19 Championship campaign ‘King’ Kodjia was fit and ready to go again. he started the season well, with a point saving brace against Brentford a definite highlight. Steve Bruce, however wanted something more up front, that he could genuinely rely on. God forbid that he should have to work to try to get the best out of a player! That being said, he made the right choice and Tammy Abraham joined on loan and made the striker berth his own.
During last season Kodjia played a fair number of games, either deputising for Abraham up from, or playing in a wide area of a front three, which had become new head coach Dean Smith’s preferred formation. However question marks remain about his desire and/or ability to track his man and sacrifice his own game for the team. Can he take his part in a high pressing tactical approach? Not just looking like he’s doing it, but actually close the defence and cause them problems?
He used to do it, as I mentioned in his first and most successful season, he would tackle defenders on the edge of their own box in most games. However that was on his terms. He was the maverick match winner and as long as the goals kept going in, he could do what he liked.
This is a heartbreaking opinion to have, as I have huge affection for Jonathan Kodjia, but I simply cannot see the Premier League as a place where he will thrive. Now into his 30s and as a late developer in terms of professional football anyway, it seems unlikely that his approach and abilities will improve enough to make success for him at the top level a genuine possibility. he can undoubtedly score goals can be a difficult player to defend against, when is head is right, so maybe as an option off the bench he could flourish. However Villa need genuine options in the number 9 position, as we need to have adequate back up, should the Wesley experiment fall flat.
For me, Keinan Davis is currently that option as his game lends itself more to what we will need, in terms of holding the ball high up the pitch and getting our creative player involved.
Believe me, I would love at the end of the season for this article to be shared around with people throwing it back in my face at how wrong I was. Should ‘Jimmy’ become our main striker and top goal-scorer, no-one will be happier than me, as I am writing this with a huge sense of discomfort, as I hate writing any player off as finished at Villa. I could not be a manager and have to make these decisions as I would have a squad of hundreds!
Whilst I will always have a soft spot for Kodjia and remember some of his excellent goals affectionately, he has had his time at Aston Villa. Whilst moving him on now would leave us very short of strikers and maybe in need of signing a free agent to fill the gap, I would not be dismissing offers from Europe for him now and certainly not during the January window.