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When Jack Grealish was pictured unconsciously drunk on a Tenerife road last summer it turns out he was setting the tone for a campaign of unabated misguidance that has engulfed Aston Villa and sent them crashing down into the Championship.
Villa and their then manager Tim Sherwood dealt with that episode internally but come November, with Sherwood departed and the hapless Remi Garde lurching the club from one mess to another, the winger was picking up more unwanted headlines for partying hours after his team were thrashed 4-0 at Everton.
Grealish appeared happy enough with his performance at Goodison Park, in which he was substituted, to celebrate with champagne and nitrous oxide. Now the 20 year old, following such a promising debut campaign last year, is the forgotten man after a season hampered by injuries.
Villa have cancelled their end of season awards in acknowledgement of a wretched season that everybody at Villa Park must be desperate to forget, but if they were to run a ceremony Grealish would certainly be a contender for the ‘Stupid Boy of the Season’ gong.
He would face stiff competition from Joleon Lescott, who couldn’t have done more to convince supporters he couldn’t be less interested in the club’s demise, Micah Richards, who bizarrely found himself confronted by fans in the FA Cup tie at Wycombe, anybody from their shambolic boardroom that has seemingly had a shiny revolving-door fitted, owner Randy Lerner whose financial mismanagement plunged the club into this current disarray, or even Messrs Sherwood and Garde, masterminds of just three league wins between them.
‘Stupid Boy of the Season’
It’s a heated race but the award goes to Gabriel Agbonlahor, if he is fit enough to walk down here to accept it of course. Caretaker manager Eric Black, in one of the season’s more bemusing stories, had sent the striker on a two week personal fitness program prior to Villa’s defeat at Manchester United which certified their relegation. This was a top-level professional, at the age of 29 and nowhere near the age of burnout, requiring a break in the thick of the season’s action in order to return to fitness.
Wait, there’s more. Agbonlahor had been suspended from first team duty earlier this month pending an investigation into his behaviour during a holiday in Dubai. Villa took no further action but after missing the game at home to Chelsea, he also missed the lamentable defeat to Bournemouth after ringing in sick with a virus 24 hours before the game, sparking the consultation with Black the following Monday.
Wait, there’s more. No, there really is. Agbonlahor is now suspended again from the club after being pictured drinking and larking around with laughing gas canisters in the aftermath of the 1-0 defeat at Old Trafford last Saturday evening. It is an act of mental-blockage on par with Grealish’s but here the mitigation of youthful naivety cannot be used.
Agbonlahor is the club’s longest serving player and was made club captain by Sherwood last summer; who should have been a role model was instead embodying the general apathy and carelessness that has fuelled the club’s fall.
One suspects the crisis at Villa will hit lower depths before the seasons out but for Agbonlahor personally it marks the end of a dismal campaign- his eleventh in a Villa shirt which now is more than likely to be his last as the Midlands club scamper to get him and his £53k-a-week wages off the books.
Moving the striker on should be a priority for all parties and it is likely to benefit the striker who has gradually fallen out of love with his boyhood club. His solitary goal this season, coming against Norwich in February, was celebrated with the look of a man who wanted to be thousands of miles away from Villa Park and judging by the photos from last Saturday night, the news of his boyhood club’s first relegation since 1987 barely registered on the conscience.
A series of injuries have curtailed Agbonlahor and gradually taken away the electric pace and sharpness that made him such a potent weapon on the counter attack under Martin O’Neill. Losing what made him most effective has given way to apathy and the total absence of leadership or stability at the club, Agbonlahor is now playing for his sixth manager since O’Neill departed in 2010, has allowed it to fester through the squad.
Lerner’s decision to hand Agbonlahor a lucrative contract extension of 4 ½ years back in 2014, owing to the American’s personal relationship with the striker, reportedly made it harder for Paul Lambert to motivate his team.
As club captain Agbonlahor inevitably has a major influence in the dressing room and when his disinterest is supplemented with the influx of foreign players such as Idrissa Gana, already using his agent to pave a return to the riches of the Premier League, or Leonardo Bacuna, who has used most of the season to plan a move to Ajax or PSV Eindhoven, it can make for a disastrous mix.
The new manager, with David Moyes and Nigel Pearson the kind of name being mentioned, will have to jettison such characters immediately if they are to spend next season in an upward trajectory and Agbonlahor’s recent actions offer a handy excuse to get rid.
On his way out?
With the club still operating under the cloud of uncertainty caused by Lerner’s continuously barren search for a buyer it will be a tough job for the new man but his first acts will be to shuffle out the alarming amount of high-earning deadwood- Charles N’Zogbia is said to still be on £63k a week despite playing just 41 minutes of football this season– that litters a squad dreadfully short of quality.
Perhaps exiting first will be Agbonlahor, with any takers possibly warned off by his demeanours, carrying the tag of the most hated man amongst Villa’s supporters. In a season where it is easier to point of those who haven’t infuriated the club’s long-suffering fans than those who have, it is some achievement.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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