Villa’s Prodigal Son
The season of 2013/2014 was supposed to be the season where Gary Gardner finally burst on to the scene and pushed his way into the first team consistently. The boyhood Villan, touted as a future Villa captain, had threatened to have such a season for a couple of years now but has been hampered by frustrating knee injuries.
This year seemed to be different for Gardner. He was a prominent figure during the start of pre-season, even getting himself on the score sheet against Mansfield. But something never clicked. His pre-season minutes declined as the summer went on and first team regulars came back into the fold.
Whilst Grealish flourished, the older Gardner seemed to stall. In the end, he was shipped off to the seaside along with Joe Bennett to play for Brighton & Hove Albion until January.
In previous loan spells at Coventry and Sheffield Wednesday, although short ones, the Villa midfielder failed to make a big impression, scoring just the single goal in eight appearances.
Judging by the opinion of Coventry fans Gardner played in four straight defeats at Coventry and although he played a deeper role than preferred, he lacked the desire to break forward or to show for the ball. Not exactly the mentality or performances from a midfielder that fans held such great expectations of.
With Sylla going out on loan and El Ahmadi reportedly unsettled and looking for a move away, you would think that Gardner’s chance to get first team minutes at the start of the season would have been good. Instead, Lambert plucked for Richardson in the middle, which is not his preferred position. Surely there has to be something deeply wrong?
Gardner made his name as captain of the Villa academy as a box-to-box midfielder with a killer pass, a dead ball expert and with goals in his locker. In essence, he was the type of midfielder that Villa have craved for a few years now.
Despite this, and the fact that Lambert’s midfield has been the weakest Villa midfield for years, he failed to break through.
Not even getting a run from the bench and then getting shipped out on loan was not exactly a show of confidence from the management either. You would have thought that the introduction of Roy Keane would have sparked life into Gardner as someone to help him develop and break into the first team squad like Grealish.
The purchase of Sanchez, although a different type of player, will hamper his cause even more. Add to this the potential arrival of Cleverley and Villa suddenly have depth in the middle of the park which could make it almost impossible for Gardner to break through.
So Why Hasn’t It Happened?
Injuries have certainly been a factor the last few seasons. Not only the physical effects but the toll it would have took mentally on the player. Gardner has had so many injuries over a short period of time that maybe he plays within himself, waiting for the next injury to strike, which happens with many injury-prone players.
Moreover, the midfield role he adopts is, unfortunately for him, the same box-to-box role that our soon to be England International Fabian Delph plays. With Delph being our arguably best player over the last year Gardener is seriously going to struggle to make an impression on the team.
In some way you have to question why Lambert gave him a new two-year deal. He may have thought the show of confidence would have sparked Gardner into life and he would push on. However, the cynics amongst us might argue that Lambert did it out of necessity.
The Villa boss may have felt with no money to spend he would need Gardner to have some depth in the squad. He was a cheap option. The then sudden availability of funds from Lerner could of meant the Villa midfielder became surplus to requirements and was thus ditched out on loan.
It is a worrying theme developing out of the Villa academy. Although our academy produces some very promising young talent, there seems to be a severe lack of youngsters making the final step up.
Callum Robinson flirted with the first team at the back-end of last season and Grealish has come to the fore this season. That’s not a lot to come through from a team that won the NextGen tournament a couple of year’s ago, the equivalent of the youth Champions League.
It’s needless to say that Gary Gardner has to have a very good loan spell at Brighton in the Championship to have any chance of getting a look in this season. If not, then he could go the same way as Samir Carruthers in not making it into the first team after showing huge promise before finally being sold.
I, like most Villa fans, hope he blossoms into the great player and leader that he once promised to be.
Good luck Gary! UTV
Follow Ashley on Twitter – @bannyboy95