Why Did it go Wrong for Barry Bannan at Villa?
‘Had the new manager only been Roberto Martinez, rather than Alex McLeish, then it is arguable that Bannan’s career may not have declined in the manner that it currently has.’
One of Aston Villa’s most promising academy products looks to be on his way out of the club as Villa accepted a bid thought to be in the region of £750,000 for Barry Bannan this week.
Bannan has become a somewhat divisive figure amongst Villa fans (to put it mildly), and its hard to write about Bannan without feeling a deep sense of regret. Along with Daniel Crowley, Aston Villa have lost another central midfielder this summer with an abundance of potential. There is a sense, however, that Bannan’s exit is unsurprising and somewhat expected. A divorce which suits both parties.
A large and vocal group of fans have made it known that they never really saw the point of Bannan, and they never really will. In fact, it was becoming almost impossible for Bannan to start a game under Paul Lambert due to the inevitable howls of derision from social media sites and abuse from the stands whenever he took to the pitch.
Even if you were a loyal fan of Bannan, watching him last season was crucifixion. Yet, how did such a promising academy player suddenly become so unloved by the fans?
When Randy Lerner joined the club, the sharp suited PR types coined the theme “Proud History, Bright Future“, and Bannan was exactly the type of player it was hoped would become part of that future. Martin O’Neill’s 4-4-2 formation had started to look tired and old-fashioned, towards the end of his tenure and Villa were in desperate need of a new direction. Teams around Villa were modernising. Tottenham had bought Luka Modric and became more possession based, whilst other clubs adapted their styles and updated their scouting networks.
Young Barry Bannan had arrived at Aston Villa from Celtic as a 14-year-old trialist, and the Scottish midfielder quickly impressed the club when he became player of the tournament at the Ergenzingen in Germany, which Villa went on to win against Mainz.
Bannan began making a name for himself in the academy as a rising star, and he memorably ran the show against Manchester United reserves when he scored a brilliant hat trick in a 4-1 win for Aston Villa. The youngster could have scored more goals in the match as he also hit the post and came close several other times. Bannan opened his account with a beautiful free kick, then scored again with a Messi-like chip over the goal-keeper. To complete hat-trick, Bannan slotted home a penalty after Delfouneso was brought down in the area. United’s team that day included the likes of Bebe, Obertan, Magnus Eikrem, Ravel Morrison and Cory Evans.
Bannan seemed to develop a habit of playing well against Manchester United as he also starred against United’s reserves in the Reserves Play-Off final in May 2010, which Villa lost on penalties after finishing 3 – 3 at full time. Bannan played in the number 10 position, his best position, and hardly put a put wrong in the match. He got an assist as he slid a very Modric-esque short pass into Delfouneso who turned and struck home neatly. Villa’s mini midfielder had given a very impressive performance against a star-studded United side that included the likes of Ben Foster, Rafael (United first team), Possobon, Diouf (Hannover), Marcheda and Pogba (Juve).
It was those performances which earned Bannan a call up to the Villa first team squad and he began under Martin O’Neill playing on the left-wing, which didn’t really suit him. Next came Gerard Houllier, who was immediately impressed with the young, blonde midfielder.
“Barry is an intelligent player,” said Houllier, “he can read the game well and adapt well. I don’t think Xavi and Iniesta, who are outstanding players, are of huge size. They are intelligent, they have the skill and the desire. Young Barry has all of that.”
Bannan repaid Houllier’s faith by dictating the terms again against Manchester United in a thrilling 2-2 draw at Villa Park. Sir Alex Ferguson ruefully acknowledged after the match that he already knew all about the young Scot’s ability, following Bannan’s hat-trick against United in the reserves. Things looked bright for Bannan under Houllier, but tragically the Villa manager became ill again and another new manager was drafted in to take the reins at Villa Park.
Had the new manager only been Roberto Martinez, rather than Alex McLeish, then it is arguable that Bannan’s career may not have declined in the manner that it currently has.
Bannan was not the only creative player whose career ground to a halt under Alex McLeish, as Arsenal and Barcelona midfielder Alex Hleb memorably bore testament to.
“At Birmingham, the team played the long-ball game, practically bypassing midfield,” said Hleb. “To get into the game you had to play up front or linger at the back with the defenders to get hold of the ball, which more often than not flew right past me.”
Under McLeish, Bannan was marooned out on the wing and was rarely able to get into the game. When the ball did arrive it was more often than not a forty-yard pass, or rather hoof, out of defence from either Collins or Dunne. Bannan was unsurprisingly out-jumped or out-muscled helplessly as the ball flew at him head high.
Off-field problems followed and Bannan enjoyed a thoroughly miserable time under McLeish, as many other Villa players did.
When Paul Lambert arrived last summer, genuine hopes were raised that Lambert would be able to harness Bannan’s talent, as Lambert had turned other rough diamonds into Premier League players.
However, things started badly for Bannan under Lambert. He struggled to make an impact in a two man midfield when Villa were thrashed 1 -3 at home by Everton and along with Ciaran Clark, who was sent off, he took much of the blame for Villa’s insipid performance. Bannan then played well against Newcastle, Sunderland and Swansea but Villa had made their worst start to the league in 15 years, and fans seemed reluctant to apportion any blame to either the formation or the hugely popular new manager.
The young Scot certainly didn’t help himself. Having been assigned the role of set-piece taker, he often erratically missed the mark with his delivery and should have abdicated this responsibility much earlier. He could have taken a lot of heat off himself by doing so. He didn’t. He persisted and persisted. Sometimes he’d play well, sometimes he’d play badly, but there remained a feeling that defensive midfield didn’t really get the best from his particular skill-set.
Bannan was too far away from the attackers to play any intelligent balls, his passes were often long and ambitious with no attacking midfielder to help bridge the gap. Westwood and Bannan were, at times, so far back on the pitch that they almost tripped backwards over Ron Vlaar. The two youngsters simply didn’t have enough muscle or experience to handle the demands of a two-man midfield against stronger teams in the first half of the season. Against Chelsea, Westwood was subbed and protected, Bannan was left to face the music.
Things changed for the better when Sylla arrived at the club and Bannan played well against Reading and Q.P.R in matches, where Villa grabbed all three points. Personal abuse from the stands was beginning to take its toll on the player as every corner Bannan went to take was met by an increasingly vile torrent of abuse. The player stopped wanting the ball and started pointing at team mates instead. A big change from the boy who wanted to get on the ball at every opportunity as a youngster in the academy.
Mystery surrounds the reason why Bannan didn’t make the trip to Stoke. We’ll probably never know the real reason. Bannan was playing steadily enough against Q.P.R. and the Scottish midfielder wasn’t just dropped, he was left out of the squad altogether from there on.
Bannan subsequently became part of the ‘bomb squad‘ and Villa accepted a bid for his services from Blackburn Rovers this week.
A sad end to the youngsters career at Villa, but I wish him the best of luck in the future and hope to see him back in the Premier League in the manner Steven Davis returned with Southampton.
Good luck Barry!
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