Janoi Donacien: The Next of Aston Villa’s Talented Academy Centre-Backs
Aston Villa were awarded Category One Academy status in August 2012 in recognition of the club’s youth and development programmes, and to add a little cherry on top of the cake, Villa were voted to have the number one academy in the country.
Curiously, the role of the academy is often misconstrued by impatient fans, who look to the academy for a quick fix to replace an under-performing first team player. Ideally, an academy exists to develop a generation of young players in the hope that one or two may make the step up to the first team. The main priority is to develop players to play at a reasonable level of football in order to make a living in the game.
Plenty of recent Aston Villa academy players have gone on to enjoy respectable careers lower down the divisions, such as Peter Whittingham, James Collins, Jonathan Hogg and Troy Deeney. This can only be considered a success for Bodymoor Heath and not a failure.
In addition, many Villa academy players have also been involved with the first team such as Craig Gardner, Steve Davis, Barry Bannan, Liam Ridgewell, Ciaran Clark, Nathan Baker, Andi Weimann and Gabby Agbonlahor, which shows that Villa are able to produce players capable of playing for the first team too.
Real Madrid’s academy have earned the name “La Fabrica” or “The Factory” as they have produced many youngsters who have played at a good level in Spain and beyond. Barcelona were able to recently field a first team of eleven academy products, but Madrid’s “Factory” are equally able to produce players who play at a good level for other teams such as Dani Parejo (Valencia), Jurado (Spartak Moscow) and Juan Mata (Chelsea). It is for this reason that academies like Villa and Crewe earn their status by consistently producing players who can play at all levels.
A position on the pitch which Bodymoor Heath has consistently produced players for is centre-back. Graduates such as Gary Cahill (Bolton, Chelsea), Liam Ridgewell (Birmingham, West Brom), Riccardo Scimeca (Forest, Leicester, Cardiff, West Brom), Ciaran Clark and Nathan Baker show that Bodymoor Heath is a good place to be if you are a young centre-back hoping to develop your game.
Gary Cahill has now won the FA Cup, European Champions League and the UEFA Europa League Cup with Chelsea and these achievements are a source of immense pride for Villa’s academy.
While Chelsea manager, Andre Villas Boas was full of praise for Cahill.
“I think his technical attributes are immense and his pace is fantastic as well,” gushed Villa Boas.
Currently, Ciaran Clark and Nathan Baker are included in Villa’s quartet of first choice centre-backs. Both are still young and learning their trade. Last season was their first real taste of playing centre back in the Premier League for long spells of consecutive games. Normally centre-backs mature much later than forwards, as forwards usually rely on raw pace which tends to lessen with age, and centre-backs rely more on their experience and intelligence to read situations and anticipate attacking moves.
Martin O’Neill wasn’t patient enough with Gary Cahill, and he preferred to play Zat Knight who was a more experienced but less talented centre-back. Hopefully Paul Lambert, who has already shown that he is prepared to invest in youth, will persist with Clark and Baker, so that when they fully bloom in their mid-twenties, Villa will reap the benefits.
The next Aston Villa centre-back who it is hoped will make the first team squad is Janoi Donacien (pictured in the main photo). Like Michael Drennan, Donacien has been a fairly recent recruit to the academy as he arrived at Bodymoor Heath in the summer of 2011.
Derrick Williams has sought first team football this summer with Bristol City, while Daniel Devine was released from the club and is now training with Swindon, so the mantle of Villa’s next centre-back hope rests squarely on the shoulders of St. Lucien-born Donacien.
19-year-old Donacien originally started his career as a right-back, who had a great level of athleticism, but he later played more regularly at centre-back on account of his imposing physique and maturity. The athletic nature of Donacien’s game could be seen in the Next Gen Series fina,l where he and Riccardo Calder broke up play and made countless interceptions and clearances in a first half of the match where Chelsea thoroughly dominated Villa.
Had Villa not weathered an almighty storm in the first half, and had Donacien not organised his defence and made important clearances, then Villa might not have had the opportunity to go on and claim the trophy in the second half.
Ciaran Clark was awarded with the captaincy at various youth and reserve levels for Aston Villa, and the coaches at Bodymoor Heath see similar leadership qualities in Donacien.
Tony McAndrew said before the Next Gen Series final, that Donacien was the ‘wise old head’ he was relying on to see the boys through to success. McAndrew’s faith was repaid royally in the match itself by an imperious performance from the young centre-back. Not only had Donacien been the leader of the team at the back, but he also scored goals during the Next Gen Series campaign in previous rounds.
Aston Villa like to have centre-backs who can also score goals, and Cahill’s memorable scissor kick goal against Birmingham City is perhaps an example for the young centre-backs to follow – bravery and ambition to score goals. Nathan Baker has similar attributes to Cahill and his aerial ability should make him a threat in the opposition box in future seasons to come.
Donacien himself got on the score sheet in Villa’s 5 – 1 rout of Sporting Lisbon, as well as producing heroic performances in the Next Gen Series against Ajax and Olympiakos. In addition, Donacien swept up everything against some of the best young forwards in the country such as Islam Feruz (purchased for £1m), Kiwomya (purchased from Rotherham and one of the fastest young players in the country), Boga (two goals in the 2013 Youth Cup final) and Baker (scorer in 2012 Youth Cup final) in the final.
At this stage, Donacien has passed every test the academy has thrown at him since he joined in 2011 and the imposing young centre-half has an encouraging skill set which suggests that he could go on to bigger and better things.
Jores Okore is a comparatively small, but a strong centre-back with good passing ability but inexperienced positional awareness, Nathan Baker is a commanding young centre back with great aerial ability, and Clark is a play-maker centre-back who carries the ball out of defence.
Therefore it appears that the Donacien’s individual skill set might complement Villa’s group of defensive starlets in the first team squad as he would add height, athleticism, leadership qualities and goals, if he continues to develop as he has in the past two years.
UPDATE: 4th August 2013 – Donacien has featured in pre-season games for the Villa senior squad
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