Yes, he misses too many one-on-ones and we’ve seen our number 11 fluff some gilt-edged chances; he still hasn’t delivered that supposedly essential 20-goal-season and he’s not going to South Africa… but show me someone who “wouldn’t be that bothered if we sold Gabby” and I’ll show you a fool.
This piece has been inspired by a recent article on The Villa Blog (http://www.thevillablog.co.uk/aston-villa-blog/aston-villa-rumours/manchester-city-do-not-want-gabby-but-wouldnt-p70-million-be-nice-for-all-three/) where the author (a great Villa blogger) Damian Dugdale suggested that our 23 year old striker has had too many chances to impress in a claret and blue shirt. Comparing Agbonlahor’s effect similar to that of the infamous Darius Vassell, I felt that I couldn’t let this criticism (he says it isn’t criticism, but it is) pass without veto; and therefore, I have decided to put forth an unnecessary defence of Gabriel Agbonlahor.
At the tender age of 19 (and later, 20), Agbonlahor broke into Villa’s first XI in O’Neill’s first year in charge and featured in every possible game he could have that year (being used as a substitute just once). Playing on the right flank for the majority of that season (and still banging in 10 goals), it was clear that we had a real prospect on our books that would bring so much more than just a genuine goalscoring threat.
In fact, in the following 3 seasons of MON’s tenure, Gabby would miss just 5 league games and of course, improve his goal-to-games ratio in direct correlation with his age. But with niggling, unsatisfied mumbles about his failure to transform himself into a forward who will guarantee at least 20 goals, Agbonlahor has not received the unanimous appreciation he should have. Despite being one year shy of 24, some spectators at Villa Park have refused to acknowledge just how important Gabby is up top for his home club at such an early stage in his career; but instead bemoan the fact that he isn’t keeping up with the likes of Didier Drogba in the scoring charts every year. However, even world-beater Wayne Rooney couldn’t produce 20 league goals in his 5 years at United before he reached the age of 24. Instead, England’s only World Cup hope averaged 13 league goals pro rata (the same return Gabby provided this year) – and this playing for a team who secured three consecutive league titles. And how could we forget the concerns about Fernando Torres’ inability to bang in 20 league goals in a season (indeed, it wasn’t until he was 24 as well when he did finally crack it)?
But just like it would be ridiculous to compare our local striker to the uniquely unsurpassable traits of such world-class forwards like Torres and Rooney; it would be absurd to judge Aston Villa’s 23 year old jewel on his decent strike rate alone.
Because even though Agbonlahor has secured the designation as Villa’s highest league scorer, the effect he has on a team consistently dominated in possession is unmatchable. As per the deep nature of MON’s game; when Agbonlahor is missing, Villa are clueless. It is impossible to win games with 10 men pinned in their own half without a Gabby Agbonlahor. Rare goal opportunities will arrive, but without someone as competitive as Gabby; someone who can run the channels, hold up play, outmuscle defenders and obviously get in behind, then most teams would buckle under pressure. The boys played two poor teams at Villa Park at the peak of their Champions League climb; but without our go-to-man, we came out of the Wolves and Sunderland home games with 4 dropped points.
Even England’s recent form has seen them outplayed and struggling without an Agbonlahor. Trying to work their unusual spells of possession from their pressurized defence, it is a saving grace that England still have world-class individuals like Rooney and Gerrard who can make something happen from nothing. Indeed, 4 of their last 5 goals have come from a set piece, an offside handball and of course, two own goals. And if Capello persists on continuing to emulate the Aston Villa style of play when the Finals come around, England’s best bet would be to play Agbonlahor – otherwise, relentless pressure from even superior opposition will ensure that the 3 lions’ 44 year wait for glory becomes at least 48.
I’m not saying that I think Gabby is worth his place in the England first team (not yet anyway), but if the management struggles any longer to make a crop of talented players control a game, then it makes sense that they should borrow our “out man”. I’m not even implying that I think Agbonlahor is Villa’s best player; but this year, he has demonstrated that he is probably our most important player.
That is why it is unacceptable that one of the most popular Villa forums is arguing that Nathan Delfouneso could be more effective than Gabby,
“I tell you this; if we played The Fonz in 38 games next season, he’d get thirteen goals – maybe even more.”
Not only does this undermine how well Agbonlahor has done to score 16 goals in a season where Villa’s counterattacking prowess was anticipated and thwarted by a lot of teams; it demonstrates blind ignorance to the quality and improvement shown by our front man whilst leading the line. Delfouneso looks sharp and I’m excited about his potential; but to suggest that our 19 year old ‘one to watch’ would do a better job than the established Agbonlahor is unforgiveable.
Not only this, but Gabby has been much more effective in front of goal this season than has been recognised. Playing 44 games, the plot is a lot thicker than his 16 goal contribution would suggest. Because of the games Agbonlahor has played, Aston Villa have banged in 65 goals and of these, Gab has forced two own goals and won 3 penalties. Moreover, the former winger weighed in with 7 assists; meaning he had a direct hand in 28 of Villa’s goals this year. Therefore, of the matches Gabriel Agbonlahor has featured in this season, he has been responsible for over 43% of Aston Villa’s goals.
So, ignoring the fact that he is quite clearly a top class performer in the claret shirt anyway, I wouldn’t expect even the best players to contribute to almost half of their club’s goals (and I certainly couldn’t see Delfouneso doing so). The three penalties won by Gabby also came in arguably our 3 biggest games: whilst trailing by away goals in the League Cup semi against Blackburn, Agbonlahor not only gave us the opportunity to score from 12 yards, but brought about the justified sending off of Christopher Samba. Secondly, in the final of the same competition (against the champions), Gabby stepped up his game, won a penalty for our only goal, and we all know what the fate of Vidic should have been. And being outplayed by our sworn enemies at home, Gabby got in behind and drew the defender (who also should have seen red) into a foul in the box, and the result was yet another second city triumph.
It is for his big-game-performances, incredible goal involvement, and obvious effectiveness for his local team that I deemed the defence of Gabriel Agbonlahor “unnecessary”. At just 23, the future England star is already an integral member of a big club and although he has a long way to go, if he continues to progress at the same rate he has done, we will certainly be the only losers if certain fans get their wish and we decide to sell him.