After spearing a rasping volley past Robert Sánchez recently, Christian Benteke had Villa fans feeling nostalgic with his post-match comments. The Belgium forward was asked whether the late winner for Palace against Brighton was his most dramatic of his career, he pondered carefully for a moment before admitting that “maybe with Villa,” he had bagged goals of greater significance.
Such a statement had Villans reminiscing about back-to-back winning penalties against West Brom at Villa Park, a cool winner against Queens Park Rangers, a handsomely struck direct free kick against the same opponents a year later and THAT hat-trick against Di Canio’s Sunderland.
Like Quentin and Leo, or HP sauce and a sausage sarnie, Aston Villa and Christian Benteke just worked. It is no surprise then that when the former Genk man opted to move in the turbulent summer of 2015, both the club and the player faced a spiraling decline in fortunes.
Here are the players who just clicked at the Villa and faced indifferent fortunes elsewhere:
The aforementioned formidable striker was relatively unknown when he arrived in Birmingham in 2012, and even admitted that he himself did not know where Aston was. A debut goal against Swansea saw the Villa faithful take to the big man straight away. His aerial prowess, intricate hold up play and knack of being the right man in the right place at the right time, saw him almost single handedly keep the club in the Premier League for three seasons. With 42 league goals for the claret and blue outfit, it is almost certain that an additional two or three seasons would have seen Benteke displace Agbonlahor as the current incumbent atop the Premier League scoring charts for the club. The less said about the season ‘CB20’ left the better, but he too has struggled to find his Villa form at both Liverpool and Palace, only mustering double figures in terms of league goals once in the six seasons that have passed, something he managed in all three years in B6.
One of Villa’s finest shot stoppers of the Premier League era, Australian Bosnich arrived following a stop-start early career in 1992. He had briefly starred for Sir Alex’s United before finding himself playing back in his home state of New South Wales. His subsequent move to Aston Villa saw Bosnich take a season or two to find his feet, before establishing himself as a top quality goalkeeper. The man between the sticks became particularly associated with denying penalties, and his crucial saves from the spot against Tranmere in the 1994 League Cup semi-final set up a mouthwatering finale with his former employers. With Bosnich keeping net, Villa ran out 3-1 winners against Manchester United to add a fourth league cup title to the collection. The stopper won a second League Cup two years later in a 3-0 rout of Leeds United. He would leave Villa to sign once more for Manchester United and once more he faced a turbulent time, sharing keeping duties with the equally underwhelming Taibi and van der Gouw. He later moved to Chelsea where again game time proved a rarity and he finished his career in his native Australia.
Local lad Lee Hendrie was a popular figure at the Villa, despite a red card on his first-team debut, after a moment of over-exuberance, in December 1995. By the 1998/99 season, Hendrie was a mainstay in the Villa side and earned a cap for Glenn Hoddle’s Three Lions. In 14 years at his hometown club, Hendrie racked up 308 appearances and bagged 32 goals across various competitions. He played an important role in the agonising FA Cup run of 2000 and the successful Intertoto Cup campaign two seasons later. After spending almost a decade and a half at one club, Hendrie would spend the final eight years of his career at 16 different sides. Scattered far and wide across the English footballing pyramid, with a brief spell in Indonesia, the former midfielder recently spoke candidly with The Guardian about his post-Villa struggles on and off the pitch. Hendrie is always welcome back at Villa Park, and fans will hope to see his excellent commentary there regularly with Sky Sports, in the same manner that Neville, Carragher and co. are afforded with their respective former sides.
Notable Villa-related figures on social media have sparked an interesting debate surrounding our current goalkeeper. This is of course where ‘Emi’ ranks compared to the previously discussed Bosnich and American stalwart Brad Friedel as Villa’s best keeper in the modern era. This says a lot about the Argentinian who only signed on the dotted line in September 2020 and has made just 23 appearances, in comparison to the over 300 shared Villa starts for the other two. Martínez had found himself often second or third choice for Arsenal in his eight years in Islington and was shipped out on loan six times in that period. Now though, the brawny Martínez in his short-sleeved green jersey is an ominous sight for opposition forwards having cemented his starting place with 13 clean sheets at this point in the season. His form has made him hugely popular not only with Villa fans, but Fantasy Football revelers too, with the man from Mar del Plata both the most owned player and highest point-scorer in his position.
Much like Hendrie, Tony Daley was a local boy who became a Holte End hero. And as Hendrie did, Daley also represented England at the highest level. He played seven times for his country whilst former club boss Graham Taylor was at the helm. In nine years at the Witton Lane club, nippy winger Daley played 280 games in all competitions and was responsible for many a bruised shin through his moments of magic. In this era of all-seater stadiums, the Lozells-born man would very much be described as a ‘bums-off-seats’ player. Like Bosnich, Daley was part of the squad who won two League Cups in three years in the mid-nineties. But after he swapped VP, for the Molineux, Daley was plagued with a series of injuries, and further moves to Watford and Walsall could not see the enigmatic player recreate his Villa success and he finished his career in Gloucestershire with Forest Green Rovers.
In January 2018, then gaffer Steve Bruce pulled off a real coup in convincing Axel Tuanzebe to join on a short-term loan deal from his former club Manchester United. Although Bruce was largely content with his partnership of the imperious John Terry and the ever-reliable James Chester and the loanee picked up a handful of injuries that saw him miss 14 matches, Tuanzebe looked composed and astute whenever he was called upon. When Terry retired at the end of the year, and with the young Tuanzebe back to full fitness, Villa were able to secure his services for a further season. Under Bruce’s leadership, the DR Congo born defender had seen game time increase but only with the caveat of having to play largely out of position, on the right of a back four. An upgrade in management saw Dean Smith deploy Tuanzebe in his more natural central role where he thrived alongside Chester. Despite a metatarsal injury, Tuanzebe returned for the crucial run in and was a big part of the record-shattering 10 game winning run and the subsequent play-off triumph. His popularity at Villa was aided further by one of the best fan chants we have heard reverberate around the famous old stands of Villa Park, with his name substituted into Bad Manner’s hit ‘Lip Up Fatty’. Since returning to United he has struggled for game time with Solskjær viewing him as the fourth choice option in his position and Tuanzebe was recently the subject of some abhorrent racial abuse online from so-called fans. Whilst Villa are absolutely satisfied with the current defensive duo of Mings and Konsa, if the club were ever to make an enquiry for the brilliant Tuanzebe even the most pessimistic Villa fan would not turn their nose up at such a move.
Whilst we ourselves have seen many players with so much promise at other clubs struggle when donning the famed claret and blue, Villa fans will feel privileged to have seen these six players sparkle for our beloved side.
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