Sponsored

Despite being a relatively unsuccessful spell in their history, Aston Villa had a number of excellent players in the 2000s.

The likes of Paul Merson, Olof Mellberg, Martin Laursen and Gareth Barry all wore the famous claret and blue during that 10-year period.

Advertisement

But there were also individuals of great talent and potential whose careers in B6 were bought to a premature close in the first decade of the new millennium.

Here are three such former Villans who should have been kept at the club:

Thomas Hitzlsperger

A fan favourite at Villa Park, Hitzlsperger garnered a reputation as a lethal long-range shooter during his five years in the Midlands.

Nicknamed ‘The Hammer’, he scored a number of spectacular goals and was a regular fixture in the first team until the 2004-05 campaign, when he started less than half of the Lions’ Premier League matches under then-manager David O’Leary.

The Irishman, not a popular figure amongst Villa fans, bewilderingly allowed the 23-year-old central midfielder to leave on a free transfer to Stuttgart in the summer of 2005.

There, Hitzlsperger won the Bundesliga in 2006-07 and went on to captain the side before being moved on to Lazio in January 2010.

Injury-ravaged spells at West Ham United, Wolfsburg and Everton followed before the German retired in 2013, having amassed over 300 club appearances and an impressive 53 caps for his country.

Since hanging up his boots, Hitzlsperger has publicly come out as gay and is an outspoken advocate of equality and inclusion in football.

Sadly, his time at Villa ended all too soon and the claret and blue faithful saw him depart before the finest years of his career.

Steven Davis

A member of Villa’s 2002 FA Youth Cup winning side, Davis progressed to the seniors and made his debut in a Premier League draw against Norwich City in September 2004.

The following season the midfielder was one of the first names on the team sheet and his performances earned him the club’s Player of the Year, Young Player of the Year and Fans’ Player of the Year awards.

However, the arrival of Martin O’Neill as manager saw Davis used sparingly throughout the 2006-07 campaign and aged just 22 he was sold for £4 million to Fulham.

After a fruitful period at Scottish giants Rangers, in which he won three league titles, reached a UEFA Cup final and played in the Champions League, the Northern Irishman returned to England with Southampton in 2012 and has been a mainstay of the Saints side ever since.

Now 32 and an established top flight and international player, there is little doubt that had Davis been allowed to develop he would have gone on to become a key man in the heart of Villa’s midfield for a number of years.

Gary Cahill

The England defender seems to have been around forever and it is easy to forget that his professional career began at Villa Park.

Whilst he will always be fondly remembered for an outstanding overhead kick against rivals Birmingham City in 2006 under O’Leary, O’Neill did not seem to fully trust Cahill and let him leave for around £5 million to Bolton Wanderers in January 2008.

Over the next four years the centre-back received international recognition and finally got his big move when Chelsea came calling midway through the 2011-2012 campaign.

Now a seasoned head at Stamford Bridge, Cahill has won every domestic honour available including the Premier League (twice) and the Champions League.

Whilst O’Neill is rightly regarded as Villa’s best manager of the last 15 years, his track record in terms of transfers was slightly hit and miss.

In the case of Cahill, there was a clear lack of foresight at play, with almost all of his notable footballing achievements coming in the years since he left the Villans.

Analysis

All three of these players departed Villa when under the age of 24, with the fees received relatively small considering that they each went on to establish themselves in top European leagues and at international level.

The academy setup at Bodymoor Heath is excellent and the likes of Jack Grealish and Andre Green have shown in recent seasons the need for a pathway from the youth team to the seniors.

Current owner Tony Xia and manager Steve Bruce will do well to learn from the mistakes of the past and ensure that youngsters are nurtured and not cast aside before reaching their full potential.