Gabby Agbonlahor likes it well done. Yet Alex McLeish attributes his own part in the Aston Villa striker’s sizzling revival to the serving up of something much more rare.
Rather than peppering Agbonlahor with praise, McLeish has added a dash of constructive criticism this season to bring out the very best in the Brummie goal-getter.
“Players only really like to hear you say ‘Well done’,” explains McLeish.
“But once when you snipe at them, that’s when they really hear it. They don’t hear the 99 ‘well dones’. They only hear ‘You are sloppy.’
“But it’s not about being on any high horses, it’s about reacting in the manner we expect of them. You need to listen to the experience we’ve got on this coaching staff.
“Gabby has maybe looked at things, taken stock of what happened last year and responded to the input I’ve had.
“He is a character. You hear him and think he is snarling or answering back, but it is more tongue-in-cheek stuff. He is a likeable guy.
“I think players need both a rocket and an arm around the shoulder and it has got to be at the right times. You have got to choose the right moments. Gabby has shown quality I never knew he had and that’s why I think he can impress people even more.”
McLeish has clearly played a part in Agbonlahor’s stunning revival. The 25-year-old grabbed his fifth goal of the season during his man-of-the-match performance in last weekend’s 3-2 victory over Norwich City at Villa Park, scoring one and making two for potential club and country strike partner Darren Bent.
It meant Agbonlahor’s goals tally has already surpassed his total from the whole of the previous campaign, which was hampered by injury, illness, loss of form and a tense relationship with former boss Gerard Houllier. Yet Villa’s current manager is reluctant to take credit for the renaissance which has seen the Bodymoor Heath academy graduate reclaim his place in Fabio Capello’s England squad for the forthcoming Wembley friendlies against Spain and Sweden with Euro 2012 on the horizon.
Instead, McLeish puts Agbonlahor’s form down to the homegrown hero’s affection for his boyhood club and the Erdington boy’s desire to be a true Villa star.
“He loves Villa,” says McLeish, who noticed Agbonlahor’s eagerness to impress from the first day of pre-season training.
“He is a Birmingham boy and he adores this club and if he had his choice, it would be to be the star here.
“Gabby just felt he didn’t get a break last season, but I’m not saying it’s anyone’s fault. “Gabby had to address it as well and I’ve got nothing but praise for him for his application.
“He has to take confidence from the way he’s playing and realise the extra levels required of him to deliver in every game.
“It’s all about working on the talent that he’s got and improving that work ethic.
“That’s what you expect of a top player. He’s still young and he’s still a guy who can build on the winning mentality and his consistency.
“His performance on Saturday was exceptional. I told him before game that I expect him to play well and he delivered. He didn’t see it as pressure on his shoulders, he saw it as a great motivation and he brought it.
“He’s really dangerous, quick and he also has other strings to his bow. He has good feet, he can beat a man in a short space and you saw him delivering on Saturday.”
Agbonlahor is hoping to win his fourth cap this weekend having previously worn the Three Lions against Germany, Spain and Belarus, with his last appearance coming more than two years ago in October 2009.
“It is great to see him developing like that and getting in the England squad is even better for his kudos and confidence,” added McLeish.
“But he has got to keep his feet on the ground. He is still a young man and can kick on and improve even further.
“Darren Bent and Gabby for England would be attractive and interesting to see, but Fabio Capello will put his own system into place.
“It may be he can’t accommodate the two of them together in his plans. But there is no doubting Agbonlahor gave an international class performance against Norwich.”
That constitutes a ‘well done’, Gabby.