"You’ll never win anything with kids."
Aston Villa must go back to the day Alan Hansen uttered those infamous words on Match Of The Day, for their last Premier League victory over Manchester United at Villa Park.
Some 16 years, three months and 12 days have now elapsed since Villa’s 3-1 opening day win on August 19, 1995 prompted Hansen’s regrettable outburst.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s outstanding young class of David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, the Nevilles et al of course went on to help the Red Devils clinch the league and FA Cup double that very season.
Yet it’s been little over a year since Villa’s very own batch of homegrown prospects were being hailed as stars of the future by Gerard Houllier after giving United the fright of their lives in their last visit to B6 on November 13, 2010.
The pulsating 2-2 draw against the would-be champions was seen as a watershed moment for Villa with 10 of the players in the 18 coming from the Bodymoor Heath academy.
That didn’t even include Ciaran Clark, Andreas Weimann, Gary Gardner and Nathan Baker who were not involved that day but are also bubbling under.
Comparing ‘Gerard’s juniors’ to ‘Fergie’s Fledglings’ was unfair. But as the claret and blues prepare to welcome United to Villa Park again this weekend and with the onus on Alex McLeish to utilise the youngsters and reduce the wage bill, it’s worth examining what became of the potential Villa starlets from that day.
• Marc Albrighton, winger, aged 22 – Then: Scored to put Villa 2-0 up and cap a dazzling performance during which he terrorised experienced full-back Patrice Evra. Now: Hopes to overcome his crisis of confidence and rediscover his sparkling form, although arguably needs more game time after failing to start a league game this season.
• Barry Bannan, midfielder, aged 22 – Then: The diminutive playmaker showcased his array of passing and bossed the midfield against Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher. Now: Trying to get his career back on track after a drink-driving charge threatened to wreck concerted run in and around the team.
• Gabby Agbonlahor, striker/winger, aged 25 – Then: Like Ryan Giggs with Beckham and Co, Agbonlahor has a few years on the other academy graduates. Hit the post and piled pressure on United in second half onslaught. Now: Villa’s most important and best player this season with six Premier League goals.
• Chris Herd, midfielder/defender, aged 22 – Then: Made competitive senior debut for Villa as a late sub against United. Now: After briefly impressing at right-back, has established himself as a first-choice central midfielder, where Villa are blessed with quantity if not quality.
Others – Eric Lichaj, aged 23: Will provide right-back competition when he returns from injury; Nathan Delfouneso, aged 20: Goal record stands up to scrutiny, but Villa’s last three managers have not played him much; Shane Lowry, aged 22: Now on loan at Millwall. Expected to leave next summer; Daniel Johnson, aged 19: Made it onto the bench last season, but has yet to play; Jonathan Hogg, aged 22: Deemed not good enough to be a Premier League regular. Joined Championship club Watford in summer; Isaiah Osbourne, aged 24: Didn’t show enough Premier class. Trying to kickstart career with Hibs in SPL.
• Villa squad v United, November 13 2010 (homegrown players in capitals): Friedel, Warnock, Dunne, L Young, Collins, Downing, A Young, ALBRIGHTON (LICHAJ, 88), BANNAN, HOGG (HERD, 89), AGBONLAHOR (DELFOUNESO, 78) Subs not used: JOHNSON, OSBOURNE, LOWRY, Guzan.