Were Aston Villa right to release Marc Albrighton?
He may only have been 24 but Villa’s decision to release Marc Albrighton brought down the curtain on a 16-year playing career at the club.
Plucked from his junior team in Tamworth, Albrighton was first on the books as an eight-year-old and hadn’t looked back until last week.
A series of fantastic performances for the youth and reserve teams soon began turning heads and it was no surprise when he was handed his Villa debut against CSKA Moscow in 2009.
It wasn’t long before he earned his first England under-21 cap in September 2010 and suddenly it looked as though Villa had produced another quality player through its youth system.
Albrighton was thrust into the limelight along with fellow youth team players Barry Bannan, Ciaran Clark, Nathan Baker, Nathan Delfouneso, Chris Herd, Gary Gardner and Andi Weimann.
To say things looked positive for the future would be an under-statement and when one of the youngest ever Villa sides lined up against a strong Man United team in November 2010 – and then played them off the park before succumbing to two late goals, ending in a draw – the rest of the Premier League even began to notice.
But a lack of development, some poor man-management, injuries, a drop in confidence and a general decline in Villa’s fortunes soon left the fans and the wider football world feeling disappointed.
The impending sale of Albrighton may have been on the cards for a while but it seems to signal the continued decline at Aston Villa in so many ways.
Albrighton may not have set the world alight during his tenure at his boyhood club but he was easily one of our most exciting players this season – despite spending about half of it out on loan.
As an out-and-out winger manager Paul Lambert decided to try and play him through the middle in last few games of his Villa career. It may have worked for James Milner and in part for Ashley Young when they were at the club, but they had already established themselves as quality wide-men before being tested in a more central role.
Perhaps the most depressing aspect is how Albrighton is now set to join Delfouneso and Bannan through the exit door, the latter leaving for Crystal Palace last year.
Australia international Herd has not had a look in recently - with rumours of home sickness or a stress-related illness keeping him sidelined – and Gardner has been hampered by two years of injuries, although at least he’s been given a new two-year contract to prove himself.
Add to that the less than emphatic performances of Baker and Clark at the back over the last few seasons, and the drop in form from Weimann, and suddenly the once promising youth set up seems to have fallen by the wayside.
No-one could really argue Bannan and Delfouneso were not good enough but at the same time were they any worse than Tonev, Kosak, Sylla, Bowery, Luna and Holt?
It seems strange for a club that prides itself so much on its youth system that it is so quick to offload those that have not performed well, only to replace them with foreign imports that have brought no extra quality into the team.
Of course the likes of Benteke and hopefully Jores Okore, once they return to full fitness, should continue to be exceptions to the rule - that young English players are being squeezed out of football by less talented foreign players – but overall it’s hard to argue Villa are any better off having released some of their once promising youngsters.
Baker and Clark have rightly come in for some serious criticism since breaking into the first team, but what a first team they broke into – possibly the worst in the last 20 years.
Can players develop and flourish in such conditions?
It could be argued they should be the ones to step up, take their chances and help move the club in the right direction. But who can they learn from? Ron Vlaar perhaps - but after that? There’s not exactly a cauldron of experience down at Villa Park these days, which is what Lambert had planned for, so who do they turn to?
It is perhaps easy to lash out at the manager and club set-up when looking at Villa’s youngsters through rose-tinted spectacles, when the fact of the matter is none of the youth players have really lived up to their hype so far.
They have been given plenty of chances, from when McLeish was manager right through to Lambert, but that was more down to necessity rather than faith.
When a club is stripped to the bare bones it’s only those that have a decent youth set-up that survive – and Villa should be grateful they at least had seven players in reserve to call on.
The future still looks reasonably bright too with the likes of Daniel Johnson, Jack Grealish, Samir Carruthers and Callum Robinson all on the fringes of the squad.
If Lambert stays it may be a while before they get a look in because he seems to be against blooding too many youngsters, putting Robinson on the bench for most the season but only giving him a look with two home games to go – preferring Bowery and Holt each time.
But at least they are there and at least the youth system is still creating good players.
The only problem is, with the likes of Bannan, Delfouneso and Albrighton being moved on, will they see their futures in a claret and blue shirt, or will they even be enough to make the grade?
I’m sure we’ll find out sooner or later but hopefully they won’t follow Albrighton out the door too quickly because I, for one, will be sad to see him go.
Were you sad to see Albrighton go? Whatever your view, we'd love to hear from you.