Has Gary Gardner’s ‘Make or Break’ Season Ended Already?

Villa’s Prodigal Son

The season of 2013/2014 was supposed to be the season where Gary Gardner finally burst on to the scene and pushed his way into the first team consistently. The boyhood Villan, touted as a future Villa captain, had threatened to have such a season for a couple of years now but has been hampered by frustrating knee injuries.

This year seemed to be different for Gardner. He was a prominent figure during the start of pre-season, even getting himself on the score sheet against Mansfield. But something never clicked. His pre-season minutes declined as the summer went on and first team regulars came back into the fold.

Whilst Grealish flourished, the older Gardner seemed to stall. In the end, he was shipped off to the seaside along with Joe Bennett to play for Brighton & Hove Albion until January.

Loan Blues

In previous loan spells at Coventry and Sheffield Wednesday, although short ones, the Villa midfielder failed to make a big impression, scoring just the single goal in eight appearances.

Judging by the opinion of Coventry fans Gardner played in four straight defeats at Coventry and although he played a deeper role than preferred, he lacked the desire to break forward or to show for the ball. Not exactly the mentality or performances from a midfielder that fans held such great expectations of.

With Sylla going out on loan and El Ahmadi reportedly unsettled and looking for a move away, you would think that Gardner’s chance to get first team minutes at the start of the season would have been good. Instead, Lambert plucked for Richardson in the middle, which is not his preferred position. Surely there has to be something deeply wrong?

Opportunity Knocked

Gardner made his name as captain of the Villa academy as a box-to-box midfielder with a killer pass, a dead ball expert and with goals in his locker. In essence, he was the type of midfielder that Villa have craved for a few years now.

Despite this, and the fact that Lambert’s midfield has been the weakest Villa midfield for years, he failed to break through.

Not even getting a run from the bench and then getting shipped out on loan was not exactly a show of confidence from the management either. You would have thought that the introduction of Roy Keane would have sparked life into Gardner as someone to help him develop and break into the first team squad like Grealish.

The purchase of Sanchez, although a different type of player, will hamper his cause even more. Add to this the potential arrival of Cleverley and Villa suddenly have depth in the middle of the park which could make it almost impossible for Gardner to break through.



So Why Hasn’t It Happened?

Injuries have certainly been a factor the last few seasons. Not only the physical effects but the toll it would have took mentally on the player. Gardner has had so many injuries over a short period of time that maybe he plays within himself, waiting for the next injury to strike, which happens with many injury-prone players.

Moreover, the midfield role he adopts is, unfortunately for him, the same box-to-box role that our soon to be England International Fabian Delph plays. With Delph being our arguably best player over the last year Gardener is seriously going to struggle to make an impression on the team.

In some way you have to question why Lambert gave him a new two-year deal. He may have thought the show of confidence would have sparked Gardner into life and he would push on. However, the cynics amongst us might argue that Lambert did it out of necessity.

The Villa boss may have felt with no money to spend he would need Gardner to have some depth in the squad. He was a cheap option. The then sudden availability of funds from Lerner could of meant the Villa midfielder became surplus to requirements and was thus ditched out on loan.

It is a worrying theme developing out of the Villa academy. Although our academy produces some very promising young talent, there seems to be a severe lack of youngsters making the final step up.

Callum Robinson flirted with the first team at the back-end of last season and Grealish has come to the fore this season. That’s not a lot to come through from a team that won the NextGen tournament a couple of year’s ago, the equivalent of the youth Champions League.

It’s needless to say that Gary Gardner has to have a very good loan spell at Brighton in the Championship to have any chance of getting a look in this season. If not, then he could go the same way as Samir Carruthers in not making it into the first team after showing huge promise before finally being sold.

I, like most Villa fans, hope he blossoms into the great player and leader that he once promised to be.

Good luck Gary! UTV


Follow Ashley on Twitter – @bannyboy95




  1. Good read and some interesting points were brought up, but have to agree with others in that he has the time. KEA is gone, Richardson is a CAM now, he had that role at Sunderland under Keane, looks to suit him, Delph needs to be extended (Hello Mr CEO). Cleverley seems to be a long shot. Westwood, N’Zog and Grealish are different type of players to Gardner. Cole as already mentioned is a short time thing. Plenty of room in the midfield in my mind, and may be thankful in Jan when he returns. Very interesting take on his playing within himself, agree and hope playing regularly will increase his confidence.

    As an aside Villa do have a lot of players on loan who only have a couple of years left, I think it is a pretty good idea to see if they develop into something without risking your results and still with a year to renew if needed.

  2. Always astonished at fans belief that youth or reserve team primise automatically translates to the first team, especially when very few of said fans have even seen the player over 90 mins.

    Its a massive step up and very few are good enough to do it. The hope and expectation being heaped on Grealish currently is a case in point.

    Better to hope that these kids get a career in the game albeit at a lower level andvevery now and aagain if we are lucky one will break through.

    • I agree with a lot of what you say, and do hope they all make a career of some sort out of football. Lot of factors in the step up to the senior team and any one of them might cause a failure to live up to expectation. And there’s a big thing to be said for limiting the pressure on the kids.

      AFVC though need to look both internally and externally at the youth setup. We did have the highest number of academy graduates playing in the Football Leagues. Yet each of the last two seasons some 16yr olds chose to sign their first contract with other Clubs. It’s no wonder the ones that come through the youth setup aren’t quite up to snuff in the EPL if the best were already plucked out when they turned pro. Southampton and Man Utd have shown that a crop of youngsters can be brought though together. How they did it would be an area AFVC should be interested in, and why Man Utd didn’t successfully repeat it.

  3. Good artice ! To me Gardner is only half the player he was before his injuries and the article highlights many of the issues that have contributed to that . Clearly the Villa staff think he has potential to overcome those issues . As for comparing Gaz to his big bros I think that’s premature as having seen both playing together for Villa I think we still have the better one if he can overcome the issues that seem to be holding him back . But to do that he needs to be playing regular , and given the poor team performance over the past few seasons ,that needs to be the priority rather than the needs of a player coming back from injury . And that is especially so given fans exasterbation over said poor results
    Can Gaz make his way back into the squad that remains to be seen , but with his contract extension the pressure is off for him making an early return and players such as Cole & Richardson will not be with us for long given their ages so time is on Gaz’s side to make good & fill his potential as a future Villa Star

  4. as a club we have to move forwards,,, lambert is doing the best with what he has,,, and yes he can do things better,,,
    going on loan is great for gardiner,, just lets him get game time in a good league for a good side

    nothing would please me more than him coming back and playing for us,, the potential is there
    and he could return to a half decent side which takes the pressure off

    it just needs bringing through,

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