He’s fast as f***

Towards the end of an acrimonious 2005-06 season maligned Aston Villa manager David O’Leary fidgeted in his dug-out at Goodison Park and looked across at his bench. The under-fire boss was inevitably cursing Aston Villa’s ‘fickle’ away fans who noisily chorused him with chants as Villa went 3 – 0 nil down to Everton inside 45 minutes.

O’Leary’s regular lamentations that his squad were “only young lads” (and a bunch of ‘honest lads’) had left many fans unconvinced, but as if to prove the point the manager summoned a 19-year-old academy player from the bench to make his debut. On 63 minutes the speedy youngster latched onto Lee Hendrie’s lay off in the box and slotted the ball past Richard Wright as Villa slumped to a disappointing 4 – 1 defeat. Not the ideal conditions for a teenager to make his debut some of the more cautious fans would say, but Gabby Agbonlahor has since remained an ever-present member of Aston Villa’s first team under Martin O’Neill, Gerard Houllier, Alex McLeish, and Paul Lambert (update: and now Tim Sherwood has started theĀ 2015/16 season with him).



Eight seasons is a long time to remain at one club, especially when the team’s reactive style of play has remained largely the same.

Gerard Houllier aside, Villa’s conveyor belt of managers have usually favoured low-possession counter-attacking teams and have sought to exploit Agbonlahor’s pace as the main focus of attacking play. There have been small variations in tactics from season to season. Martin O’Neill for example preferred to play a high-press system with players winning the ball back near the opponent’s goal. Whilst Alex McLeish preferred to play with a low-block and close off space whilst waiting for the opponent to make a mistake.

Gabby has generally thrived in counter attacking sides and was notably a vocal critic of Houllier’s attempts to change Aston Villa’s style of play to a more possession based team,

“The manager had his formations and he was not going to change that” the striker said in 2011 and added, “You look at who was left out. Warnock, Ireland and Dunne. It was a crazy season”.

Gabby’s effectiveness as a striker initially saw real progress throughout Martin O’Neill’s time at the club. The young striker’s first full season came in 2006/7 where he scored an impressive 9 goals. He then scored 11 goals in 2007/8, 12 goals in 2008/9 and 13 goals in O’Neill’s final season at the club in 2009/10. Gabby was only a 23-year-old when O’Neill left the club, but he has failed to reach double figures since that time. Houllier famously accused Agbonlahor of spending too much time in the gym, to which the player retorted, “I don’t think he really knew what he was saying.”

Gabby Agbonlahor stats

The most concerning aspect of Agbonlahor’s goal record in recent seasons has been that his barren spells have become increasingly lengthy. Goals have arrived in clusters and consistency has been difficult to maintain. The former academy player failed to score in the league for over a year from September 2011 until November 2012 and his chance conversation rate in the 2011/12 season was a paltry 8.8%.


gabby goals chart aston villa


Gabby could argue that he now has a due role of scoring and creating goals for the team and this shows through scoring 21 goals and contributing 15 assists in the last four seasons. Last year Gabby ranked level with players such as Fernando Torres, Jordan Henderson and Yohan Cabaye (who left Newcastle in January) in terms of 10 team goal contributions. But has the former academy player justified his place on the wing?

Gabby’s offensive contribution last season can be compared to other wide forwards in the league. Gabby had a pass success rate of 75%, averaged 1.5 shots per game, made 1 key pass per game and dribbled on average 0.9 times per match. Jason Puncheon contributed to 9 team goals and averaged a pass success rate of 78.4%, 2.3 shots per game, made 1.4 key passes per game and dribbled on average 1.6 times per match. Peter Odemwingie also contributed to 9 team goals and had a pass success rate of 81%, averaged 1.8 shots per game, made 0.5 key passes per game and dribbled on average 1.7 times per match.


Gabby assists chart aston villa

Therefore, if you compare Gabby to other wide players, his ability to keep the ball and dribble past defenders is currently a little disappointing for a player who was so exuberant under Martin O’Neill.

Time for a change?

Gabby’s wide forward partner Andreas Weimann also failed to beat defenders regularly in matches averaging 0.5 successful dribbles per game. These figures may reveal Aston Villa’s problems when playing against teams who play with a low block. In addition, they demonstrate a general lack of technical ability in wide areas. Following some below par performances in pre-season will Agbonlahor now find his place in the team threatened by youngster Jack Grealish?

Grealish’s performances have rightly drawn praise since his return to Villa from Notts County. Fans have been impressed with his enthusiasm, willingness to receive the ball and ability to ghost past players with ease. Grealish represents the modern type of wide player such as Raheem Sterling, Jordan Ibe and Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain who are as comfortable playing in wide areas as they are when they drop in-field. Increasingly, ‘traditional’ English wingers like Stewart Downing, Marc Albrighton and Aaron Lennon are becoming unfashionable.



Crossing the ball is a great skill, but the ability to play through defences and get in behind as Nasri and Hazard are able to do regularly is of arguably greater value. Hopeful crosses into a striker who is normally outnumbered by defenders can result in possession being lost and teams being exposed to dangerous transitions of play. Grealish is therefore vital to Aston Villa if the team wants to become a possession based side (unless Lambert wishes to dip again into the transfer market).

Whether Paul Lambert intends to continue to rely on counter attacks through Gabby and Weimann or genuinely makes a move towards possession based football remains to be seen, but the battle between Gabby and Weimann and Grealish and N’Zogbia is an intriguing one.

One thing seems obvious now however. Gabby Agbonlahor will need to play very well to keep Jack Grealish out of the team as the youngster is now banging very loudly on the door.


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  1. He has power and pace but no real skill or intelligence on the ball. Problem is in the formation we play, he cant play as the lone striker as he cant link up play and if he plays wide, he is good on the counter attack, but in slow build up play, he is hopeless. He should be used as an impact sub, but he is on way too much money for that.

  2. Utter rubbish.

    Gabby hasn’t been consistently good over the last few seasons but the players around him have dramatically fallen in standard. He is the only player to get the Holte on their feet anymore, with the exception of Benteke, but who knows the form he’ll have this season after such a bad injury.

    He’s struggled with injuries and I was a critic of him at times last season but only because I know what he’s capable of as he showed against Liverpool at Anfield or first minute in the huge game at home to Hull.

    He did once have the ability to play for England or get a move to a top side which he has lost but we have very few players who are even premier league standard anymore so to talk about getting rid of one is madness.

    The side clearly miss him when he is injured. The loss of Albrighton, another player who isn’t a world beater but shone in our side in the 2nd half of season, has increased our reliance on Gabby to add pace and drive in our forward line.

  3. no player can dominate a team’s play. If gabby could only play for one manager, then there is something wrong.. It does happen. We have had 3 managers since O’Neill, all different. But Gabby does not score goals.

    When this happened with Stephen Ireland, who was sent on loan and still could not get back to form, we sent him back to Mark Hughes who got him going again.

    Sadly we can’t ask Martin O’Neill to get Gabby going again as he is English

    trevor fisher.

  4. Tuning this argument on its head you could ask ‘Are Villa Holding Gabby Back?’
    How would have progressed under the likes of Wenger if they had come in when they were reportedly sniffing around in 2009? How much technically better would have been as a player by now and how many goals would have scored with a team that creates chances?

    If you take a look at his scoring record under O’Neil it was increasing steadily season after season, so what wrong after 2009/10 and why did his goals tally off as soon as O’Neil left?
    This appears two fold (1) O’Neil had the ability to motivate the lad and played him right
    and (2) since 2010 he’s been playing in a struggling side.

    I don’t think Gabby’s the problem, it’s the rest of them!

  5. The Liverpool game where he got injured last year and we should have won was one of the better games i’ve seen him have. He never really found his stride after that. Every season he hits that kind of form but seems to last for shorter and shorter periods.

    I think Weimann has more to worry about than Gabby though, Gabby can still be very effective when he’s not scoring. I’d also question his ‘need’ for Benteke, his best form as a striker came during Carew injuries where he played in the middle of Young and Milner. That could also be a reason for him scoring more goals as there was unquestionably more creativity in the teams 5 years ago, and we scored more goals as a team.

  6. Too hard on Gabby by far. Lerner’s lack of interest in the club might be a cause but not Gabby by himself. Agree his touch can be erratic and like most strikers he’s influenced by his confidence, but he is Villa thru and thru, would play in Goal if needed. Injuries can happen to very fast players more often because of their speed, Ramsey, the Oxe, etc. And its been said before but needs repeating, he’s never been a natural winger, he has to play up front to minimise his limitations and exploit his strengths. Personally I find it distasteful that Villa fans would be quite so hard on the clubs leading goal scorer and a one club man. Back to Lerner, can see why he wouldn’t want to run a club with such a fickle following.

  7. Those of you who say it is because Gabby is played out of position to give credence to his awful performances in the last 5 years, are either one of Gabby’s loose women or the many kids that are straggled all over this region. Gabby was never any good. Fast? Yes! A footballer? Never on a day that ends in d, a y! A kick and rush merchant? Without question? An intelligent, ball playing, step over, style razzed dazzle, clever baller? Only on days when water was not wet! A man who believed his own hype? Clearly! A footballer who could take the baller in less than 17 touch it to bring it under some semblance of control? Have you ever watched him play? A man who has played the ‘I am Aston Villa, through and through’ card? To his credit he has use the ‘I came trough the system’ to his extreme benefit! The real question is, Gabby holding Villa back? Only if you realise that each time he is in the team, it handicaps the team and give the opposition a clear player advantage! If the fans are the 12th man, Villa fans are the 11th man because the team also start with one lesser player

  8. he’s been first on the team sheet under 5 managers one who didn’t like him that says a lot. give him one thing two do he looks like ronaldo the brazilian one and when he’s on the field the other team are nerves

  9. All pace which is going never a natural finisher like owen or defoe. If he has to think forget it chance gone which happens 9 times out of 10. Maybe use him if the bench when teams getting tired. At Walsall he was only player to get ball on m6. That says it all about his shooting ability

  10. As has been said, he isn’t a wide player, simple.
    Play him down the middle and he’ll score more.
    I also agree he should play with Benteke, but it doesn’t seem Lambert likes that approach (my guess is because Weimann needs time too).
    If you can’t play him down the middle, you have to drop him, imo.

  11. I think the article is making a valid point and having been at everton and said to my workmates this kid will play for England, I have to agree. He is not effective and when Benteke and Kozak get back to fitness he is going to struggle to keep in the team

    And he will never again play for England. He has little more than speed to offer. Yesterday his hesitation and refusal to shoot on sight was painful. Lets see others in his place. He is not developing

    However Grealish is not the answer. When on loan the Notts County manager said he could be a great player… when he is 21. Not yet. Lets not ruin another good young player

    trevor fisher.

  12. Sorry but played out of position for years with the type of player he is what do yo expect if he was playin up top wiv a big man runnin in behind he would scare the hell out of any defence an get goals

  13. Gabby is awful. He gets nowhere near the amount of stick the likes of Bannan, Tonev, Clark and Baker have had over the past few seasons and is he really contributing any more than those? He’s earning around four times what those four players earn/earned and has years of experience on his side but in my opinion he’s definitely gone backwards since O’Neill left. I for one hope we don’t offer him a new contract next summer, or if we do it should be on heavily reduced terms. As long as he’s in the team we’ll always be short of creativity, goals and possession due to poor movement, poor technical ability and a lack of general footballing intelligence.

  14. Is Gabby holding Villa back or could it be that Villa do not have anybody to fill his boots ? Grealish is good but he is also young & lacking in experience although that will only come with playing time . But if the rumours are true there would be no EPL for Villa if it was not for Gabby & a few other players, who backed the club & Lambert against Culverhouse & Karsa .

    As for Gabby’s performance I’d agree there have been times when his performance was not good enough & especially the time when he followed the advice of a muscle gym to beef up and put on far too much weight . As for performance figures they depend on how he is being judged and whether he is a winger or striker . Certainly tranfermarkt list him as a LW with striker as his secondary position and that seems to confuse some of his critics .
    As for holding the team back I suspect rather than holding the team back Gabby is holding the team together & giving Lambert breathing space to restructure the team , but time will tell , and in the not too distant future I expect to see Gabby happily playing off the bench if that is best for the club

  15. Played out of position for me through the middle he can be devastating on his day, I think maybe he has issues with his fitness because everytime he hits a purple patch he gets injured then that’s it he is not as good after that. Holding us back I’m not sure about that? But as a team we can’t continue to rely on one way to play even if with him in the team it gets the best out of him we need to be able to change the style from time to time.

  16. no doubt its a big season for gabby,,, but we could say that for all of villas forward line,,,

    but,,, this season should be better,,, our squad is better,,, and if the returnees do well we could have a good season,,,

    but we need a big start from some very tough games,,, where our counter attacking will need to be effective

    lets hope his and andreas confidence comes back ,,,,, he used to win us so many pens

    and although i am optimistic about this season,,, it will be a tough couple of months and it could take us a while to get going

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