Say Goodbye to my Little Friend – The Story of Barry Bannan’s Villa Demise

bannan villa career

Why Did it go Wrong for Barry Bannan at Villa?


‘Had the new manager only been Roberto Martinez, rather than Alex McLeish, then it is arguable that Bannan’s career may not have declined in the manner that it currently has.’


One of Aston Villa’s most promising academy products looks to be on his way out of the club as Villa accepted a bid thought to be in the region of £750,000 for Barry Bannan this week.

Bannan has become a somewhat divisive figure amongst Villa fans (to put it mildly), and its hard to write about Bannan without feeling a deep sense of regret.  Along with Daniel Crowley, Aston Villa have lost another central midfielder this summer with an abundance of potential.  There is a sense, however, that Bannan’s exit is unsurprising and somewhat expected.  A divorce which suits both parties.

A large and vocal group of fans have made it known that they never really saw the point of Bannan, and they never really will.  In fact, it was becoming almost impossible for Bannan to start a game under Paul Lambert due to the inevitable howls of derision from social media sites and abuse from the stands whenever he took to the pitch.

Even if you were a loyal fan of Bannan, watching him last season was crucifixion.  Yet, how did such a promising academy player suddenly become so unloved by the fans?

When Randy Lerner joined the club, the sharp suited PR types coined the theme “Proud History, Bright Future“, and Bannan was exactly the type of player it was hoped would become part of that future.  Martin O’Neill’s 4-4-2 formation had started to look tired and old-fashioned, towards the end of his tenure and Villa were in desperate need of a new direction.  Teams around Villa were modernising.  Tottenham had bought Luka Modric and became more possession based, whilst other clubs adapted their styles and updated their scouting networks.

Young Barry Bannan had arrived at Aston Villa from Celtic as a 14-year-old trialist, and the Scottish midfielder quickly impressed the club when he became player of the tournament at the Ergenzingen in Germany, which Villa went on to win against Mainz.

Bannan began making a name for himself in the academy as a rising star, and he memorably ran the show against Manchester United reserves when he scored a brilliant hat trick in a 4-1 win for Aston Villa.  The youngster could have scored more goals in the match as he also hit the post and came close several other times.   Bannan opened his account with a beautiful free kick, then scored again with a Messi-like chip over the goal-keeper.  To complete hat-trick, Bannan slotted home a penalty after Delfouneso was brought down in the area.  United’s team that day included the likes of Bebe, Obertan, Magnus Eikrem, Ravel Morrison and Cory Evans.


bannan villa career
2-2 vs United, a performance that suggested a bright future for Bannan


Bannan seemed to develop a habit of playing well against Manchester United as he also starred against United’s reserves in the Reserves Play-Off final in May 2010, which Villa lost on penalties after finishing 3 – 3 at full time.  Bannan played in the number 10 position, his best position, and hardly put a put wrong in the match.  He got an assist as he slid a very Modric-esque short pass into Delfouneso who turned and struck home neatly.  Villa’s mini midfielder had given a very impressive performance against a star-studded United side that included the likes of Ben Foster, Rafael (United first team), Possobon, Diouf (Hannover), Marcheda and Pogba (Juve).

It was those performances which earned Bannan a call up to the Villa first team squad and he began under Martin O’Neill playing on the left-wing, which didn’t really suit him.  Next came Gerard Houllier, who was immediately impressed with the young, blonde midfielder.

“Barry is an intelligent player,” said Houllier, “he can read the game well and adapt well. I don’t think Xavi and Iniesta, who are outstanding players, are of huge size.  They are intelligent, they have the skill and the desire. Young Barry has all of that.”

Bannan repaid Houllier’s faith by dictating the terms again against Manchester United in a thrilling 2-2 draw at Villa Park.  Sir Alex Ferguson ruefully acknowledged after the match that he already knew all about the young Scot’s ability, following Bannan’s hat-trick against United in the reserves.  Things looked bright for Bannan under Houllier, but tragically the Villa manager became ill again and another new manager was drafted in to take the reins at Villa Park.

Had the new manager only been Roberto Martinez, rather than Alex McLeish, then it is arguable that Bannan’s career may not have declined in the manner that it currently has.

Bannan was not the only creative player whose career ground to a halt under Alex McLeish, as  Arsenal and Barcelona midfielder Alex Hleb memorably bore testament to.

“At Birmingham, the team played the long-ball game, practically bypassing midfield,” said Hleb. “To get into the game you had to play up front or linger at the back with the defenders to get hold of the ball, which more often than not flew right past me.”

Under McLeish, Bannan was marooned out on the wing and was rarely able to get into the game.  When the ball did arrive it was more often than not a forty-yard pass, or rather hoof, out of defence from either Collins or Dunne.  Bannan was unsurprisingly out-jumped or out-muscled helplessly as the ball flew at him head high.

Off-field problems followed and Bannan enjoyed a thoroughly miserable time under McLeish, as many other Villa players did.

When Paul Lambert arrived last summer, genuine hopes were raised that Lambert would be able to harness Bannan’s talent, as Lambert had turned other rough diamonds into Premier League players.

However, things started badly for Bannan under Lambert.   He struggled to make an impact in a two man midfield when Villa were thrashed 1 -3 at home by Everton and along with Ciaran Clark, who was sent off, he took much of the blame for Villa’s insipid performance.  Bannan then played well against Newcastle, Sunderland and Swansea but Villa had made their worst start to the league in 15 years, and fans seemed reluctant to apportion any blame to either the formation or the hugely popular new manager.

The young Scot certainly didn’t help himself.  Having been assigned the role of set-piece taker, he often erratically missed the mark with his delivery and should have abdicated this responsibility much earlier.  He could have taken a lot of heat off himself by doing so.  He didn’t.  He persisted and persisted.  Sometimes he’d play well, sometimes he’d play badly, but there remained a feeling that defensive midfield didn’t really get the best from his particular skill-set.


bannan villa career
His only rarely delivered from set pieces


Bannan was too far away from the attackers to play any intelligent balls, his passes were often long and ambitious with no attacking midfielder to help bridge the gap.  Westwood and Bannan were, at times, so far back on the pitch that they almost tripped backwards over Ron Vlaar.  The two youngsters simply didn’t have enough muscle or experience to handle the demands of a two-man midfield against stronger teams in the first half of the season.  Against Chelsea, Westwood was subbed and protected, Bannan was left to face the music.

Things changed for the better when Sylla arrived at the club and Bannan played well against Reading and Q.P.R in matches, where Villa grabbed all three points.  Personal abuse from the stands was beginning to take its toll on the player as every corner Bannan went to take was met by an increasingly vile torrent of abuse.  The player stopped wanting the ball and started pointing at team mates instead.  A big change from the boy who wanted to get on the ball at every opportunity as a youngster in the academy.

Mystery surrounds the reason why Bannan didn’t make the trip to Stoke.  We’ll probably never know the real reason. Bannan was playing steadily enough against Q.P.R. and the Scottish midfielder wasn’t just dropped, he was left out of the squad altogether from there on.

Bannan subsequently became part of the ‘bomb squad‘ and Villa accepted a bid for his services from Blackburn Rovers this week.

A sad end to the youngsters career at Villa, but I wish him the best of luck in the future and hope to see him back in the Premier League in the manner Steven Davis returned with Southampton.

Good luck Barry!


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  1. rogermalvern LeeMerrett ScottTrimble I will miss seeing Agnes (his mom) at games as always good for a laugh pre game. Good luck to him, I hope it works, always seemed a nice kid when I have spoken to him

  2. For one (unlike some on here) won’t be slightly bothered when the door hits him on the way out of VP. Never once has he impressed me appearing for the first team, his ‘Hollywood’ type passes either went out of play or to an opposition player; Scottish Xavi some used to call him :S
    Remember against Liverpool, another one of his so called worldclass places went straight to Suarez and he nearly scored and I nearly lost my voice. 
    Bye bye Bannan, or ‘Barry’ like Gerard Houllier once said 🙂

  3. ‘Personal abuse from the stands was beginning to take its toll on the player as every corner Bannan went to take was met by an increasingly vile torrent of abuse.  The player stopped wanting the ball and started pointing at team mates instead.  A big change from the boy who wanted to get on the ball at every opportunity’
     The truest paragraph ever written about recent Villa.  And the saddest.  Bannan showed glimpses – but it didn’t work out for him – I hope he takes on this new challenge and fulfills his potential.
     I also hope the section of the Villa support who feel entitled to success – and like pointing fingers – and painting banners – will also learn a lesson.  Getting on the team’s back helps only the opposition.  I have never seen it happen on away days – only ever at Villa Park – which says something.
    We all have our views on how the game is best played – and who is best suited to play that way – but Bannan showed in moments his qualities and strengths – and in others his weaknesses.  He gave it all for the shirt – and I for one will always respect that.

  4. His positioning and spacial awareness when off the ball is horrendous and Sunday League at best, he single handedly cost us games. He has the passes on occasion, and some skill but his all round team game is poor. Great players attack as a team and defend as a team, he can’t seem to grasp that and gets caught time and time again and never learnt. However his biggest problem is the drink and his lifestyle of clubbing and partying, just like Ireland he thought he had made it. He hadn’t, time for that in the summer break or when you retire, you have to do it day in day out on the training pitch to earn the right to play under good managers, we now have one so bye bye Hollywood. UTV

  5. i remember against newcastle where the ball was coming back to own half and bannan was one of the last men back, sissoko was upagainst him and  i thought there is only one winner here and Bannan got monstered off the ball. If i remember rightly it was a foul but would have led to a goal chance.
    Then the liverpool game…….he was becoming a playmaker for the other team with his rushing around trying to impress nature.

  6. In my opinion, he had great potential but so many villa fans had to fuck it all up with their negative attitude… why can’t most of the fans get behind our players rather than just boo them and believe losing one game means a definite relagation battle during the rest of the year? It really is frustrating looking at so many villa pages thinking we’re going to get relegated year after year…

    • EdisonFeederLo BT Sport asked me where Villa would finish next season, and I plumped for 10th. A lot will depend on how good Okore is, I think. Still think we need something extra in midfield. Either a proper DM or a proper Attacking Midfielder (maybe Tonev is the man?)

  7. Bannan’s problems started when Stan became ill, He became the “senior” midfield player and got LAZY. The senior role gave him arrogance trying to dictate the play, he stopped looking for the ball and stopped looking for space to receive the ball, instead just lazily lifting an arm to point to a team mate behind the play thus putting that player and the whole team under pressure. I didnt boo or abuse the lad as he wore the claret and blue, but gave a huge sigh of relief when he was subbed or better yet when his name wasnt even on the team sheet. I wish him well where ever he ends up but to be totally honest i’m glad he’s gone.

  8. Very one sided but informative piece about Bannan. I can argue a number of points though… QPR and Reading he didn’t play well, though It was improvement on his previous performances. Perhaps his attitude is part of the reason why he couldn’t make it and got put into the bomb squad. It would appear on more than one occasion this has been called into doubt… for example his drink driving at Villa, partying at Blackpool and Instagram nonsense after being dropped.
    Lastly, his final game was against Liverpool not QPR. You remember the game where he put Luis Suarez through on goal twice? And he got in the squad again towards the end of the season but just didn’t play anymore.
    I don’t think we need to dig for any deep reason why he didn’t make it at Villa… quite simply not a good enough all round player and very limited.
    I wish him well  at Blackburn though if he does sign.

  9. A very good young player full of huge potential.  Those Villa “fans” who booed him instead of encouraging him need to go follow another club.
    Best of luck BB.

  10. To me, that’s all a very rose tinted view of the little man. There’s no doubting his ability to play football. He’s got lovely technique and a great football brain but that doesn’t necessarily mean you can cut it as a professional footballer. You read in books about footballers about how, when they were younger, they were judged to have been “too small to succeed” (see Messi, Keane etc) which turned out to be nonsense in their cases but I genuinely believe it applies to Bannan. You can be small in frame but abrasive in your attitude and technique. Modric, Xavi, Iniesta; even the likes of Leon Britton at Swansea or Joe Allen at Liverpool are examples of small players who are able to protect, shield and challenge for the ball aggressively. Bannan doesn’t have that in his locker. There’s a timidness about him that will, in my opinion, constantly undermine his talents. I’m not saying the lad isn’t brave. He just doesn’t have the natural physique to compete. I’ve said to people before that in junior football he’s an absolute superstar but in the big boys game, he’ll get lost in physical games more often than not. He’s also fond of the gargle too, which won’t help him in the long run. Awful pity as I really liked him when he burst on the scene but I just don’t think it’s meant to be for the boy.

  11. Absolutely agree. Bannan could be a good player – no, he IS a good player, possibly even world class if used properly.   He has had a raw deal at Villa, mainly from impatient fans. Just watch his value soar over the next couple of years if he gets properly positioned game time. He could well come back to bite us. He has a huge opportunity if he gets on the pitch against England at Wembley next month.  Good luck Barry.

    • rogermalvern I agree. He could shine in a 4-2-3-1 as the attacking midfielder. McLeish used him wrongly, and Lambert did too. He’s not a winger and he’s not a defensive midfielder. There’s really only one thing he does well, and that’s slot through balls to strikers, but he can do that brilliantly when he’s played in the right spot and there are good defensive mids and wingers to get him the ball in good areas. And I also noticed that he had some good games after Sylla arrived and he was able to play his game. Too bad the fans were unable to see the problem was with management and not the player, as the real reason he is leaving is those “fans.”

      • ScottTrimble rogermalvern I may start another avalanche here but I still think that had he been played in the right position we needn’t have bought all these midfielders. I believe Bannan could be a better player than Westwood who frankly didn’t impress me as much as many people. I didn’t see him wanting to tackle or head a ball and he seemed to be wanting just to get rid of the ball rather than taking time and thinking about his next pass. He could just as easily become a victim of the boo boys.

        • rogermalvern ScottTrimble That cannot be a serious post Rogermalvern. I’m sorry, but if you’re being serious about Westwood, you’re just not watching the games correctly. Westwood will be an England squad regular this year, mark my words. He’s a magnificent player. Always wanting the ball, needing the ball. He’s like a magnet to it. He doesn’t need to run around like a headless chicken because that’s not his job. His job is to quarter back the midfield, receiving position off the defence and recycling possession to the other players. His ability to shield and protect the ball and get himself out of trouble in tight spots is tremendous which is exactly what Bannan isn’t good at because he gets knocked off the ball too easily.

        • ciano_11 rogermalvern ScottTrimble Fair enough. I hope you are right and I must add I thought Westwood looked the part when he came on the other day.

        • rogermalvern ScottTrimble are you serious ? Bannan better than Westwood. Do you actually watch and understand football ? If Bannan is a victim, he has himself to blame, he has gone backwards since his first team breakthrough and developed or learnt nothing. He has been played in his preferred role under Lambert and lost the ball time after time after time. Westwood is already on another level and will only get better year after year, he has the right mentality and will listen and learn.

        • LeeMerrett rogermalvern ScottTrimble Lee, I actually said Bannan ‘could be’ a better player than Westwood. And for your information I have been a season ticket holder since the 1960s and am entitled to my opinion without abuse.

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