Aston Villa started their pre season boot camp this week in Germany with most of the squad getting a run out against German minnows SV Rodinghausen and SC Paderborn in a couple of rusty 1 – 1 draws.
The club failed to announce the official travelling party before the squad departed for Germany on Sunday, but it later transpired that this was because of the shock omission of star striker, Christian Benteke. The Villa hierarchy have made it known that they are ‘relaxed‘ about the situation, and Villa fans themselves are notoriously made of a strong constitution.
It perhaps wouldn’t be a summer at Villa Park without an ongoing drama over a managerial change, or a transfer wrangle involving a star player head-hunted by another club. In respect of Benteke, fans would be forgiven for thinking “sod him…” as John Gregory once thought of Dwight Yorke as he handed in a transfer request in order to move to Manchester United.
The initial shock and disappointment at Benteke’s decision has faded and been replaced by a feeling of positivity following the debuts of Paul Lambert’s new signings against the German clubs. Looking forward, fans are keen to employ Antonio Luna’s favourite phrase, “Vamos Villa!” and focus on the players who want to remain at the club and be a part of Paul Lambert’s burgeoning project.
Filling Benteke’s boots, Danish striker Nicklas Helenius, scored his first goal for the club against SV Rodinghausen, whilst Tonev exhibited pace and trickery, new left back Luna impressed with his tireless endeavour and Bacuna headed a chance from a corner just wide. Jores Okore was the only blemish on a positive debut for Lambert’s new signings as he limped off with a hamstring injury and won’t feature again in Villa’s tour of Germany.
One player who might have gone under the radar during the intrigue and drama of the past week is, Samir Carruthers.
The former Arsenal academy player from Islington enjoyed a lean participation with the first team last season and fell foul of Lambert’s strictness when he was caught in possession of a mobile phone at the club’s training ground. Carruther’s twitter joke showing a wad of money for his subsequent fine went down like a lead balloon with Paul Lambert whose reaction to the youngsters prank was decidedly chilly.
In fact, MOMS may have been responsible for Lambert catching Carruthers on his mobile, as his twitter went untouched for a while after he sent this tweet…
Lambert, however, appears to rate the 20-year-old highly, and following a mature and successful season in which Carruthers captained the Next Gen Series team to victory in Italy, the young Irish midfielder has been welcomed back into the fold by the Villa boss and given a new contract. Carruthers will be hoping to remain part of Lambert’s first team plans once the season starts again in earnest in August.
As you might expect from a former Arsenal academy player, Carruthers has a neat and tidy technique and would be able to slot into Lambert’s playing style without any difficulties. Villa fans will remember Carruthers from his earlier flashes of promise under Alex McLeish (such as the game at Old Trafford), but the playing style of McLeish would never really have suited Carruthers since his strength lies in keeping possession of the ball rather than quick counter-attacking transitions.
Samir Carruthers thrives in a system which holds onto possession for long periods of time and Paul Lambert has gradually introduced more players to the squad with similar characteristics such as Matt Lowton and Ashley Westwood. In these circumstances, it could be argued that touch players like Carruthers find it difficult to show their talent unless they are surrounded by other players on the same wavelength who can link up and pass and move around them. Therefore, Carruthers is far more likely to prosper in Lambert’s current set up as Lambert’s style is to build from the back and keep possession of the ball.
Deprived of an obvious route to the first team at Arsenal, former Arsenal under 16’s captain Carruthers made the switch to Villa when he was still a 15-year-old school boy, and the ambitious young Irish player has shown glimpses of real promise when he has appeared for the first team since moving to the claret and blues. Similarly to Raheem Sterling, Carruthers is a tricky, skillful winger who has a good touch and can come inside and play centrally if required. Carruthers would be able to play in a 4-2-3-1 formation in any role behind the striker, and Tony McAndrew has experimented with various positions since Carruthers joined Villa five years ago including wing, central midfield and second striker.
Like Sterling, Carruthers can play the second striker role and it was from this position that he scored Villa’s first goal in the inaugural Next Gen Series competition against Fenerbache from a Gary Gardner cross.
The most exciting aspect of the new generation of Villa academy players is that they have an accomplished technique, and Carruthers is an example of the technically sound generation of players who are currently coming through the club’s ranks.
The game against Sporting Lisbon in the Next Gen Series this season, where Villa passed the ball around majestically and won the match 5 -1, perhaps shows that the club are developing players to play football the right way. Focusing on players with a good technique will make the step up to the Premier League easier as youngsters possess the ability to cope in high-pressured situations and look after the ball without losing possession.
At 20-years-old, Carruthers is more senior than Graham and Grealish and therefore he will be first in line to have a shot at the first team from Villa’s Next Gen Series winning team. It was be interesting to see how much game time Lambert affords Carruthers in Villa’s pre season matches, and if used properly, there is no reason to see why Carruthers could not be this season’s Raheem Sterling for Villa.
The Irish youngster not only creates opportunities and participates in the attacking build-up play of the team, but he has also scored vital goals during his time with the Next Gen Series Team and the Development Squad. Carruthers would join the likes of Tonev and Bacuna as Lambert looks to add more spice and threat from Villa’s midfield which has rarely threatened the goal since James Milner left the club.
The challenge for Carruthers will be to impress the Villa boss in the pre-season matches and training sessions and to show the manager that he has really matured since last season and is ready to handle the pressure of the Premier League. With N’Zogbia out until Christmas, Carruthers has the opportunity to hit the ground running and nudge the French winger out of the contention before he returns from injury.
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