Aston Villa youngsters Gary Gardner and Callum Robinson have hailed the influence of captain Ron Vlaar on the club, after the 29-year-old’s star performances for the Netherlands at the World Cup.
While his side ultimately fell to Argentina on penalties in the semi-finals, with Vlaar missing the first spot-kick of the shootout, the defender’s displays have earned him rave reviews. Rio Ferdinand even labeled him the best centre-back of the tournament on Twitter.
Vlaar has been immense. Best CB performance of the tournament so far for me.— Rio Ferdinand (@rioferdy5) July 9, 2014
Taking on the Villa captaincy just months after signing from Feyenood in August 2012, the Dutchman’s veteran leadership has been vital to the inexperienced squad’s efforts to stave off relegation in consecutive seasons, as the sole consistent performer on an unreliable backline.
With uncertainty now surrounding his future at the club, following reported interest from Manchester United and Queens Park Rangers, the injury-hit Gardner has moved to label Vlaar one of the biggest inspirations on his career thus far, as he bids to make a comeback after two lost seasons.
"Ron is just an inspiration. He's the most dedicated footballer I've ever met," he said. "He has done brilliantly in the World Cup but, in all honesty, I expected that because of his attitude. He's the first one in at the training ground and he's the last one to leave. He's a brilliant captain.
"On the pitch, he's always solid as a rock. I have had my injuries and so has he. He has always put an arm around me at the training ground. He's always been asking how I was getting on, how I was feeling mentally, asking if there was anything he could do. That's the measure of the man."
Fellow academy product Robinson, who successfully broke into the first-team squad towards the end of last season, also backed up Gardner’s words, describing Vlaar as the sort of professional he aspires to be.
"It's been great watching Ron play so well in the World Cup. It's so strange to think I train with him and then I'm seeing him play in the biggest ever tournament," he said.
"He's undoubtedly the most professional player I have ever worked with. He's so focused."
With both Gardner and Robinson recently signing new two-year deals with Villa, the pair will be hoping that they can count on their star skipper being around to mentor them past this summer, ahead of what is set to be another challenging campaign for the financial stricken club.