While Charles N’Zogbia’s Aston Villa’s future looked bleak going into this summer, the midfielder’s pre-season form would appear to suggest that he is set for a significant role in the side this season.
After an injury to his Achilles tendon last July, N’Zogbia suffered various fitness setbacks over the course of 2013-14 campaign, failing to make a single appearance and casting doubt over whether he featured in Paul Lambert’s plans going forward.
Once thought to be part of the infamous “Bomb Squad” – the name given to the overpaid and underperforming members of the Villa squad deemed surplus to requirements under Lambert, the Frenchman now appears to be back in the fold, however, along with fellow outcasts Alan Hutton and Darren Bent, who have all been involved in Villa’s pre-season tour of the USA.
Playing in the friendlies against FC Dallas and the Houston Dynamo, N’Zogbia was one of the members of the squad singled out for particular praise by his manager, with his encouraging performances, including a goal in the former fixture, boding well for the upcoming season.
‘It is great to see Charles come back after a lengthy spell out. It was a bad injury,’ Lambert told Villa’s official website.
‘He's come back in pre-season looking pretty sharp. I thought he was excellent against FC Dallas. I thought his goal was first-class. It was a well-taken goal.
‘If he can stay injury-free, hopefully he will have a big season.’
With funds at a premium, as want-away owner Randy Lerner struggles to find potential buyers for the club, most believed N’Zogbia’s £65,000-per-week wages would see him shipped out this summer, in order to free up funds to bolster the thin and inexperienced.
Signed to a deal running until 2016, however, with no production on the pitch to showcase from the past season, whether the 28-year-old is simply still at Villa Park because Lambert has been unable to offload him thus far is more than possible.
Nevertheless, having originally been signed from Wigan Athletic by Alex McLeish in July 2011, there’s also an argument to suggest that N’Zogbia still has a great deal of untapped potential to offer the side.
Fans certainly haven’t seen the best of the ex-Newcastle United man during his three years at Villa, but there was a spell in the second-half of the 2012-13 season where, featuring in the hole behind striker Christian Benteke, he stood out as one of the team’s top performers, helping them to stave off relegation with two goals and four assists.
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With those creative qualities which saw him earn two international caps for France in 2010, N’Zogbia could yet have a big role to play at Villa, especially in squad so desperately thin on playmaking talent, as they bid to avoid a fourth successive season battling the drop.
Temperament and attitude has been a well-documented problem for the winger in the past, blighting his spells at Newcastle and Wigan, but such issues haven’t cropped up over recent months, the spell on the sidelines perhaps serving as somewhat of a wake-up call.
With Villa set for another challenging top-flight season, N’Zogbia’s return to fitness could well prove an unexpected boost for the lineup and, if he can rediscover some of the form which earned him a £9.5 million price tag, then there’s no reason to believe that the once polarising figure can’t become the side’s talisman.