Milner, Young, Carew; Villa had one of their strongest squads in recent memory under Martin O'Neill.
You don’t need to have your finger on the pulse of every in and out in the World game to know that Aston Villa have struggled somewhat of late.
Six years ago, six years ago today in fact, it all looked so positive.
A 5-1 battering of Bolton lifted Martin O’Neil’s high-flying Villa above Man City and Liverpool and into fifth, with James Milner, Carlos Cuellar, Gabby Agbonlahor, John Carew and Ashley Young all on the scoresheet.
But where are the stars of Villa’s European chasing team now?
One of the most respected goalkeepers in Premier League history, if Friedel was on his game, few could breach his one-man-wall. The time-defying shot-stopper played his last game for Villa in May 2011, aged 40 and, in the end, only the arrival of Hugo Lloris brought the curtain down Friedel’s seemingly infinite professional career.
It’s testament to the US legend’s enduring brilliance that Spurs’ decision to replace him with France’s number one goalkeeper appeared unfair in the extreme.
The now-45-year-old was recently linked with the Director of Football role at Nottingham Forest.
Though the England national team has its fair share of detractors, understandably so, the next manager to swig from the poison chalice can at least take solace in knowing that the right-hand side of defence is rather well fortified. But that wasn’t always the case. In the mid-2000s, Luke Young was the nation’s best bet, making a series of appearances in the number two shirt under Steve McClaren.
However, Young was a solid performer in his four years at Villa before retiring in 2014 after an unsuccessful spell with QPR’s retro, late-noughties inspired dream team.
Many blue moons ago, Manchester City’s team looked very different indeed. Instead of Sergio Aguero, there was Paul Dickov. In place of David Silva, Kiki Musampa. And, marshalling the defence with the captain’s armband around his bicep was, not Vincent Kompany, but Richard Dunne.
That the Irishman holds the record for the most ever Premier League own goals (10 if you must know) doesn’t do him much justice. He was a reliable defender for the most part, joining Young at Villa and QPR before hanging up the armband and turning to punditry.
Still playing at the ripe old age of 35, Cuellar arrived at a very different Aston Villa from Rangers in 2008. In the end, only a late-season collapse prevented Martin O’Neil’s supremely drilled outfit from nicking a Champions League place. They fell from third in January to sixth in May.
And that was as good as it got for Cuellar in English football, with spells at Sunderland and Norwich yielding exactly what you’d expect from spells at Sunderland and Norwich. He’s now at Maccabi Petah Tikvah, before you go checking Wikipedia.
Like fellow full-back Young, there was a time where Stephen Warnock warranted international recognition. Ok, he may have managed a grand total of 24 minutes in friendlies against Trinidad and Tobago and France, but the caps were more than merited for his impressive form at Villa and Blackburn.
Now 34, he’s taken to bouncing around northern second-tier regions, from Leeds to Derby and currently Wigan.
No matter how highly rated he was in his formative years, few people had ushered Steve Sidwell and David Beckham in the same sentence until very recently. The midfielder’s 50-yard wondergoal against Bristol City, however, was worthy of such lofty comparisons.
Sidwell certainly never came close to such heart-stopping brilliance at Villa, though an oddly prolific spell for Fulham midway through the 2013/14 season perhaps hinted at why he once wore the number nine shirt at Chelsea. Well, maybe not.
A budding young striker turned goalscoring midfielder turned raiding left-back, the word ‘versatility’ exists exclusively for people like James Milner. A manager’s dream, the 61-time England international enjoyed his best years at Villa between 2008 and 2010, spearheading their European push and a run to the League Cup final, only to lose to Michael Owen’s Manchester United.
A useful squad player at Manchester City, Milner’s subsequent switch to Liverpool last summer has been vindicated with a series of impressive performances in a most unfamiliar role.
The PFA Young Player of the Year in 2009, it cannot be forgotten that Ashley Young’s protracted move to Manchester United five years later appeared to make perfect sense at the time. He was one of England’s most dangerous attackers back then and ever-improving talisman for a Villa side for whom European football was an annual occurrence.
However, despite a brief and baffling resurgence at wing-back under Louis Van Gaal at Old Trafford, Young has been reduced to bit-part status for United.
One of the Premier League’s youngest ever captains, a then-20-year-old Reo-Coker repaid West Ham boss Alan Pardew’s faith with interest, guiding the club to the top flight and then helping them cement their place in 2005.
Like with The Hammers, however, Reo-Coker departed Villa amid fall outs and disputes. Then again, finding out via texts from friends that the club you had served for three years was releasing you wouldn’t sit well with most people. Disappearing off the face of the English game while trying, and failing, to kick-start his career in the MLS, Reo-Coker is currently a free agent.
It was all looking up for Villa’s ‘local lad come good’ in the faraway world of 2009. The jet-heeled forward had wrestled his way into the England squad after two impressive seasons at Villa Park, before embarking upon the most prolific campaign of his career the year after, his 13 league strikes just the beginning for a player blessed with such enviable natural attributes.
Unfortunately, however, common sense wasn’t one of them. Stripped of the captaincy after being pictured partying on holiday while his boyhood club fell apart back home, Agbonlahor can count himself lucky that Steve Bruce appears willing to give him another chance. By the way, he has never come close to matching that career-best tally from 2009/10.
Describing John Carew as a targetman doesn’t really do him justice. On his day, he was one of the Premier League’s most dangerous strikers, blending striking physicality with a deft touch and clinical finish. He won La Liga with Valencia, Ligue 1 with Lyon, and the admiration of the Villa supporters by netting 37 goals in four and a half years in the Midlands.
Spells at Stoke and West Ham, where he retired in 2012, were nowhere near as impressive, however. So, whats he up to now? Coaching? Punditry, maybe? Not exactly. He’s just ‘starred’ in his first feature film, a Canadian horror called Dead of Winter. Well, if Vinnie Jones can do it...