As soon as the hangovers cleared on Monday following promotion, the Villa cull began in earnest with a dozen squad players moved on, some as instantly as the final whistle blew in north London.
Here, we check in with those that once donned the claret and blue who have moved onto pastures new…
Ritchie De Laet
The 32-year-old managed just 14 appearances at Villa after a knee injury wiped him out of his debut season. De Laet was decent prior to that but moved on, first on loan to Royal Antwerp and then to Melbourne City. De Laet is now one of three former Villans back at Antwerp having signed on a free transfer in 2019. The Belgium, who captains his hometown side, is competing in the Europa League.
The former skipper was part of the Tony Xia era, who once recalled how the Chinese owner called him into a meeting declaring how he was going to sack then-boss Roberto Di Matteo. Elphick played 46 times for Villa before being released in 2019 after loan stints at Reading and then Hull. The centre-back was a mainstay in Huddersfield’s side last season before damaging a cruciate ligament which, in the end, forced him into retirement. Elphick now coaches Bournemouth’s under-21s.
Uncle Albert, scorer of 14 goals from 39 Championship games back in 2017/18 as Villa missed out in the play-off final to Fulham. The affable winger spent three seasons at Villa Park and started in the subsequent final win over Derby. He’s now at boyhood club QPR where he’s been in and out of the side under Mark Warburton.
The man that seemingly got Steve Bruce the sack after missing a stoppage-time penalty against Preston more than three years ago now. Whelan made 73 appearances for Villa across just two Championship seasons. After stints with Hearts and Fleetwood, the 37-year-old is playing under Joey Barton at League Two Bristol Rovers.
A £5.3million signing under the recommendation of former assistant manager Steve Clarke in 2016. The midfielder never cut it and joined the likes of Forest, MK Dons and Kilmarnock on loan. He’s since spent time at Belgium side Waasland-Beveren, Portuguese outfit Desportivo Aves while, last season, he returned back to Kilmarnock. Tshibola is now playing for Turkish side Genclerbirligi Ankara in the division below the Super Lig.
The boyhood Bluenose is at St Andrews and has been since Villa swapped him with Jota immediately after promotion. Gardner made as many as 46 appearances for Villa and scored at St Andrews against City. The 29-year-old has made 125 appearances in royal blue.
The former England man managed just 31 games after he was signed by Tim Sherwood as Villa’s new captain in 2015. He’s now a pundit everywhere, from BBC Match of the Day to Sky Sports. He’ll probably end up on Strictly at some stage. Richards, though, always speaks fondly of his time at Villa which, in the end, forced him into an early retirement due to severe knee issues. He’s still just 33.
A staggering 120 goals in 333 Championship appearances, Villa signed him for £12.87million in a deal that was regarded by many as a statement signing. It couldn’t have gone much worse, though, with McCormack best remembered for ‘gate-gate’ when he failed to report in for training, with Steve Bruce hanging him out to dry. The Scot, now 35, has retired having last featured for Aldershot in the National League away at Eastleigh 12 months ago. A real shame how his career just nose-dived.
“The Scottish Cafu, Alan Hutton, the Scottish Cafu!” Hutton was serenaded on the train down to Tottenham last week on his way to do some punditry for BBC Radio 5 Live. The Scot, who has now retired, made 202 appearances for Villa and will be remembered for his ‘Halfway to Moseley’ goal against Birmingham City back in 2018.
Another fan-favourite who retired after promotion, with Jedinak back at Bodymoor Heath as Villa’s new loans manager where he looks after academy players lent out to other clubs. He is often at under-23s and under-18s games, while he also helped out with the first-team in pre-season. The Aussie, 37, is a brilliant mentor to have at Bodymoor.
The back-up stopper managed 21 appearances at Villa Park from 2015 to 2019. Bunn was, though, a massive part of the dressing room and the real prankster adored by many. He was goalkeeping coach at Cambridge United but has since left the club.
The Icelandic midfielder, star of Euro 2016, turned out 54 times for Villa and started Smith’s first game in charge in the 1-0 win over Swansea three years ago. Bjarnason also lit up Villa Park as he crashed home during the 4-1 win over Wolves. He’s since turned out for Al-Arabi SC in Qatar, Brescia in Italy and, now, Turkish Super Lig outfit Adana Demirspor, playing alongside Mario Balotelli and Britt Assombalonga. Bjarnason has made six appearances this season and scored once playing in the No. 10 position off former City man Balotelli.
The Ivorian, who cost Villa £11.5million from Bristol City in 2016, is still at the side he left Villa for, Al-Gharafa SC in Qatar. He’s scored 18 goals from 34 games but has yet to feature this season due to injury. Kodjia, 31, was brilliant on his day at Villa Park and managed 31 goals from 106 appearances.
Another expensive buy as Villa shelled out £9.45million for Hogan in January 2017. He managed 10 goals in 61 appearances in B6 before crossing the divide with that move made permanent for £2.49million last summer. Hogan has three goals from Blues’ 11-game start.
Now that kick-out at a Swansea player last month just sticks out with Henri Lansbury now at Luton Town. The midfielder had a torrid time of it at Villa Park due to a series of injuries and turned out just 53 times in four years before having his contract cut short as Bristol City signed him. Lansbury joined Luton on a free this summer where he’s made four starts from 11 Championship matches so far.
Villa’s youngest player in their Premier League history, Hepburn-Murphy was just 16 and 176 days when he replaced Christian Benteke at Sunderland in March 2015. The striker made 17 first-team appearances at Villa Park, but never turned out under Smith. The 23-year-old is now in Cyprus for Pafos FC where he’s scored five from 23 appearances playing alongside their captain, Jason Puncheon.
The Montenegro international failed to make a first-team appearance but was quite often the third-choice. Sarkic joined Wolves on a free transfer before he was loaned out to Shrewsbury and then Birmingham City where he is now. The 24-year-old has played every minute for Blues this season as he continues as No.1 in place of Neil Etheridge who’s been out with Covid.
Another Championship performer here, the former skipper was on the winning Stoke City side who beat West Brom last week. Chester, 32, moved to Stoke on a free transfer as first-team football became hard to come by in the Premier League for Villa. What a servant he was, though, putting himself on the front line week in, week out when he wasn’t fit enough to do so. Chester has made just two appearances in the Championship this season but he has been a mainstay of the Potters’ Carabao Cup side with a last-16 match coming up later this month against Brentford.
The lights were left on at Bodymoor Heath on deadline day in 2019 as Villa went about signing Borja Baston amid their striker crisis. Borja managed just 16 minutes of action before Smith said, ‘Thank you very much but you’re no longer needed’ prior to Project Restart. Last season, he scored five times from 35 La Liga 2 games for CD Leganes before joining Real Oviedo – Stan Collymore’s former club – on a free transfer. Borja has two in seven for his new side.
From one Spaniard to another as Jota made just four Premier League starts, the last of which came as he was hooked off at half-time as Villa were well-beaten at Watford two days after Boxing Day in 2019. Jota’s best remembered for his assist to Wesley on that special night at Villa Park. He was headbutted by Danny Drinkwater before joining Alaves last season. Jota was sent off against Barcelona for a late challenge on Gerard Pique. He’s now a free agent while, away from football, the 30-year-old owns the flat horse Lordofthehorizon which has run in England, Spain and France.
Bree arrived in a double swoop from Barnsley in January 2017 as he joined alongside Conor Hourihane for £3million. Bree played everywhere for Villa, from right midfield, left-back and centre-back during a defensive crisis before Smith managed to get to January to bring in Tyrone Mings and Kortney Hause. Bree turned out just 28 times in a Villa shirt before moving to Luton where he is now. The 23-year-old has completed every single minute for the Hatters in the Championship with Luton losing just three of their first 11 games.
The playmaker likened to Jack Grealish, O’Hare was given his one and only start under Smith in the FA Cup defeat to Swansea City, playing 5 minutes before being replaced by Kodjia. O’Hare made a handful of squads under the current boss before moving to Coventry City on loan upon Villa’s promotion. O’Hare was a key part of the Sky Blues’ promotion back to the Championship before returning on a free transfer last summer. The Solihull star has made 99 appearances for Cov, scoring seven and assisting 18 while he’s started all 11 games this season with City in third, three points off table-toppers Bournemouth. The 23-year-old, who has bags and bags of talent, is loving life at the Ricoh and fair play to him.
A player former boss Sherwood would sign in a heartbeat if ever he went back into management, Green made 48 appearances after graduating from the Bodymoor Heath academy and featured in all three play-off games as Villa clinched promotion. The winger, once destined for huge things, struggled with self-belief and confidence. He’s now at Slovakian champions Slovan Bratislava with Green, now 23, turning out and scoring in Europe in the Europa Conference League. He’s currently out injured.
The Norwegian played like a man possessed on Villa’s route to the Carabao Cup final in 2020. The stopper had his contract terminated 12 months ago, though, initially joining Norwich as they clinched promotion before signing on a free at Bournemouth. He’s made just one Championship appearance as he continues to play second fiddle behind young Irish goalkeeper Mark Travers.
It was all a bit of a whirlwind when Samatta jetted in for £9.45million in January 2020 off the back of some eye-catching performances in the Champions League. He started well with a goal on his Premier League debut at Bournemouth before backing that up with one of the best headed goals you’ll ever see at Wembley against City. Samatta just wasn’t fancied, though, and battled it out with Keinan Davis as Villa somehow stayed up. Villa banked £5.4million from Samatta’s eventual sale to Fenerbahce in July, with the Turkish giants loaning him out to Antwerp where he is now. Samatta scored in the Europa League defeat to Olympiakos.
I spoke to someone close to Elmohamady just last week, who said that despite a host of offers the Egyptian has decided to take a break and to spend time with his family after leaving Villa at the end of last season. The 34-year-old has dabbled in a bit of punditry since leaving while it’ll be interesting to see if he puts his boots back on for the Africa Cup of Nations in January. Elmo chalked up 129 appearances and helped Villa back into the big time. He was some buy at £1million.
Another solid servant here as Taylor walked away at the same time as his former teammate above. The 32-year-old remains a free agent while he’s since been concentrating on his coaching badges. Taylor is also a mentor for young British Asian footballers looking to make their mark in the game.
Engels completes the hat-trick of former Villans currently at Royal Antwerp in Belgium. Villa took a £4million loss on the centre-back in the summer after the defender pushed through a move knowing he was well behind Ezri Konsa and others in the pecking order. Engels started well at Villa but injuries – and circumstance – got the better of him. He’s made four appearances in total while he’s out with an injury once more.
It was a bit of a surprise to learn that Heaton only signed a two-year deal after his £7.92million move to Villa in 2019. Heaton was brilliant for the first half of that season before rupturing his ACL against former club Burnley. Villa signed Emi Martinez the following summer and the rest is history with Heaton now back where it all started at Manchester United. The 35-year-old is yet to feature for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Technically not out of contract but will be come June as Hourihane penned a season-long loan deal at Sheffield United and, with it, announced how his time at Villa has now come to an end. Another play-off hero here with Hourihane a brilliant value-for-money signing at just over three million quid. Hourihane thumped home 29 goals and made 23 assists in his 151 Villa appearances before being dislodged out of the team by the likes of former loan man Ross Barkley and Jacob Ramsey. The Irishman has made just one start at United, registering two assists in that very game in the 3-1 win at Hull. He was unused last time out at Bournemouth with the Blades in 14th.
Last, but not least, is the boy wonder Jack Grealish, sold to Man City for a British-record £100million in the summer after his and Villa’s secret agreement which was put in place 12 months previous. Grealish has quickly become an England starter since his City move, while he started well, scoring and assisting on his the Champions League debut against RB Leipzig. Grealish’s position in the team has come under scrutiny now with Phil Foden outshining his England teammate at Anfield. Grealish has started every game for Pep Guardiola since joining but that could be about to change with Foden, Raheem Sterling and others craving a chance from the start.
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