13th October – Gabriel Agbonlahor

Gabriel Agbonlahor has made a good start to the new season and will be hoping to recapture the goalscoring form he had in his first few years after breaking through.

The 28 year old has played as both a striker and a winger during his time at Villa Park but this has not stopped him becoming the club’s all time leading Premier League goalscorer and has the record of scoring in 10 consecutive seasons. He has three England caps and some would argue that he should have been given more opportunities.

Agbonlahor came through the ranks at Aston Villa but went out on loan to gain first team experience in 2005 playing for Watford and Sheffield Wednesday before returning to his parent club and making his debut as a 19 year old on the 18th March 2006 against Everton. Villa went on to lose the match 4-1 but Agbonlahor did get his team’s only goal.
Agbonlahor AV2
Under new manager Martin O’Neill the striker found himself playing on the wing but played every minute of the campaign until the 10th February 2007. He ended the season with nine Premier League goals. In the following season he started superbly scoring six goals in the first 13 games and became a hero after scoring the winning goal against Birmingham City in the 86th minute. In December 2007 he was named the Player of the Month but he could not keep his goalscoring run going, and finished the season with eleven goals.

On the 15th August 2008 he signed a new four year deal with the club and two days later scored a perfect hatrick against Manchester City. During the season he formed a good partnership with John Carew. But after hitting his 10th goal of the season against Blackburn Rovers, he hit a barren spell where he scored only once in 12 games. At the end of the season he was nominated for the PFA Young Player of the Year award.
Agbonlahor AV
The 2009-10 season was his best in terms of goalscoring as he hit 16 goals. He scored yet another winner against Birmingham on the opening day of the season and also against Manchester United which gave Villa their first win at Old Trafford since 1983. After the resignation of O’Neill, Agbonlahor had to play in different roles and help the team in other ways. His level of performances didn’t drop but his opportunities to score did.

After a fantastic start to the 2011-12 season, where he scored three goals in three games and was named the Player of the Month for August, his form tailed off. Some say it was the pressure of being made the club captain after Stiliyan Petrov had been diagnosed with acute leukaemia but he still wore the armband with pride and it was a tough for everyone at the club and it mustn’t have been easy for him to take on the role in them circumstances.
Agbonlahor Eng
When Paul Lambert took over he did not make Agbonlahor permanent captain and the striker had a slow start under the new manager. After 29 games without a goal he finally broke his duck with a strike against Sunderland on the 3rd November 2012. Against the same opposition he scored his record breaking 61st Premier League goal for the club to make him their highest ever goalscorer. Last season though he once again struggled to find the back of the net but he has two goals so far this season and will be hoping he can make it to double figures.

The final word can go to Paul Lambert. “When you have that speed and power then anything is possible, and he is a strong lad, he really is a powerful boy. If he gets a run then you need to bring him down because I don’t think he can be caught.”

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15th September – Aly Cissokho

Aston Villa have had a fantastic start to the season and some are putting it down to the influence of Roy Keane while others are saying it is because of the experience they now have at the back, including birthday boy Aly Cissokho.

The 27 year old has helped the club to second in the table after four games and with three clean sheets so far and only one goal conceded they have certainly surprised a lot of people. The left back has added a lot of pace to the back line and he is always quick to support his winger when going forward.

Cissokho started his professional career at French side Gueugnon in the second division and after impressing for the youth team and reserves, he made his debut on the 25th May against Metz. Manager Alain Ravera rewarded him with a new contract and he was given the number three shirt for the 2007-08 season and remained a key member of the squad when Ravera was replaced with Alex Dupont. Despite his good performances, the club were relegated and on the 2nd June 2008, the defender transferred to Portuguese side Vitoria Setubal.
Cissokho Guegunon
He only spent half a season at the club and after just 15 appearances he was snapped up by defending champions Porto. Cissokho helped the club retain the title and in the 15 matches he played for Porto they did not lose and then he also played the full 90 minutes in the Taca de Portugal final which saw them lift the trophy after defeating Pacos de Ferreira.

Once again after just half a season he was on the move and he was close to joining AC Milan but after he allegedly failed a medical they pulled out of the deal and he ended up signing for Lyon. He made his debut in the opening game of the season against Le Mans. He remained first choice at the French side for the next three seasons and his consistent performances were recognised by the national team and he made his French debut in 2010.
Cissokho Lyon
Over the three seasons he made 137 appearances and scored two goals, with his first coming in a 4-0 thrashing of Hungarian side Debrecen. On the 23rd August 2012 he joined Spanish side Valencia and made his debut in a 1-0 defeat away to Barcelona. He scored his first goal for the club on his birthday against Celta Vigo which turned out to be the winning goal in a 2-1 win.
Cissokho Valencia
After just one season at the club, he was on the move once more joining Liverpool on a season long loan. He made his debut against current club Aston Villa after coming on as a substitute, however his time at the club didn’t quite go to plan and he struggled to get in the first team, making just 19 appearances all season.

Aston Villa took a chance on him in the summer and so far it seems to have paid off for them and they will be hoping he can keep up his solid performances.

The final word can go to Paul Lambert. “Aly has been at some massive clubs and has that big game experience. We have a good player on our hands here. He’s big strong and powerful. He gives you a presence.”

10th August – Roy Keane

Roy Keane never wanted to be second best on the pitch but now he is second in charge at both Aston Villa and Republic of Ireland.

He may just be using these positions to get himself back into coaching before becoming a manager at another club in the future but he will definitely get the respect of the players that are working under him and this can only be beneficial to Paul Lambert and Martin O’Neill.

Keane’s career started in 1989 with Cobh Ramblers and quickly progressed to the first team and was soon being scouted by teams in England. It was Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest that took a chance and signed him in the summer of 1990 for £47,000.
Keane CR
Over the next two years he visited Wembley twice but left both times as a loser and with Forest struggling in the league other clubs were interested in his services. Although he was voted the Player of the Season by the Forest fans he could not keep them up and in 1993 he signed for Manchester United for a British record fee of £3.75 million.
Keane NF
He enjoyed a great start to his career there by scoring twice on his home debut and then later scored the winning goal against Manchester City. By the end of the year he helped the club to the Premier League title and broke his Wembley losing streak by winning the FA Cup. The following season was less successful as they lost the title and Keane picked up his first red card for stamping on Gareth Southgate.

In the summer a lot of senior players left the club and Keane was seen as one of the more experienced players and this led to better performances as the club once again won the league and FA Cup double and despite injuries in the following campaign he picked up his third Premier League medal.

At the start of the 1997-98 season he took over as club captain but he missed most of the season because of an incident with Alf-Inge Haaland which led to the Leeds United midfielder accusing him of feigning injury. Keane did not play again that season but returned the following year to captain the side in the treble winning season. Although he missed the final of the Champions League he was inspirational in the semi final against Juventus.

In 1999-2000 Manchester United won the title again and Keane won the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award and the Football Writers award. However, things would take a turn in 2001 when he met Haaland on the field once again and got sent off for a blatant knee high foul with Keane later admitting to doing it on purpose and wanting to hurt his opponent.
Keane MU
After coming back from his ban and a hip operation many believed that Keane had come back a different player however he still managed to pick up another Premier League and FA Cup trophy before his unexpected departure in 2005. After 480 appearances and 50 goals in all competitions Keane left for Celtic.

His time at Celtic only lasted six months but he did still help the club win the SPL and the Scottish League Cup. After his retirement he became manager of Sunderland in August 2006 with the club second bottom of the Championship. It was not long before results picked up and at the end of the season Sunderland were champions and Keane was named the Championship Manager of the Year.

After keeping Sunderland in the Premier League, the second season proved tougher and on the 4th December he decided to step down as manager. Keane’s final managerial job to date was at Ipswich Town where he had minimal success and didn’t come close to reaching the playoffs and after just 28 wins in 81 games he was sacked in 2011.

The final word can go to Lambert. “Roy has a great knowledge of football and he’ll be a great asset. As a player, he was one of the most accomplished in the history of the Premier League. I’m really looking forward to working with him and I’m delighted that he’s here.”

7th August – Paul Lambert

When asked which Premier League manager won the Champions League as a player quite a few people will not know the answer to this question but birthday boy Paul Lambert did just that.

Now 45, Lambert had a very good playing career and he is now hoping to have as much success as a manager although he has found it a lot tougher in recent seasons at Aston Villa. Next season will probably be about survival once again for Villa as it is for so many clubs in the Premier League but Lambert certainly has the quality to keep them in the top flight and if given the chance could build them back up to what they once were.

Lambert has never been a stranger to success and at the age of just 17 while playing for first club St Mirren he won the 1987 Scottish Cup final. He stayed at the club for eight years playing 227 league games and scoring 14 times but in September 1993 he moved onto Motherwell for a fee of £250,000. In his first season at the club they finished third but they went one better the year after and finished as runners up, the club’s highest finish since the 1933-34 season. He also played for the club in the UEFA Cup and they were drawn against Borussia Dortmund but they were knocked out by the Germans.
Lambert STM
However, Lambert must have impressed the manager Ottmar Hitzfeld because he signed him for the German side in 1996 and changed his position to a defensive midfielder. He helped the club reach the final of the Champions League that year against Juventus and Lambert set up the opening goal in a 3-1 win. Despite only staying at the club for a year he is fondly remembered by their fans.

In November 1997 he signed for Celtic and made his debut against Rangers and three weeks later he picked up his first winners medal after coming on as substitute in the final of the Scottish League Cup against Dundee United. Lambert spend seven years at Celtic and won four SPL titles, two Scottish Cups and two Scottish League Cups before leaving to become manager of Livingston.
Lambert Celtic
He intended to just be manager but he then changed his mind and registered as a player however his spell at the club only lasted 32 games and resigned after only winning two league games in this time. His next attempt at management was at Wycombe Wanderers where he had more success and took the club to the semi final of the League Cup by beating Premier League sides Fulham and Charlton Athletic before being defeated by Chelsea. But after failing to get them promoted in 2008 he resigned.

On the 9th October 2008 he was appointed manager of Colchester United where he stayed for 43 games but it was the 7-1 victory over Norwich City that he will be most remembered for. This is mostly because he took over as manager of Norwich not long after and led them to the League One title. He followed this up with a second successive promotion and then kept them in the Premier League but then shocked everyone by offering his resignation and then joined Aston Villa shortly afterwards.
Lambert NC
He has had a few ups and downs at Aston Villa but he has brought in a lot of younger players so hopefully they can develop into an exciting Premier League side.

The final word can go to the Norwich chairman Alan Bowkett. “Paul has done a fantastic job for us and has played a full part in restoring some pride to Norwich City Football Club. He is an excellent young manager.”

28th May – Charles N’Zogbia

Charles N’Zogbia spent all of last season injured and will be hoping to hit the ground next season and with him turning 28 today he will be one of the more experienced players in the Aston Villa squad next year.

Paul Lambert will be hoping the winger can return to form that saw him called up to the French squad in 2010 by Laurent Blanc and transform his team into one that battles relegation to one that can challenge for the top half.

N’Zogbia has spent his whole professional career in England and it began at Newcastle United in 2004 and is the last player that Sir Bobby Robson signed as a manager and he labelled him ‘one of the most naturally gifted players of that age he’d ever seen.’ He made his debut soon after on the 11th September in a 3-0 win over Blackburn Rovers and went on to play another 21 games in his first season at the club. In the 2005-06 season he became a first team regular and played 41 times and scored Newcastle’ first goal of the season with a brilliant free kick against Fulham. Throughout the season he was very impressive and added another five goals, including a solo effort against Sunderland in a memorable 4-1 victory. He was linked with moves away from the club but signed a new three year contract.
N'Zog Newcastle
Under new manager Glenn Roeder he fell out of favour and started appearing less regularly and injuries meant he missed a lot of games in the middle part of the season. But when Sam Allardyce was appointed as manager he got a new lease of life and scored the opening goal of his reign in a 3-1 win over Bolton Wanderers and on the 4th September he signed a new five year contract. However, this turned out to be his last full season at the club as he had a run in with Joe Kinnear who called him ‘Charles Insomnia’. The player issued a statement apologising to the fans but saying he will not be playing for the club under Kinnear and left for Wigan Athletic on the 30th January 2009 with Ryan Taylor going in the other direction.
Nzog Wigan
His first goal for Wigan was another impressive solo goal against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light and in the following season he was vital in keeping the team in the Premier League. His best moment of the season was scoring the winning goal to complete a late comeback against Arsenal to win the match 3-2. He ended the season as Wigan’s Players’ Player of the Year and the Supporters’ Player of the Year. After almost leaving the club in the summer he decided to stay and was even better by finishing the season as the club’s top scorer with 10 goals in all competitions, which included five goals in the last six games that once again kept them in the Premier League. Chairman Dave Whelan knew N’Zogbia was going to leave and said. “We can’t keep him if a big club comes in for him and he does deserve a big club because he’s that kind of quality player. He’s such a great player and we are such a small club, sometimes we don’t go together.”

On the 15th July he joined Aston Villa for £9.5 million but he hasn’t quite reached his potential yet for the club and has only scored six times in 58 games but will be hoping after missing all the 2013-14 season, he is hoping better things are on the horizon.
Nzog AV
The final word can go to his teammate at both Newcastle and Aston Villa Shay Given. “We saw at Wigan how good a player Charles is with his goals and the way he causes problems for defences. I know the Villa fans haven’t seen it yet but if they give him time I am sure they will soon see the best of N’Zogbia”.

20th April – Shay Given

It might be getting towards the end of his career and him looking for the next step into coaching but nobody can deny he has been one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League era.

Shay Given is 38 today and has been one of the most respected players in the Premier League because of his wonderful performances and his consistency. Most recognisable for his time at Newcastle United some people may have been surprised that he in fact started his career at Blackburn Rovers and enjoyed a very successful loan spell at rivals Sunderland. He played 17 games for the club keeping 12 clean sheets and helped them to win promotion to the Premier League as champions.

Newly appointed Newcastle manager Kenny Dalglish knew Given from his time at Blackburn and spent £1.5 million to bring the Irish man back to the North East. It did not take him long to establish himself as first choice ahead of Pavel Srnicek, Shaka Hislop and Steve Harper and helped the club reach the final of the FA Cup which they lost 2-0.

Arguably his best year was the 2001-02 season as Newcastle under Bobby Robson emerged as surprise title contenders and ended the season in fourth place. Personally it was a great year for himself as he was selected in the PFA team of the year and knew that he would be competing in the Champions League the next season. And during this season he was involved in one of the best comebacks ever as Newcastle lost their first three group games but still managed to qualify for the next round after beating Feyenoord 3-2 in a dramatic final match. He did not miss a single Premier League game either as the club went one better and finished third in the table.
Given Newcastle
The next few seasons he continued to be as consistent as ever and was constantly linked with moves away from the club to teams that were regularly competing in Europe. Unfortunately by the time Given left Newcastle they were a shadow of the team he played for under Bobby Robson and wanted to leave the club. He joined Manchester City in January 2009 just 34 games away from breaking Newcastle’s appearance record.
Given City
He quickly established himself as first choice at City and in his first full season at the club he performed very well and produced one of the best penalty saves ever against Chelsea’s Frank Lampard. During the season he was voted as the Premier League goalkeeper of the noughties and received a lot of praise from his then manager Roberto Mancini: “I have been impressed with Shay Given, who is one of the five best goalkeepers in the world.”

A dislocated shoulder meant he lost his place at City and could not win it back so he left the club for Aston Villa. He was Alex McLeish’s first signing and he was looking forward to working with the keeper. “Everybody who was watched him perform will know his pedigree. He’s a real competitor and a world class keeper.”
Given Villa
Everyone that has worked with him regards him as one of the best and in a recent loan spell at Middlesbrough he proved that he is still very capable when called upon, keeping 10 cleans sheets in 16 league games.

He is currently temporary assistant to Paul Lambert and is embarking on a new stage in his career. But the final word can go to Sir Bobby Robson: “I think Shay is in the top five Premier League goalkeepers. He really is top class. He’s got great agility, great courage and he anticipates well. He’s a terrific boy to work with.”

12th April – Grant Holt

Not many English players have played in Singapore and had a loan spell in Australia but that is exactly what Grant Holt did in his early career.

Holt had a difficult start to his career with him thinking that after his time away in these countries he was going to get a full time contract at Carlisle United, however things did not pan out and he fell into non league football where he was a good goal scorer and was linked with moves to a number of Football League clubs.

Sheffield Wednesday were the ones that took a chance on him but after only 30 games and not getting enough game time to show his potential he joined Rochdale where his career finally took off. His record in League 2 was phenomenal and it alerted the attentions of bigger clubs in higher divisions and the 42 goals in 83 games convinced Nottingham Forest to pay £300,000 for his services.
Holt Forest
After scoring on his debut he had an up and down time at the club where one season he finished as the top scorer with 18 goals even though he spent a lot of the time on the bench. But in his other seasons he was not prolific and ended up joining Blackpool on loan which was a surprise as they were in the Championship at the time. Once again in the summer he was linked with moves away and eventually he joined Shrewsbury Town for a club record fee of £170,000.
Holt Shrewsbury
He scored on his debut for the fourth time and then a few weeks later scored five in a cup game against Wycombe Wanderers proving that the fee they paid for him was definitely worth it. His work rate and determination was also vital as he finished the season with 28 goals and this led to him linked with another move and the player was desperate to get another chance in the higher leagues.

Norwich City came calling in the summer of 2009 and he very quickly established himself as one of the best strikers in League 1 and under Paul Lambert became the club captain. On Boxing Day he scored his 20th goal of an impressive season and ended as the Norwich Player of the Season and winning promotion to the Championship. Many predicted that Norwich would be ok in the Championship but felt that maybe they did not have enough quality to do much more than survive. But they more than just surpassed expectations and secured a second consecutive promotion with Holt scoring 23 goals and being nominated as the Championship Player of the Year.
Holt Norwich
Surely the Premier League would be a step too far for the man that was only a part time player to begin with. But 15 goals later and Norwich comfortably staying in the top division he was heavily linked with an England call up that should have happened.

Holt spent another season with Norwich which was a little more difficult then moved to Wigan Athletic to try and help them get promoted back to the Premier League. He has since joined Aston Villa on loan and is helping them avoid relegation.

The final word can go to his current manager Paul Lambert who commented on his time at Norwich: “He scored goal after goal and became a big, big player and he probably never really got the credit he deserved for what he did at the club.”