Aston Villa’s Classic XI

Every club has its heroes. But equally, there are players who you might have forgotten about. These are the players that we love at Forgot About Him, and this feature is dedicated to them. Next up, is Aston Villa.

This time, it’s the turn of Aston Villa – one of the Premier League’s inaugural teams, and who have had a mixed bag in terms of achievements in the division. Before the Martin O’Neill era in which he transformed Villa into one of the most exciting teams in the country, with players like Ashley Young, Gabby Agbonlahor and James Milner impressing, the club were renowned for their steadiness, yet were often considered underachievers. Lining up in a free-flowing 4-3-3 formation, this is their Classic XI.

Defender Alpay made a total of 87 appearances for Turkey in 10 years on the international stage. Photo: Tomas Caspers via Flickr

GK: Stefan Postma

A quick Google search for the Dutch goalkeeper brings up more mentions of his infamous sex tape than his football career, most of which has been spent in England and Holland. Signed by Graham Taylor in 2002 for £1.5million, Postma made just 13 appearances over four years at Villa Park as Thomas Sorensen and Peter Enckelman kept him out of the first team. He signed for Wolves in 2006 after a successful loan spell before returning back to the Netherlands where he currently plays in the second tier of Dutch football – at AGOVV Apeldoorn.

RB: Mark Delaney

Delaney’s career was blighted by knee injuries but he still managed to rack up 144 league starts for Villa in an eight year stint. After impressing for Carmarthen Town in the mid-1990’s, Welsh giants Cardiff recruited the steady Delaney. In 1999, he signed for Villa for what seemed a bargain £250,000. After achieving 36 caps for Wales, the full back was forced to hang up his boots in 2007 after failing to overcome his knee problems.

CB: Alpay

Villa were impressed by Alpay’s solid performances at Euro 2000 and signed the Turkish defender after the tournament. He quickly became known for his physically dominant style of play which regularly vexed his opponents. Barcelona were rumoured to be interested in Alpay after his performances in the 2002 World Cup but Graham Taylor refused to sell. In 2003, he became infamous for his fracas with David Beckham in a Euro 2004 qualifier – his Villa contract was terminated soon after. He now has a boardroom role at Turkish third tier club Siirtspor.

CB: Wilfred Bouma

Like Delaney, Bouma’s time at Villa was blighted by injury. He arrived in 2005 for £3.5million after an impressive career at PSV Eindhoven. His first season was dominated by hamstring injuries, but between 2006 and 2008, Bouma established himself as a fans’ favourite and Villa’s first choice left back. After that though, Bouma’s injury curse struck again, eventually leading to Villa releasing him at the end of his contract last summer. He is now back at PSV and has featured regularly this season.

LB: Najwan Ghrayib

Israeli defender Ghrayib obviously impressed Aston Villa’s scouts enough to persuade the club to shell out £1million in 1999. Indeed, he was apparently referred to as the best left back one of the scouts “had ever seen”. A solitary league start and two years later, he was shipped back to Hapoel Haifa at a loss of £850k. Ghrayib, now 37, went on to play for a whole host of top Israeli clubs but never added to his 18 international caps after leaving Villa.

CM: Nii Lamptey

Signed from PSV Eindhoven in 1994, Pele, arguably the greatest player ever to have played the game, once labelled Lamptey as his “natural successor”, but the young Ghanaian’s stay in England was ultimately short-lived and uninspiring. After leaving Villa for a brief, equally unsuccessful spell at Coventry in the same season, his life was rocked by the untimely death of two of his children. The once exciting African youngster’s career never quite hit the heights it was expected to and following his year in English football, stints in nine different countries ensued, before he retired in 2008, aged 34. He is now assistant manager at Sekondi Wise Fighters back in his native Ghana. His tale will certainly go down as one of football’s most tragic.

CM: Riccardo Scimeca

After coming through the youth set-up, Scimeca signed professional terms with Villa in 1995 as a 20-year-old, and was converted from a forward into a more defensive-minded player. However, having to compete with the likes of Gareth Southgate and Ugo Ehiogu wasn’t easy, and Scimeca found it difficult to cement a first-team place down. He left the club for Nottingham Forest in 1999, and after four years at the City Ground, in which he racked up an impressive 151 appearances, he had spells at Leicester and West Brom, before settling down in Wales with Cardiff City, where he finished his career in 2009, aged 34.

CM: Mathieu Berson

Despite his wide passing range and no-nonsense tackling ability in the centre of the park, Berson failed to adapt to the pace of the Premier League, and after just 11 appearances in a claret and blue shirt in 2004/05, was loaned out to Auxerre for the whole of his next campaign. When David O’Leary left the club in 2006, though, many thought Berson would be given a chance by the new boss, but three days before Martin O’Neill was appointed as O’Leary’s successor, the Frenchman signed a deal with Spanish outfit Levante. As of 2010, he is without a club, having been released by Toulouse at the end of the last campaign.

ST: Luc Nilis

Arguably one of the greatest Belgians to play the game, the fact that Nilis’ career in England lasted just three games is one of the Premier League’s biggest travesties. He arrived at Villa Park on a free transfer in the twilight of his career, and his impact was instant – scoring a wonderfully worked volley against Chelsea in the second game of the 2000/2001 season. However, just seven minutes into his third game for the club against newly-promoted Ipswich Town, he suffered a double leg break in a challenge with ‘keeper Richard Wright – a moment that has gone down in Premier League history as one of the worst injuries ever suffered, and a moment which ended the Belgian’s footballing career.

ST: Marcus Allback

Allback signed for Villa in 2002, but was limited to just 20 appearances in his first season, with the likes of Dion Dublin, Juan Pablo Angel and Darius Vassell often ahead of him in the striking pecking order. Five goals in his debut campaign was therefore a decent return. However, with the emergence of the Moore brothers – Luke and Stefan – as well as beanpole striker Peter Crouch, Allback’s second season was equally restricted, and he left Villa Park in 2004 for spells in Germany then Denmark, before re-signing for his boyhood club, Orgryte IS, who, at the age of 37, he still plays for now, after coming out of retirement in April this year, following two years out of the game.

ST: Bosko Balaban

In 2001, then-Villa boss John Gregory shelled out nearly £6million  for the 23-year-old Croatian – a lot of money, and a significant gamble considering chairman Doug Ellis’ tight control over the expenditure. The deal eventually proved to be a flop, though – arguably one of the biggest in Premier League history – with Balaban making just nine appearances in a Villa shirt in over two years, scoring no goals, before leaving the West Midlands on a free transfer in 2003. His scoring record since leaving Villa (and before joining the club for that matter) has been not only consistent, but prolific, with the Croatian now plying his trade in Greece with Panionios.

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