Jeffrey-Gamby Boulger believes that former OGC Nice left-back Jordan Amavi can play a crucial role in Remi Garde’s revival of Aston Villa.
On the 2nd November it was announced that Frenchman Remi Garde would be taking over as manager of Premier League side Aston Villa, after the dismissal of Tim Sherwood following a disastrous run of 7 successive league defeats. Garde is a respected figure in the game from his tenure at Lyon as Manager, Assistant Manager and Academy Director.
A protégée of Arsene Wenger’s first years at Arsenal as a player, such a bold move by owner Randy Lerner does have potential for success, but it is nonetheless a huge risk for both parties and any success will depend on if, and when, Garde can halt the midland side’s decline in form.
Garde is looked on as a bright and astute coach, if not inexperienced outside his achievements in France, but he does have prior experience of the English game from his time at Arsenal in his favour.
And it was well documented that he was courted for the position of Head Coach at rival Premier League side Newcastle before the appointment of Steve McClaren. But having never managed in England before, and taking over a team so devoid of confidence and lacking any clear momentum, it is still a huge gamble for the Frenchman to turn Aston Villa’s current plight around.
However difficult his job of invigorating Villa appears though, it should be noted that this is a side that not so long ago recorded 3 successive top 6 finishes under current Republic of Ireland Manager Martin O’Neil, and a few glimpses of hope do exist for Garde.
While Owner Randy Lerner has been heavily criticised for a lack of investment in recent years, and his efforts to actively sell the club have so far proved fruitless, Tim Sherwood was still backed this summer to the tune of over £40 million. Although it must be said that this inflated figure is partly a result of the Premier League’s prestigious TV rights deal, few could argue that Sherwood wasn’t given ammunition this season. Whether such an overhaul of the playing squad gave the team the quality it so badly needed however is another matter.
But with the high profile departures of Belgian talisman Christian Benteke and captain Fabian Delph offsetting this summer’s transfer activity, such spending looks increasingly prudent. Regardless, the loss of two such talented players was always sadly inevitable for a club struggling so badly.
This then switches the focus of their summer spending spree not on the total paid out, but rather on whom they recruited to replace the talent they lost, and the personnel they hoped would provide the depth and quality required to survive this season while simultaneously replacing the spine of their team.
Just one win so far this season at the beginning of the campaign, against newly promoted side Bournemouth, suggests this recruitment failed badly and is a damning statistic Sherwood couldn’t escape from. With player sales almost completely compensating this summer’s outlay, the club’s recruitment policy has been severely criticised in the wake of such a poor start, and the loss of Sherwood is now a fresh opportunity for Garde.
But despite being bottom of the table after 11 games at the time of writing, Garde has already spoken of his new team’s false league position, believing there is enough talent amongst his new squad to at least harbour some hope for the future.
And this summer’s French revolution for the Villans will have been perhaps the biggest part of that belief, with a new look French contingent offering their compatriot more cause for optimism.
One such player is former OGC Nice left back Jordan Amavi, brought in over the summer for fee that could reach £10 million with add-ons, potentially making the young Frenchman Aston Villa’s most expensive signing for four-and-a-half years. Upon his arrival, former Manager Tim Sherwood said:
“He’s someone we’ve been tracking for a long time so to get him is great. He’s dynamic, gets forward, has a good delivery, and is a decent size for a left-back. He’s quick and aggressive and will be suited to the Premier League”.
Such a signing by Aston Villa was seen to be fairly significant and something of a signal of intent, showing they are willing to invest in the future and build on Sherwood’s promising start.
But following the popular trend to plunder the European market for young starlets is always a risky endeavour, as Aston Villa themselves have already found out, with Sherwood quickly deciding on his arrival last season that Amavi’s predecessor and compatriot Aly Cissokho was not up to the task.
But Amavi has already shown significant pedigree in his short career, enough to suggest the high price Aston Villa paid for him could well be warranted in the near future.
According to whoscored.com, in Ligue 1 last season of all the players to make more than the average number of appearances, Amavi was the highest rated player ahead of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Certainly, the Frenchman has all the attributes to prosper. Along with an eye for goal, he is athletic and forward-thinking, and unusually for a young fullback so well equipped to attack, he is also competent in his defensive duties. But it is his defending first and foremost that will be scrutinized by the speed and rigour of the Premier league.
And despite his talents, there is no question he will need time to adapt to the English game, which can be one mitigating factor in Aston Villa’s poor start to this campaign, with his other former Ligue 1 colleagues also facing a similar introduction to life in the Premier League.
But if he is to succeed, time is ironically the one thing such a promising young player does not have in abundance. Garde will hope his expertise in Ligue 1 and work with young players will enable him to elevate the performances of his French contingent, but he needs to make an instant impact should his side climb away from the relegation zone this season.
However, Amavi has shown enough quality thus far to suggest he can become an integral member of Garde’s plans. This is a young player who has consistently performed excellently in Ligue 1, with 36 appearance last season and 4 goals, but more importantly having already established himself under Tim Sherwood, making 11 appearances this season to date, he has shown the potential to improve even further which will provide Garde with a solid foundation on which to start his revival.
Indeed, the starlet has already impressed his teammates. Gabriel Abgonlahor has said:
“Jordan Amavi’s name is on everyone’s lips at the moment. He has been superb in training – and I think he did very well in the games against Bournemouth and Man Utd. For me he is one of the best players in the team already.
He loves attacking and getting down that flank – with good pace. He is strong, brave, both footed – and he can defend very well as well.
For me, he is a complete left-back. And he will only get better.”
Such praise has helped ensure Amavi has already become a popular figure, with many regarding the 21-year-old as a rising star, and away from the pitch his interactions with supporters has also been noticed. Regularly re-tweeting messages of support and stating his intention to bond with Villa supporters, if he can keep up his encouraging performances on the pitch Garde can be quietly confident he has the making of a popular and talented player at his disposal.
Although not yet the finished article, it is understandable that in his maiden campaign in the English top flight there have been some defensive frailties. Although he has looked exciting going forward, he has also been caught out defensively, with the most notable example so far being when Crystal Palace capitalised on his late mistake to beat Villa in August.
This are also question marks over the young Frenchman’s best position, and whether the U21 international would be better utilized as a wing-back in the fast paced Premier League. But with more interceptions on average per game last season than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues (4.6), this remains to be seen and Garde is unlikely to experiment to that extent so early as he attempts to solidify his new team.
But this is exactly the type problem such a tactically astute and organised manger as Garde will undoubtedly look to address and will relish. And if he can use his experience with promoting and training young players to his full advantage and eliminate some of Amavi’s growing pains this season, then the future for Aston villa might be a lot brighter than first imagined.
As Tim Sherwood said, “Jordan just needs reminding that he’s a top player”. If Garde can do just that, and begin to elevate the young starlet to the level is capable of in the months ahead, then his appointment will seem all the more worthwhile, and Aston Villa would look all the better for it.
Should he succeed it will be all the more obvious why Villa were so keen to offer Garde the chance to impress once again, and why he chose the midland club as the next step in his career.
Whether he can perform a miracle and keep Aston Villa in the Premier League remains to seen, but whatever happens in the months ahead, his experience at Lyon’s Academy and the reputation he has built for himself means he could be the perfect manager for one of France’s brightest prospects hoping to ignite his own career this season.