Fabian Delph is one of an increasing breed of young English stars that give the footballing nation hope of much international glory. Delph – Aston Villa’s 20-year-old midfielder – appears to have all the necessary skill and mental ability to follow in the footsteps of England’s finest central midfielders.
When one watches Delph, they would be forgiven for thinking that he was a seasoned professional with hundreds of games behind him. He moves around the field like a dominant and experienced, tough-tackling midfielder. He possesses one of football’s great holy grails – a superb left foot. Very few central midfielders are predominantly left footed and Delph’s ability to use his to such effect makes him one of English football’s greatest prospects. It is perhaps too early to call for an international cap but if his progression continues as it has in recent years, we may be witnessing a future England star.
It would appear that Martin O’Neill feels exactly the same way. Aston Villa’s shrewd manager is known for picking and developing England’s greatest young talent. Delph has joined the ranks of Ashley Young, James Milner, Curtis Davies and Gabriel Agbonlahor at Villa. Now Delph has joined O’Neill’s English contingent and it seems that he could not have picked a better club to sign for.
Starting his career at Bradford at just 11-years-old, Delph was recognised by one of the great English powerhouses, Leeds. After finishing his time in education, Delph signed a two-year deal with the Elland Road club. From there, he began to impress at both club and international level. Captaincy for the Leeds Reserves and two substitute appearances proceeded Delph’s first full season for Leeds. Gary McAllister and Simon Grayson were both amply impressed by the youngster to put him at the forefront of their ideas. Forty league appearances later and Delph was being linked with the likes Arsenal, Manchester United and Newcastle. Leeds chairmen Ken Bates rejected those offers, stating that the club “does not deal in petty cash”. This comment by Bates seems to have two meanings – perhaps the offers made for Delph were derisory but it would not be fabricating things to assume that Bates recognised that he had one of England’s best prospects at his club’s disposal. For this, Bates was expected to squeeze the Premier League elite for every penny of Delph’s worth. Leeds boss Grayson knew that he was fighting a losing battle in trying to hold on to Delph: “his value is going to go up. It certainly won’t go down.”
In the summer of 2009, Delph got his big break. Martin O’Neill came calling and offered a sum that Leeds could not refuse. Bates told the Press of his “appreciation for the honourable manner in which Aston Villa have conducted their interest in the player.” Everything about Delph’s move to Villa seems to be perfect. There was no controversy over his move, something that is often expected with young players now. The Aston Villa set up seems to be ideal for a young, blooming talent and O’Neill’s intentions for Delph seem to be clear.
Perhaps the most indicative display of Delph’s ability was O’Neill’s decision to put the youngster in the first XI of Villa’s opening league game of the season against Wigan. Although Delph did not particularly shine, his place ahead of Villa’s more experienced midfielders such as Steve Sidwell and Nigel Reo-Coker shows that he has ample talent to succeed in one of the toughest leagues in Europe. Whilst this serves as a reminder of Delph’s blossoming career, it is his international career that has, and will, shape his legacy as an English talent.
Just over a year ago, November 18, 2008, Delph replaced current team-mate Craig Gardner in an under-21 game against Czech Republic. If a snapshot of a player’s career and position at a club could ever be taken, Delph shaking Gardner’s hand before stepping onto to field would be the most apt. Gardner is two years older than Delph and has 54 more Premier League appearances but it would seem that Delph has usurped Gardner’s position as Villa and England’s young and battling central midfielder.
Perceived by many to be Gareth Barry’s replacement, his left foot has been the creator of glimpses of brilliance at Leeds and Aston Villa. Villa boss O’Neill claimed on Delph’s arrival that he “will be a big success” and he hopes Delph “settles in like Ashley Young did and then he’ll be flying”. Who could disagree? Six goals in his time at Leeds were joined by numerous assists, something that Villa fans witnessed in the pre-season friendly against Fiorentina. A sublime display of simple passing, tough tackling and excellent positional play warranted a man of the match performance.
As with all young talent, there are many things that could potentially go wrong. All fans of football have seen immense talents fall by the wayside, either through personal problems or poor advice. But, as mentioned before, Delph appears to be in the right place. With the correct training and mentoring, he could easily build upon his already burgeoning career and become a future England great. O’Neill could be building England’s future attack – Fabian Delph, James Milner, Ashley Young and Gaby Agbonlahor are all players that are on England Coach Fabio Capello’s radar. With other young English talents surrounding him and one of the most intelligent managers coaching him, Fabian Delph may well be a name on our lips for years to come.