Reports have emerged that Wilfred Bouma, Aston Villa’s oft injured left back, will be leaving the club in the summer.
Bouma, who has been injured for the last three years, will seek a new contract at a different club (where is yet known, as his agents statement suggested). The Dutch international is currently getting stronger and his recovery has been picking up pace in the last few months. Martin O’Neill, Villa boss, applauded Bouma in a statement: “Freddie epitomises the kind of qualities we associate with top Dutch players and he has been really unfortunate to have been sidelined because of injury.” Disappointment, and frustration, will be the residing emotions felt by Villa fans.
In the summer of 2005, Aston Villa were a club that had just finished 10th in the Premier League and were to embark on a season that resulted in a near escape from relegation. In the intervening summer, then manager David O’Leary signed Dutch international Wifred Bouma from PSV Eindhoven for £3.5million. This signing, although modest by today’s assessment (Villa paid just short of that sum for Habib Beye last summer who has so far made just six appearances,) was a significant step for the Midlands club. Bouma was a frequent player on the international scene and was, at the time, one of only a handful of players at the club that was oft-picked for his national team. Along with the newly acquired signing of Danish international Martin Laursen and Villa’s Swedish stalwart Olof Mellberg, the club could finally boast a defence of international standing.
It spelled the start of a revitalised Aston Villa, whilst Bouma’s first season with the club was stuttered as O’Leary’s reluctance to trust the left-back became clear. However, after an opening campaign of infrequent performance, the introduction of Martin O’Neill at the club spelled the true start of Bouma’s. Immediately, Villa fans found a player to love. The 16th place of the previous season was nowhere to be seen and Bouma was highly regarded in Villan circles. Another successful season followed in 2006/07 and all seemed good for Bouma. Villa no longer needed to rely upon Gareth Barry to fill in at left back (interestingly, Bouma’s arrival at Villa coincided with the reincarnation of Barry as a footballer;,he was soon moved to central midfielder and the plaudits have streamed in since.) Barry’s positional swap sparked a new life into Villa and resulted in a 6th place.
Bouma, who had recently been reinstated as Holland’s first choice left-back, appeared to be integral to Martin O’Neill’s plans for the upcoming campaign, both domestically and in Europe. However, as every Villa fan knows, on the 26th July 2008, Bouma suffered an ankle injury in an Intertoto Cup tie against Danish side Odense BK. Sounded off to rapturous support, Bouma’s injury seemed innocuous and not immediately threatening. However, as the fans later discovered, Bouma would not play again for Aston Villa’s first team. The announcement that Bouma will be leaving the club in the summer, will have been met with dismay and understandably, anger. Martin O’Neill, as mentioned earlier, was very complimentary of Bouma and the circumstances of his departure from the club are not yet known. If, as suspected, his recovery is taking too long or, that he is never going to fully recover then Villa and Bouma are better off without each other. However, suspicion will be rife that Bouma is simply leaving the club out of his own free will.
He finds himself behind Stephen Warnock in the pecking order for Villa’s left-back slot and may feel that his career will be better served elsewhere. Was it, some may say, necessary for Bouma to stay at Aston Villa if the intention was never to remain at the club? Essentially, Villa have paid Bouma a weekly wage of £15k to recover from an injury. There is a fine line from being helpful and loyal to a player and being too generous. Villa have, on this instance, been too generous. Bouma will leave Villa having done very well in his playing days and for that, the club will be grateful. His injury was unfortunate and reminiscent of Luc Nilis’ career ending injury in 2001, fans can sympathise with Bouma’s plight and misfortune at having three years of his career wiped out. Whether they will be so sympathetic upon hearing the news that he is ready to depart just as it seemed his fitness is improving, is debatable.