Gabriel Agbonlahor keen to put last season and Gerard Houllier behind him

Gabriel Agbonlahor may have been in the overwhelming minority in welcoming Alex McLeish on board at Aston Villa, but having endured his worst season under the previous regime, a fierce local rivalry can be overlooked in favour of getting his career back on track. Operating mainly as a right winger, Agbonlahor scored a mere five goals in 31 appearances last term in what he describes as a “crazy season”, where the sudden departure of Martin O’Neil resulted in the appointment of Gerard Houllier and his assistant Gary McAllister.

“Last year I started injured and that was annoying but it got more frustrating. It was not so much the manager, but the assistant manager, the way he set up things. I don’t think a lot of the players were happy and that is what made us have such a slow start to the season.” explained Agbonlahor recently. “Gerard was not much of a talker, it was more McAllister, but he was not very good to be honest. I did not really get on with him. When I got a chance I thought I’d done OK. Then you go four or five games without playing.”

Agbonlahor took exception to Houllier’s claims that he was building too much muscle and that it was proving a hindrance to his explosive pace, in an attempt to justify his selection policy and explain why he occasionally left him on the bench. Houllier was admitted to hospital in April and did not return to first team affairs, finally stepping down in June. McAllister deputised in his absence and presided over an upturn in fortunes with Villa eventually finishing 9th, although the appointment of McLeish signalled the end of his time with the club. Agbonlahor appears invigorated under new management and coaching staff, starting the new season like he is keen to prove a point and make up for lost time.

He has already equalled his Premier League goals tally of 3 for last season, scoring a fine curling effort in Villa’s 3-1 home win over Blackburn, a late headed equaliser in the 2-2 draw at Everton and the opening goal in the 1-1 draw with Newcastle at Villa Park in his 200th start for the club. Villa remain unbeaten and currently lie 6th in the table, their Player of the Month for August has also impressed his new manager. “He’s probably at his physical peak now. He’s rapid. If he really gets his head down, he could be anything. He’s surprised me with his technical ability as well as his speed,” said McLeish.

Agbonlahor is fit and enjoying his football again, despite McLeish utilising him in the wide right berth that was the source of so much frustration under Houllier. He has revealed that McLeish has explained the role in depth and how he is expected to provide support for record signing Darren Bent. In demonstrating his adaptability and establishing an understanding with Bent, he is likely to appeal to England manager Fabio Capello ahead of next summer’s European Championships. Agbonlahor currently has three international caps, the last of which earned in a World Cup qualifying victory over Belarus in October 2009, Capello is believed to be a fan and is sure to be monitoring his return to form with interest.

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