The Aston Villa striker, Gabriel Agbonlahor, claimed on Thursday night that he may have ended his 14-year association with the club had Gérard Houllier remained as manager. And he also accused the Frenchman and his former assistant, Gary McAllister, of damaging his England career.Agbonlahor, who was born just three miles from Villa Park and joined the club as a 10 year-old, became a hero of the Holte End during the reign of Martin O’Neill, reaching double figures in Premier League goals in three successive seasons. But he said his fortunes nosedived after Houllier took over a year ago.
Selected only sporadically and taken away from his preferred central role, he scored just three league goals from only 26 appearances last season. As a result, Fabio Capello’s initial enthusiasm for him waned and the 24 year-old has not figured in the England side since the match against Belarus in 2009.Although he signed a new four-year contract last November, Villa’s second-most prolific Premier League goalscorer, behind Dwight Yorke, admitted he came close to walking out.However, Houllier’s term as manager ended when he had to undergo further heart surgery at the end of last season and he was replaced by the former Birmingham City manager Alex McLeish.“At one stage I did think about it [leaving],” said Agbonlahor, Villa’s new player ambassador for sponsors Acorns Children’s Hospice.
“I thought if this is how it is going to stay and the manager is going to stay here, with this formation, then I would have to leave. It hurt more as a Villa fan and local boy. Luckily the manager left and McAllister left as well.“It killed me a lot. It did not help me with England. The manager had his formations and he was not going to change that. Gérard 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.I don’t think a lot of the players were happy with he way he set up things. There was too much rotation. You look at who was left out. [Stephen] Warnock, [Stephen] Ireland and [Richard] Dunne. It was a crazy season.”
Agbonlahor’s recent decision to celebrate a goal at Everton by ripping off his shirt to reveal a rippled torso was the player’s retort to Houllier’s criticisms of him spending too much time in the gym.“I don’t really think he knew what he was saying,” said Agbonlahor, who heeded the advice of his family to “dig in”.The appointment of McLeish, after he quit St Andrew’s, may have been controversial, but Agbonlahor believes he has a “new lease of life” and is flourishing again with two goals in four matches, which has won him the Villa’s player of the month award.
“It feels happier and more organised. Everyone is enjoying the training more and there is a better atmosphere around the place.”Returning to the England fold is now his aim. “Euro 2012 is still a target. I would be excited to go to those championships, but England have really good players.” Agbonlahor is just relieved to have the chance to prove he is one of them again. – Telegraph