Making his Marc again! Villa youngster Albrighton ready to shine after two years on hold
22:35 GMT, 12 October 2012
Being 'the next anybody' isn't easy, not least when what determines whether you fulfill that promise is taken out of your hands.
Marc Albrighton was one such lazy, hastily written headline, a right-sided midfielder with balls in his brain as well as at his feet, and his youthful exuberance electrified the last days of Martin O'Neill's reign as Aston Villa manager.
Equally adept at taking on seasoned professionals as he was delivering crosses with venom, his rise coincided with the last days of David Beckham’s time in the England squad. We had, it seemed, a potential replacement.
Rising: Marc Albrighton can still achieve the big future predicted for him
That was a little over two years ago.
Since then, Albrighton has worked under three different permanent managers, plus two more in a caretaker role. He has also suffered appendicitis and, most recently, broken his foot.
In much the same way Villa have slipped from the elite since O’Neill’s departure, Albrighton, too, has been forced to swim upstream against the misfortune of injury and a club trying and everything and anything to arrest a slide.
‘Five years ago I would have taken this situation I am in now, without doubt,’ the 22-year-old told Sportsmail. ‘But now, looking at it, with what’s happened, without injury it could have been whole let better.’
Does he get frustrated when he sees other players five years younger than him, given a good run at the top
Albrighton, speaking to promote Just Play, a scheme set up by Mars and The FA to get more adults into football, doesn’t think so.
‘Someone like Raheem Sterling has had a fantastic start with Liverpool and getting his just deserves. Alex [Oxlade-Chamberlain], too, is progressing great.
‘Yes, I’ve been held back and that could have been me. But I’ve got plenty of years left in me and it starts now, putting in a good season and perhaps that notice might come.
‘Maybe there is annoyance. But I’m only 22, so hopefully I can progress in the next few years.’
Progress is the buzz word around the Villa Park at the moment, not least for Albrighton, who is seizing the fresh start with both hands.
Indeed mere harmony would be considered a step in the right direction at a club whose slump in form was as alarming as it was sudden. The terraces were unhappy places to be, and Alex McLeish was shown the door at the end of the most disappointing campaign a generation can remember.
Diving in: Albrighton dispossesses Gareth Bale
For a born-and-bred Brummie like Albrighton it was an unedifying experience to be a part of, as uncomfortable as the gym sessions he was powering himself though in a bid to lend his hand to the fight.
‘Last year was difficult for all of us,’ he says. ‘But we’re fresh now, a clean slate, no relegation battle, and we can enjoy it.
‘The second half of last season, it was pure war going into every game and it took its toll on some of our performances.
‘It isn’t just because I am a local lad, no pro wants to get relegated, it’s not good to have on your CV. I don’t want to hear people attach “relegated with Aston Villa” to my name, it’s not nice.
‘As a local lad, sure, I have people around me, friends, family getting at me. But at the same time, when it is going well they are in my ear telling me how how happy they are for us all. So it works both ways.
Communication: As a local lad Albrighton is well known around the town
‘You have to take the rough with the
smooth in football, don’t get too high when you’re going well, and not
too low when things are against you.’
Villa avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth, changes were made and the clean slate was provided by Paul Lambert.
Albrighton, though, had to wait his
turn due to the foot injury he trained on for the best part of a week
before realising it was broken.
‘With a new manager you have to impress, you got to show him what you’re capable of,’ the fit-again midfielder explains. ‘I’ve been through it before – it isn’t a simple process, but I am used to doing things this way.
‘That said, you have to stick to the game that got me to where I am now. It’s a mixed bag of emotions and how to play it.’
Exciting: Albrighton revealed the players are thrilled to have Paul Lambert at the helm
And how has Lambert himself played it
Albrighton adds: ‘Paul has done brilliant in his career and it excites all of us, not just the young, but the older players also.
‘It is fantastic, an honour, to say our manager and reserve team manager have won the European Cup, so we’re bound to learn something from these guys. It passes on a good vibe, too.
‘He’s not bought his medal in yet! But he joins in a few sessions and you can see the touch is still there. It’s only his pace that’s not there. He reckons he had me in his pocket the other day, and that was good fun.’
Fun. Certainly not like the last two years. But being ‘the next anybody’ never is. Now if only Albrighton can be the next, well, Marc Albrighton.
Mars and The FA are offering a week of free Just Play sessions across the country from October 8. Search online for Just Play or click here…