Gabriel Agbonlahor has not forgotten the bitter disappointment of Aston Villa’s League Cup final defeat in 2010. What he does not remember, though, is what happened to his runners-up medal that day.
“I don’t keep runners-up medals,” said Agbonlahor, the only survivor of that Villa team returning to Wembley for Saturday’s FA Cup final. “I don’t know where that is now – it is probably still at Wembley in the trees somewhere!”
If that is a cue for souvenir hunters to set up camp in the Wembley shrubbery should Villa lose this weekend, for Agbonlahor it is an added incentive to beat Arsenal and make up for that 2-1 loss against Manchester United.
“If you look back at that game we were cheated,” said the 28-year-old, recalling referee Phil Dowd’s decision not to send off Nemanja Vidic after he had fouled Agbonlahor for the early penalty with which James Milner gave Villa the lead.
“Every Villa fan or every person who watched the game would agree it should have been a red card. If it was the other way about our defender would have been sent off. That cost us the game. [The then manager] Martin O’Neill was seething and rightly so.”
That defeat was the beginning of the end of O’Neill’s reign and Agbonlahor still wonders what might have happened had they won that final – or qualified for the Champions League during the three consecutive seasons when they finished sixth.
“If we’d finished fourth in one of those seasons it would be a different story today,” he said. Instead, as he notes, they suffered the loss of key men such as Gareth Barry and Ashley Young and, as a local boy with a young son in the Villa academy, Agbonlahor knows just how the last few years spent fighting relegation have felt for the club’s supporters.
He remembers occasions when he “did not want to leave the house” after a run of bad results, adding: “There’ve been times where you look and think, ‘Fuck’. It’s not a nice feeling at all. Birmingham is a city where you hear people saying, ‘This isn’t good enough’, and you do agree with them.
“With the size of the club, we shouldn’t be where we have been, but look at the amount of real quality players we have lost in that period. You can’t afford to do that.
“As a Villa fan, it’s hard for me to take as well. Even this season it’s been scary at times, the thought of a football club like this going down [and] good people losing their jobs. As a club we need to start sorting that out in the summer and then get this club back to where they deserve to be.”
For Agbonlahor, a cup triumph would be “for the fans”, rather than Randy Lerner, who will step down as chairman this summer whatever happens to the ownership of the club – and Villa’s longest-serving player is hopeful it would provide a catalyst for better times.
“Hopefully, this is a start,” he said. “If everything is positive in the FA Cup final, hopefully in pre-season we can bring in new players to help this club improve. I can tell already with this new manager [Tim Sherwood] that we won’t be in this [league] position again because after every game if we don’t play well he tells us. If we do play well he keeps our feet on the ground.”
It remains to be seen whether Agbonlahor will start, given teenager Jack Grealish’s nerveless display roving behind Christian Benteke in the semi-final against Liverpool, a game he missed with a hamstring injury.
Agbonlahor admits his game is not about dribbling but quick, direct running. However, the one-time England forward – he has three senior caps – has had to settle for a mostly left-sided role in recent years.
“If I’d said I’d only want to play as a striker I wouldn’t have played for five seasons,” he said. “We’ve got big Christian coming in and doing well. It has been hard over the seasons but you can’t be fussy nowadays.”
Well, at least not until it comes to his Wembley medals.Reuse content