How the Aston Villa ship is being steadied by Crewe recruit Ashley Westwood

 

There is a long list of players who honed their talents at Crewe Alexandra before making their mark in the top flight of English football, from David Platt to Danny Murphy, via Geoff Thomas, Neil Lennon and Robbie Savage – and those are just the midfielders.

A new name to add to the list is Ashley Westwood, the young Aston Villa midfielder, who as a boy would view the photos of the famous graduates on display at the Cheshire club without ever imagining he would one day follow the same trail.

"I never thought I'd go on to play in the Premier League," confesses Westwood, who was six years old when he embarked on his schooling under Dario Gradi, Crewe's long-serving director of football. "You're aware of what players Crewe have brought through, the pictures are on the wall.

"But Dario never puts pressure on you as a player, he lets you go out and play. At Crewe it doesn't matter how old you are – if you're good enough, you're going to get your chance."

It is a philosophy that explains Gradi's place on Greg Dyke's new Football Association Commission – "it is a great appointment, I think it should have happened years ago," says Westwood – and as the debate continues over the limited opportunities afforded domestic players in the Premier League, where imports account for two-thirds of all the minutes played, he counts his blessings to have a manager in Paul Lambert who was willing to take a £2m gamble on a League One youngster.

"The gaffer has been brilliant with that, bringing young lads in and giving them a chance," says Westwood. "I never thought I'd have played as many games in the Premier League as I have done. I'd have been happy playing bit-parts here and there but I played a lot last year and I want to play even more this year."

He eventually made 30 Premier League appearances in 2012-13 as an inexperienced Villa side fought a successful fight against relegation. The step-up provided some surprises – the speed of training for a start – and he admits to an early moment of self-doubt. "I played half a game against Southampton and I didn't do very well and I thought, 'Am I really ready for this?'," he says.

"The next thing, you're playing Man Utd [in his first start at Villa Park] and you look in the tunnel and next to you you've got [star] players and you think, 'Wow, I'm here' and then you just go out and play your game. You don't see what's in front of you."

That was a long way from his first taste of senior football at Nantwich Town, his home-town club where he went on loan at 18, playing three tiers below the Football League.

"It hits home that you've got to put the work in. In those leagues you don't get a second on the ball, it is 100 miles an hour. It stands you in good stead – it's completely different from youth and reserve-team football. You go into the changing rooms, there's two showers and everyone's under one shower. It's not the glamorous lifestyle people think."

Westwood, who attracts barely a second glance as he takes his seat in the cafe where we meet, has an unassuming manner that matches his role on the pitch. Unlike a previous Villa recruit from Crewe, the free-scoring Platt, the 23-year-old is a defensive midfielder playing an unsung role in the heart of Lambert's promising young side.

"My job is to try and protect the back four," Westwood explains. "It helps when the lads behind you talk and tell you what you're doing, then it makes my job 10 times easier. We're starting that now; we're a real team now."

Villa have kept two clean sheets in their last three games – an encouraging statistic after 26 League fixtures without one – and against Tottenham today Westwood expects no repeat of Spurs' 4-0 victory at Villa Park last Boxing Day.

"All the younger lads are a year on, we've got a lot more experience and there's a real team bond now. I think we've shown with the start of the season that we've had – we're the only team to have beaten [Arsenal] and we've beaten Man City at home. We are ready to mix it with anyone now. We don't want what happened last year again – we want to be looking above, rather than down."

The presence of Andros Townsend in the visitors' ranks today backs up his belief in the quality of homegrown players, not just at Villa but elsewhere – "a lot of the English lads are technically good enough" – and he applauds England manager Roy Hodgson's decision to give the Spurs winger a chance in the national side.

"It gives a lot of players hope," he says, before citing the credentials of his midfield colleague Fabian Delph. "He's got more or less everything – he can run with the ball, he beats players, he tackles, he can pass, he has got a great engine."

In short, young, talented and English – just like Westwood.

Follow all today’s action from the Premier League by CLICKING HERE

Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people'When I see people who look totally different, it brings me back to that time in my life'
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
News
Russell Brand has written a book of political analysis called Revolution
peopleFilm star says he is 'not interested in making money anymore'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites those Star Wars rumours
Sport
footballAccording to revelations from Sergio Aguero's new biography
News
news
News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Life and Style
Meow! ... Again, Kim Kardashian goes for a sexy Halloween costume, wrapping her body with a latex catsuit and high heeled knee boots
fashionFrom Heidi Klum to Kim Kardashian
News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

Extras
indybest
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge
booksChristmas comes early for wizard fans
Arts and Entertainment
filmsOculus Rift offers breathtakingly realistic simulation of zero gravity
Life and Style
tech

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker