You won't believe how Manchester City stole Aston Villa's dreams

Aston Villa v Birmingham City - Sky Bet Championship
Aston Villa v Birmingham City - Sky Bet Championship / Harry Trump/GettyImages

In a tale of ambition, heartbreak, and resurgence, Aston Villa's journey from Premier League contenders to relegation strugglers and back to the cusp of Champions League football encapsulates the rollercoaster nature of top-flight English football. At the heart of this story is Gabriel Agbonlahor, a former player whose career with the club has seen the highs and lows of Villa's fortunes.

The Turning Point

Gareth Barry
Chelsea v Aston Villa / Ben Radford/GettyImages

The departure of Gareth Barry to Manchester City in 2009 marked a significant moment for Aston Villa, according to Agbonlahor. It was a transfer that he believes signalled the start of a decline for the club, which had been consistent contenders for a Champions League spot under manager Martin O'Neill.

The financial might of clubs like Manchester City, bolstered by Abu-Dhabi ownership, created a disparity that Villa found impossible to bridge. This led to a domino effect, with other key players such as Ashley Young, James Milner, and Stewart Downing leaving in subsequent seasons.

The sale of Christian Benteke was the culmination of this exodus, eventually leading to Villa's relegation. Gabriel Agbonlahor said spoke to Ladbrokes, via Birmingham Live:

"Season after season, I just knew that our plans of getting into the top four were never going to happen. It started with Gareth Barry, and then it just went on and on, and ultimately the problem was that Villa just couldn't match the likes of Man City in terms of salaries. We're talking whatever you were getting at Villa, City were offering you double to sign for them."

Financial Realities and Strategic Missteps

The financial challenges faced by Aston Villa were stark. The club could not compete with the salaries offered by wealthier teams, a reality that made retaining top talent increasingly difficult. Agbonlahor highlighted the ambition of owner Randy Lerner to break into the top four, an ambition that proved unattainable as the financial landscape of the Premier League evolved.

The departure of key players not only weakened the team on the pitch but also signalled to competitors that Villa had become a selling club, a reputation that is hard to shake off.

A New Dawn Under Emery

Fast forward to 2024, and Aston Villa, under the stewardship of Unai Emery, is challenging for a Champions League spot once again. The team's performance has been remarkable, with a win rate of 60% as of February, placing them fourth in the Premier League standings.

Emery, despite his modesty, has transformed the team into a formidable force, with only Manchester City outperforming Villa in terms of Premier League points won in 2023. Key players like Ollie Watkins have stepped up, showcasing the depth and talent within the squad.

This resurgence offers a glimmer of hope that Agbonlahor's dream of seeing Aston Villa compete in the Champions League could soon become a reality.