As Aston Villa look to mount a successful bid to return to the Premier League, the overarching theme of Steve Bruce’s summer dealings revolved around bringing experienced heads into Villa Park. John Terry, Glenn Whelan, Chris Samba, Robert Snodgrass and Ahmed Elmohamady all joined to add valuable know-how; but look a little closer and there is a youthful contingent that arguably could play a bigger part in whether Villa get back – and more importantly stay back – where they believe they belong.
For the past few years Jack Grealish has been the poster boy of the club’s young lions but more recently his star has fallen and another academy graduate has risen to the fore. 19-year-old winger Andre Green is now widely seen as the club’s best young player and heads a promising crop including burly forward Keinan Davis, pacey striker Rushian Hepburn-Murphy and the creative Callum O’Hare.
What’s more, Villa brought in teenage right back James Bree from Barnsley in January and have U20 World Cup winner Josh Onomah on loan from Spurs for the season, while Jake Doyle-Hayes and Mitch Clark have got minutes in the Carabao Cup and defenders Easah Suliman, Jacob Bedeau and Oscar Borg are highly rated too.
With Grealish’s unfortunate kidney injury, Green has found himself in the spotlight and has started the season promisingly, having only featured intermittently off the bench last term. The Solihull-born talent has provided Villa with much-needed pace and width on the left, either as a winger or wide forward, and notched his first goal with a beautiful strike against Norwich, consolidating his fan favourite status.
Capped at U19 level by England and reportedly a target for Crystal Palace and Bournemouth, Green has now been tipped for a breakthrough season and could well be a decisive factor in whether Villa can win promotion back to the Premier League.
Even though Green is primarily deployed on the left-hand side, he is right-footed and as such often looks to cut inside onto his favoured foot. It may have taken a while for his first goal to come but his maiden strike against Norwich displayed his ability to sensationally curl in a shot from range into the top corner. Green almost got off the mark last season with a near carbon copy effort against Bristol City but was denied by the woodwork, as the video below shows.
Green’s tendency to cut inside and shoot on his right gives Villa’s attack a different dimension but he must make sure that he doesn’t become overly predictable. Talented but still raw, Green has been guilty of spurning some good opportunities and his finishing in one-on-one situations still needs some work.
One of Green’s best attributes is his dribbling. A potent combo of skill and pace, Green has the close control and balance to slalom between defenders while also possessing the explosive acceleration and searing pace to get away from his marker and leave them trailing in his wake.
His dribbling ability and direct running see him draw plenty of fouls, as highlighted by the later part of the video above. In Conor Hourihane, Villa have a dead ball expert so Green’s probing runs in dangerous areas have proven to be a fruitful tactic for Bruce’s side in winning promising set pieces.
Another aspect of Green’s effectiveness as a winger is his crossing. While certainly not the finished article yet, Green is a tricky customer to defend against as he can cut inside onto his favoured right and put in an in-swinging ball or use his pace to hit the by-line and deliver with his left. This also means that he can also play on the right flank if needs be.
His low driven cut-backs have proven to be an effective weapon and the introduction of Keinan Davis has given him a good target man to aim for in what could be a budding partnership. However, his decision-making in the final third can occasionally be found wanting, although this should develop with more experience.
Green is relatively tall for a winger, coming in at a shade under 6ft, meaning that he also poses an aerial threat. Using his pace and movement to steal in at the back post, Green gets himself in good positions but hasn’t scored a header yet, mainly through a mixture of bad luck and a lack of composure. Nevertheless, the fact Green is getting into these goal-scoring opportunities is a promising sign and, with a bit of work, could add a whole extra facet to his game if he improves this.
Furthermore, his height and heading mean that he can win flick-ons further up the pitch, as seen by the fact that on multiple occasions this season goalkeeper Sam Johnstone has looked to hit diagonals out to Green to launch Villa attacks.
Villa have a good reputation of producing talent but not necessarily developing it and there have been numerous cases of players of not fulfilling their potential after breaking through. Gabby Agbonlahor is probably the prime example but Luke Moore, Nathan Delfouneso and Andreas Weimann all provide cautionary tales, while the likes of Gary Cahill and Marc Albrighton were both deemed surplus to requirement before going on to win Premier League titles. So caution must be exercised when it comes to heaping on an exorbitant amount of pressure on Green’s young shoulders.
Nevertheless, the early signs and raw potential are there for all to see and suggest that Villa have a special prospect on their hands. Green’s Villa career is still in its infancy so the next step will be to show he can perform on a consistent basis this season. After that, the next question will be whether he can go from exciting youngster to establishing himself as a key player in a resurgent Villa side.
For the time being, Green is definitely one of the young players to watch in the Championship and looks like he could be playing in the Premier League in a couple of years, whether it be at Villa or elsewhere.