After being one of the better performing players in this pre-season, Aston Villa fans were right to be disappointed when former manager Steve Bruce made the decision to let Ritchie De Laet leave on loan once more, as the Belgian departed for Melbourne.
De Laet’s pre-season was nothing to scoff at. At times deployed as a right-winger, and others as a right-back, the former Leicester City defender had an incredible number of games, and even scored a top-class goal in the process.
Ritchie would be the youngest senior right-back at the club, bar James Bree, if he hadn’t been sent out on loan. At 30-years-old, he’s significantly younger than current first choice Alan Hutton, and just a year younger than Ahmed Elmohamady.
Last season, De Laet was loaned out in January after recovering from a season long injury in his first season at the club. He returned to Royal Antwerp, where he played much earlier on in his career and impressed so much that he was linked with making the move permanent come the summer.
No bids materialised, and as Steve Bruce had started to use him, it looked as if he’d be remaining at the club that paid his highest ever transfer fee of £2,100,000, Aston Villa, for the foreseeable future.
Instead, De Laet saw himself shipped off to the other side of the world, joining Australian side Melbourne City for the entirety of the season – with no recall option. As if it wasn’t already obvious, that means that current boss Dean Smith can’t bring him back to the club – and it’s unlikely that Ritchie De Laet would even consider the notion.
He’s currently impressing at Melbourne, albeit in a position that nobody in England is used to see him playing in. Down under, he’s widely considered one of the best players in the A-League and is currently playing as a False Nine for the Aussie outfit.
In fifteen games, Ritchie has scored six goals and assisted one. And on the subject of fifteen games – the amount of times that De Laet has played for Melbourne has already surpassed the amount of games the Belgian managed in his three years under contract at Aston Villa.
This speaks, quite badly, about Steve Bruce’s legacy at Aston Villa.
He had a habit of alienating players who could have been much better for the club. Ritchie De Laet, Henri Lansbury and Scott Hogan were all alienated under Bruce, and Villa are paying the price for it now.
Hogan has looked bereft of confidence for an entire year, Lansbury has struggled with fitness since joining, and Ritchie De Laet is now out of contract at the end of the season with no desire to return to the club that could really use him in a position he excels in.
Hopefully under the new regime, players are let go if they have no desire to be at the club – and those that impress are given the opportunity they deserve.