Aston Villa developed youngster Dan Crowley until the age of fifteen, where he was snatched from our youth system by Arsenal. Now, he’s preparing for a Dutch Cup Final against Eredivisie giants Ajax. 


Words by Regan Foy | @FindFoy

It’s a story that is almost as old as time. 

Aston Villa unearth wonderkid. Aston Villa make fans excited about wonderkid. Then, said wonderkid either doesn’t develop at the rate that was first hoped and leaves for pastures new, or the wonderkid is poached by a bigger team. 

There’s only a few examples where this isn’t the case, and Jack Grealish is one of them.

If you cast your mind back to earlier this decade, you might remember the name of a former Aston Villa wonderkid, Dan Crowley, who was snapped up from our club by Arsenal at the age of fifteen. Before that, he had made appearances for the U16 side at the age of twelve, and the U18 side at the age of fifteen.

This transfer wasn’t all that it initially seemed, however, and there were some issues and complaints towards how it went about. Aston Villa strongly opposed the move due to the fixed rate of compensation they were receiving, around £200,000 because Crowley was under the age of sixteen, and filed a formal complaint, stating that he should have been seen as an under-eighteen player after appearing for that side. 

As Coventry native Crowley had been at the club for nine years, Villa argued that the amount of effort placed upon his development required more compensation than what they had actually received.

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This was only six years ago.

Crowley joined London outfit Arsenal, and spent two years there before joining Barnsley on loan in 2015, for a six month stint. He made eleven appearances there, including one in a 5-3 loss to Everton in the League Cup – where he scored. His six months was cut short after just half of his spell, as he was recalled by his parent club.

The next year saw him move out again, on loan, to League One’s Oxford United, where he made eleven appearances – six as a substitute – before the club terminated his loan contract early.

The talented midfielder wasn’t getting the game time that he was expecting when he had moved to Arsenal, and his attitude reflected this. Like many other young English players, Dan Crowley made to jump to mainland Europe to play the level of football he required to develop.

Without making a single senior appearance for the Gunners, Crowley found himself moving to Willem II in the Eredivisie on a free transfer – despite still having a year left on his Arsenal contract.

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His first season at Willem II didn’t really take off, but this season, ushered in by a change of head coach, has seen the midfielder start in every game for the Dutch side.

He has an aching desire to prove himself, and to play, and he’s proving that for Willem this season, scoring six goals and assisting in eight. 

Crowley has expressed his desire to one day return to England, but wants to prove that he can do it in the top flight of English football.  At the still young age of twenty-one, he still has a lot of development left – but could be an absolute steal for any clubs that might be interested. That, and he’ll have proven his pedigree should his side beat Ajax in the approaching Dutch Cup final. 

Should Aston Villa return to the fabled land of the Premier League – should they be looking at a player like Crowley? He knows the club well, and has what seems to be a bright future ahead of him. Any attitudinal problems seem far behind him and the now mature midfielder could be a huge asset to the club he initially left to try and seek glory in London. 

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