Tommy Elphick and Ritchie De Laet are the latest Villa players to be told they will not be at the club next season.
Words by Harry Trend | @HazaTrand
The purge continues. Along with Albert Adomah and Alan Hutton, Dean Smith has told Tommy Elphick and Ritchie De Laet that their contracts with Aston Villa will not be renewed for the upcoming 2019-20 Premier League season.
It’s not a surprising decision by Smith, it was unlikely that both players were ever going to feature in England’s top tier with Villa anyway. Furthermore, the Villa boss is looking to lower the average age of the squad.
Tommy Elphick was signed from Bournemouth by Roberto Di Matteo for £3 million in 2016. The centre-back was immediately made captain and endeared himself to the Villa faithful on his debut away to Sheffield Wednesday – Elphick put in a battling performance and earned plaudits for his bravery despite the 1-0 defeat at Hillsborough.
Elphick established himself in the team during the early stages of the 2016/17 campaign. However, a combination of injuries and Steve Bruce coming into the hotseat meant the former Bournemouth man lost his place at the heart of defence to Nathan Baker and James Chester.
The following term it looked like Elphick was going to be a rotation player. The 31-year-old did come into the team after John Terry’s injury against Sheffield Wednesday, and by all accounts did well next to Chester over Christmas 2017 – a goal saving tackle on Sergi Canos a personal highlight.
But Bruce just didn’t fancy him, loaning Elphick out to Reading in January. The defender made his way back into the team, starting and scoring against Hull City in the first game of the 2018-19. Bizarrely, Elphick was loaned out to the aforementioned Tigers despite a shortage of defenders and Villa. Realising this, Dean Smith recalled him at the end of 2018.
Elphick has played ten games for Villa this year, and by all accounts was solid enough before fracturing his ankle which ended his season prematurely.
Elphick has been good servant to the Pride. He’s not complained despite losing the captaincy and being loaned out when it’s looked like he’s just about to establish himself in the team. He lacks the quality on the ball and is sometimes too rash, but we’ll remember him fondly.
Ritchie De Laet is the third Villa defender to be released so far. Another Di Matteo signing, De Laet joined Villa from Leicester in 2016 for £2.5 million on a three-year deal.
Initially, it looked like the Belgian would become a trusted lieutenant under the Italian after starting the first few games in Villa’s first Championship campaign for 28 years. However, a knee injury sustained in a 1-1 draw at home to Brentford ended his 2016-17.
Despite a couple of cameo appearances the following season, De Laet was loaned out to Royal Antwerp with Villa boasting an excess of right-backs.
But after a good showing during the latest pre-season, it looked like the former Leicester man was finally going to make his mark at Villa. De Laet performed well at wing-back in Bruce’s experimental 3-5-2 system and displayed a good positional sense along with pace and crossing ability. Then again, pre-season is much further away from competitive football as some people like to think and Bruce loaned out De Laet to Melbourne City for 2018-19. It seemed the 30-year-old’s career at Villa was over the moment De Laet signed for the A-League club, in hindsight it was.
Unlike Elphick, De Laet was a case of what if. If not for injuries and the constraints of FFP, the Belgian could be going into the Premier League with Villa as a staple in the starting XI. Then again, it’s hard to imagine him getting in ahead of Ahmed Elmohamady – I guess we’ll never know.
More releases are expected at Villa in the coming weeks with a Premier League campaign in view. Put it this way, I’m glad it’s Dean Smith and not Tim Sherwood building the army to war against England’s elite.
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