It’s the last chance for Jonathan Kodjia at Aston Villa this season with the Côte d’Ivoire striker out of contract in the summer.
Jonathan Kodjia has been somewhat of an enigma in Aston Villa’s recent history but is fondly thought of by the vast majority of fans. The striker can be considered a ‘flare’ player, often endeavouring to dribble past the opponent – sometimes unsuccessfully – but when it has paid off in the past he has provided memorable moments.
The Côte d’Ivoire international was one of the top Sky Bet Championship strikers in his debut season following his £12,000,000 move from Bristol City, managing 19 goals across all competitions in 36 appearances for the club. He even managed to score on his debut against Brentford.
His goals, in retrospect, helped to keep Aston Villa from following in the footsteps of the likes of Sunderland – who endured back to back relegations to the Sky Bet Championship and subsequently Sky Bet League One.
Things have not been easy on ‘King Kodjia’ since then.
The following season saw Jonathan Kodjia left agonising on the Wembley pitch as he could not muster enough to help propel Aston Villa past Fulham in the Play-Off Final. His role in this season was confined through injury, the arrival of loan signing Lewis Grabban, and the vast majority of his appearances were cameos from the bench – with the forward managing only one goal and three assists in 15 appearances.
Last season was also a bit of an issue for the Ivory Coast international, who was forced into being a mere silhouette throughout the season by now England international Tammy Abraham. Somewhat surprisingly though, Kodjia had an impact despite his playing time poverty. In 2,000 minutes of game time, he contrived nine goals and three assists.
Affectionately referred to with the monikers of ‘King Kodjia’ and ‘Jimmy Danger’, Kodjia has been a player that has prospered in the spotlight and when called upon to fire in big-game moments. A brace against Brentford saved embarrassment for Aston Villa last season, as well as a top-corner penalty against Rotherham after his peer Tammy Abraham had missed one just a quarter of an hour earlier.
The forward has never had the opportunity to perform in any of football’s top tiers despite a skillset that is arguably more suited to that league than the second tier.
Coming through the Stade de Reims youth system, Kodjia became a professional footballer at the age of nineteen – meaning that his professional career has only spanned a decade thus far. He was considered raw, inadequate and too easy to beat on the ball and was loaned out a number of times to the likes of Cherbourg and Amiens. The prospect of France’s top tier, Ligue 1, seemed like it may be a bridge too far for the Ivorian.
His successful loan moves earned a move to Angers, aged twenty-four, where the forward saw himself score a brace on his debut, net 15 in 29 and be named as Ligue 2 Play of the Year as Les Scoïstes found their way into Ligue 1. Kodjia would not join them, however, denying himself the chance to play in the top tier for a move to England with Bristol City in the Sky Bet Championship.
Speaking to French journalist Patrick Juillard, Africa correspondent for Football365 and consultant for the BBC, Kodjia’s rise in France had long gone unnoticed due to the length of his break-out in the second tier – a league considered a hotbed for talent.
“He’s the typical example of what you would call a ‘slow hatcher’.“
“I only discovered him when he was playing in Angers.”
His ‘slow hatch’ could be ascribed to the fact that Kodjia never actually intended to take up professional football. Born in Saint-Denis, Paris, the forward had enrolled at a college to study accountancy before an agent had spotted him playing and arranged a trial with Stade de Reims.
Available to be selected for three different national teams; Benin, France and Côte d’Ivoire, it was the former that struck first – attempting to call the forward up. Kodjia declined, before he received a call up to the Ivorian national team whilst playing for Bristol City. He made his debut for Les Elephants in May 2016.
Fans of Côte d’Ivoire have somewhat of an ambiguous relationship with Jonathan Kodjia, according to Juillard.
“Elephants fans quickly adopted him after his selection as he scored three goals in his first four selections.”
“The Ivory Coast had been looking for an effective attacker since Didier Drogba retired, and Kodjia arrived on the scene at just the right time.”
Since this, however, there has been a bit of disenchantment towards Jonathan Kodjia and, frankly, the entire Côte d’Ivoire side. The side missed the 2017 African Cup of Nations which provided nothing but discontentment in the Ivory Coast.
Kodjia did comparatively well at the 2019 African Cup of Nations, scoring two goals and assisting one – finding himself picked ahead of starlet Wilfried Zaha on a handful of occasions – before the Côte d’Ivoire were knocked out on penalties by Algeria in the first knock-out stage after wins against South Africa, Mali and Namibia in the group stages.
“Since 2017, Kodjia has continued to score, but the hopes of the fans have instead focused on Wilfried Zaha and Nicolas Pepe.”
“These are players who shine more for their respective clubs.”
“It’s a little unfair on Kodjia, who has continued to score regularly – but there’s a need for their forwards to be represented as a ‘power striker profile’ – and many consider that Didier Drogba was irreplaceable.”
It also doesn’t help that Les Elephants fans traditionally prefer more technical players like Gervinho, Max-Alain Gradel or Wilfried Zaha, Juillard claims.
The ambiguous relationship that Kodjia has with Côte d’Ivoire fans has seemingly spilt into the Aston Villa fan base too. Some fans are fully aware of what the forward can offer, but others aren’t too convinced.
Dean Smith is convinced, however, stating before the end of the summer transfer window that ‘Kodjia’s game is more suited to the Premier League than the Championship’ and that he ‘can be a big player for us this season’.
And that is exactly what Kodjia needs to be, but with Wesley managing four goals in eight Premier League games and Keinan Davis impressing enough to warrant high praise from Smith, the showboating forward might find his chances reduced.
With the striker out of contract in the next summer, it’s likely to be a case of needing to take the bull by the horns before January – where Aston Villa may feel the need to cut their losses and sell for a fee rather than let the striker leave on a free transfer in the summer.
At only 29-years-old, Kodjia still has a number of years ahead of him and could still prove that he has the ability to play in the top flight. He’s managed sixteen minutes so far due to injury, playing in a lost game against Tottenham Hotspur on the opening day. According to Juillard, Kodjia’s ‘rise’ has long gone unnoticed and he is eager to show what he is about this season.
“Kodjia is a player who has taken a long time to reach the highest level, so his climb has not been as noticable.”
“He is interested in showing more this season as he is a player with little experience in the first division.”
Should he not impress, or be awarded the opportunity to before January, a return to France is possible – with Juillard stating that there was in fact contact with his former club Angers in the January transfer window this year.
“Kodjia could complete the circle and return to Angers as contact existed between the two clubs last winter.”
“He is appreciated by French coaches, but other clubs could also look at his profile – Turkey could also be a way out.”
Time is ticking for Jonathan Kodjia’s Aston Villa career, and with his recent injury set-backs, a masked (worn due to a fractured cheekbone picked up on international duty) Kodjia will be itching to prove his worth in the Premier League if and when the opportunity arises.
He’s got three months to show the Premier League where that Jimmy Danger nickname comes from.