As Aston Villa have struggled with impact from their wingers at points in this Premier League season, but when ‘big moments’ need to happen, Anwar El Ghazi thrives.
The fact that Anwar El Ghazi plays for Aston Villa, in the Premier League, is rather a ludicrous reality.
As a newly promoted side following a three-year absence, Aston Villa spent a large amount of money to prepare for life in the top flight of English football. Perhaps one of the best pieces of business the club made was to sign a loan player from the previous season permanently. That player was Anwar El Ghazi.
Back in the summer of 2014, Anwar El Ghazi was beginning to turn heads in the top tier of Dutch football with Eredivisie side Ajax. Impressive performances at the under-eighteen level and nine pre-season goals propelled Anwar into the consideration of then Ajax Head Coach, Frank de Boer.
Ajax would go on to fail in securing the Eredivisie title in the 2014-15 season, but El Ghazi would improve throughout the campaign. At the age of nineteen – in 31 appearances – Anwar managed nine goals and eight assists, and managed something rarely spoken about – a goal against Barcelona at the Camp Nou in the Champion’s League.
Heartbreak would befall Ajax yet again in the following season as they missed out on the title once more. This time, El Ghazi found the net on 11 occasions, but only managed to assist his team-mates twice.
Despite Ajax’s failure to continue their preconceived dominance within the Eredivisie, Anwar El Ghazi looked a very promising player with a fantastic footballing future at his feet.
So how did this talented footballer wind up at Aston Villa? And more importantly – how did this talented footballer fall in love with the club?
After Frank de Boer stepped away from his position at Ajax following the 2015-16 season, El Ghazi found himself with a new manager, a new system and a new challenge at Ajax.
Peter Bosz took over the Dutch side, and it looked like El Ghazi was just not going to be a part of the manager’s plans. Sometimes football can be that simple. Ajax obliged to Anwar’s needs for first team football and sold him to Lille in 2017.
El Ghazi was not able to replicate the success he had in his early Ajax career, despite displaying his talent, passion and commitment to his trade and was loaned out to Aston Villa due to Lille’s financial woes.
When Anwar El Ghazi signed for Aston Villa on loan in the 2018-19 season, nobody could know the impact he would have. Aston Villa’s season did not get off to a great start, and neither did El Ghazi’s as he struggled for game time under then manager Steve Bruce. As the season progressed, and change happened, El Ghazi progressed too.
The winger was adapting to the more physical style that England demanded, and throughout the season the Dutch international seemed to just ‘pop up’ at the exact moment that Aston Villa needed him to.
No moment bigger than the Sky Bet Championship Play-Off Final against Derby County, where Anwar El Ghazi opened the scoring, pairing skill with awareness, cutting towards the opposition net from a wide position. Albert Adomah found El Ghazi with a cross, and Wembley erupted with the pure, unbridled joy of the Villa faithful.
After the Sky Bet Championship Play-Off Final, El Ghazi waxed lyrical about Aston Villa. He said:
“I really enjoy it here. I love the fans and the club. I have to talk with my agent now, but this club is amazing.”
“I will be very happy to stay here but we have to figure it out with Lille first.”
“I hope everything goes well so I can stay.”
It was at this moment that Anwar El Ghazi became a true Villan. For all the hard work, leaving Ajax for no reason other than personal preference and the sake of his career – Anwar found a home at Villa Park.
There are players who come and go without a second thought at football clubs. Then there are those uncommon players who leave an impact on the club itself in terms of results, but also the fanbase. His now permanent stay means something to not only him, but the fans as well.
Life in the Premier League was always going to be a ‘step up’ of sorts for a lot of players at the club, yet El Ghazi is rising above the notion that he has to fight to prove himself in this league. Two goals and three assists in seven appearances does not sound quite like a player who needs time to adjust.
In all actuality, it sounds like a player taking enjoyment from playing for his club with love, pride and passion.
There have been times so far this season where Anwar has struggled to have an impact – but the winger thrives of performing in ‘big moments’, and these moments come thick and fast in the Premier League.