Henri Lansbury has not had the easiest of times at Aston Villa since signing under Steve Bruce – but he has found a way to re-invent himself after a year under Dean Smith.
Words: Regan Foy | @findfoy
Henri Lansbury’s value was never higher than when he joined Aston Villa in January of 2017. In the Sky Bet Championship, he was a feared midfielder with a knack for scoring goals and wore the captain’s armband at Nottingham Forest to an almost iconic level for outsiders and casual observers.
His signing at Aston Villa was welcomed as a prominent signing – an experienced Sky Bet Championship midfielder that would add a new dynamic to a post-Sherwood side. However, it was the other midfielder signed in that window, Conor Hourihane, who has made a bigger impact.
With a £3,000,000 price tag, Lansbury landed at B6 with a reputation to uphold, but in 18 games in his opening season, struggled to make an adequate impression.
The following season, his first full season at the club, Henri would go on to make fewer appearances, 11 in fact, as the midfielder grappled with fitness issues. Games were scattered across months, with large gaps in between. August and September saw Lansbury play regularly before he was sidelined until December, and then again until March.
Perhaps the most memorable moment of that season was his well-worked equaliser against Leeds United on the first day of December.
It would get worse. In his third season of a five-year contract, Lansbury managed just five appearances in all competitions under a mix of Steve Bruce and Dean Smith, including an eight-minute showing in Aston Villa’s 4-2 win against Birmingham City, as the midfielder was subbed on and off after just two touches of the ball due to a pulled hamstring.
Dean Smith has perpetually been fond of Henri Lansbury as a player since his arrival as manager. Speaking this summer, the Aston Villa boss said:
“Henri is a really good player. The problem is he has been hampered by injuries.
“I told him he needed to go and look after himself in the summer and come back fighting fit and he has certainly done that.
“He has come back, got his body right, his head right and is in a really good place at the moment.”
It is likely this fondness that has kept Henri Lansbury at the club in the Premier League after interest from other clubs in the summer. It also helps that the former Nottingham Forest man is fondly thought of in the dressing room, and like Dean Smith said during his Play-Off Final speech – every player had a role to play in the promotion – even those that were not necessarily getting minutes on the pitch.
A fond fashionista, Lansbury can be seen on social media adorned in trends that most fans would consider a little ‘out there’ and has been the butt of a number of his team-mates jokes via Instagram stories and the like. To most, that’s not worth noting – but for the players, it likely provides a small outlet.
Back in 2008, the midfielder was lauded by The Guardian as a future England international alongside former Aston Villa players Nathan Delfueneso and Fabian Delph (at least they got one of them right). It just seems like his career has followed the route of a number of other players, touted for big things but never quite reaching them.
Speaking to Nottingham Forest writer Lee Clarke, from ‘Seat Pitch’ allowed for a deeper perspective on Lansbury:
“He suffered with a lot of injuries at Forest but had bags of potential and would have probably played under a lot of our more recent managers.”
“He may not have ever become a Forest ‘great’ but his quality warranted him playing in at least one successful side at the City Ground”
“In his prime, he was brilliant when he was played in his proper central midfielder position and not asked to play like a defensive midfielder.”
“He has the ability to cut it in the Premier League, he simply needs the opportunity to showcase his talent. He can dictate games and get the creative players onto the ball.”
After recently turning 29, Henri is now into the final two years of his Aston Villa contract and has found his game time moderately limited in the Premier League; but not through injury, rather the club’s new-found quality in depth in the centre of the park. The likes of Douglas Luiz, Marvelous Nakamba, Jack Grealish, Conor Hourihane and John McGinn are all likely to be picked ahead of the former Arsenal academy graduate.
Since promotion, he has managed 23 minutes in the league. 10 came against former club Arsenal, and 13 came against Crystal Palace – where he would have walked away with a goal if it was not for Kevin Friend and the Video Assistant Referee. He has, however, been a regular on the bench.
The midfielder has been allowed the opportunity to re-invent himself this season under Dean Smith as a suave Carabao Cup magician, making himself the talking point of two out of three of Aston Villa’s games in the competition and helping the side progress to the quarter-final.
With five assists across just two games, Lansbury has been allowed to work his way back into the thoughts of fans and will surely be pressuring Dean Smith to award him more time in the Premier League too.
Three of these assists came against Crewe Alexandra in a 6-1 rout at the Gresty Road Stadium; where the midfielder ran into space and pulled the goalkeeper out of his net before squaring to Conor Hourihane, played a short(ish) corner to Guilbert who curled a shot into the top right corner and flicked a mouthwatering back heel ball into a central position for Jack Grealish to slot home.
Two were picked up in a Man of the Match performance against fellow Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers, as the former ‘sick note’ of the squad played a delicious nutmeg through to Anwar El Ghazi for the first goal, before firing a weighty pass towards the near post for Ahmed Elmohamady to bury to provide Aston Villa’s route into the last eight.
For Lansbury, the Carabao Cup is rendering a route back into a larger role at Aston Villa and a chance to play a major part in obtaining some silverware. His reinvention as this cup maestro, whilst creating perhaps lofty expectations from the midfielder, has been a welcome one for the vast majority of Aston Villa supporters.