James Bree hasn’t impressed enough in his 28 appearances for Aston Villa to warrant keeping him at the club – but why is that the case?
Words: Mark Jirobe | @VillaMarkPGH
In modern times, Aston Villa are in the early stages of revamping and revolutionising their academy, how it functions and the quality of players and staff within it. It wasn’t too long ago when James Bree signed for a substantial fee in 2017, but the right-back has never truly had the chance to prove himself in the senior team at Villa.
Back in 2017, Steve Bruce was the main man in charge at Aston Villa and obviously saw something in Bree to sign him for such a significant fee. Since his arrival at Villa, Bree was a prominent player in the Aston Villa u23 set up and even appeared for the senior team on 28 occasions before being dispatched on back-to-back loans to Ipswich Town and then Luton Town. In 2018, Steve Bruce said of Bree after a 1-0 loss to Burton Albion in the 2nd round of the Carabao Cup: “Bree did well at centre-back, too, where I played him in pre-season. He was probably our best player. Credit to him. Other than that, it was a very difficult evening for us.”
It seemed as though the writing was on the wall for James Bree long before he attempted to get his legs under him at Aston Villa. After not getting enough game time under Steve Bruce, once Dean Smith was brought in to replace Bruce as head coach, James Bree’s confidence was most likely on the floor. Lack of tangible game time, being played out of his natural position and not being given time on the pitch to grow can have devastating effects on a player, especially one of Bree’s age.
Bree took a minor swipe at his former boss Steve Bruce on Luton’s official website last season saying: “Everyone who is close to me knows, once I have got a run in the team, that’s when I play my best football.
At Villa, I haven’t had the opportunity to play ten or 20 games on the bounce and get my fitness and confidence up and start playing well. Hopefully, I can do that this season and we can start pushing up the league.”
Bree has today joined Luton Town – with the fee unknown, after barely shepherding them to safety. Bree played 42 games for Luton Town as they fought off relegation back into League One, and was seen as one of the bright spots through a season where staying up was paramount to the Bedfordshire club. While only contracted to Aston Villa for three seasons, there were growing concerns among the Villa fanbase that he was not given game time due to his ability on the pitch. The term “championship player” gets thrown around echo chambers fairly consistently, but in this case, it may have at least some merit.
You cannot blame Steve Bruce and then Villa owner Tony Xia for splashing the cash on a player like Bree. Back then, Bree was young, promising, perhaps a little raw but the potential was there to be seen. Signing young players is always a slippery slope in the grand scheme of football, but when it comes to James Bree, the point of signing this specific young player never came to fruition. Things not panning out the way they were said to be a benchmark of the Tony Xia years at Aston Villa. The “Villa Engine” model that was promised never seemed to get out of the stage of merely being a lazily drawn blueprint.
Villa are trying to get away from the cavalcade of youth players being developed and ultimately released that supporters have witnessed over the past number of years now. The academy set-up is looking bright going into the 2020-2021 season, however. Players such as Tyreik Wright, Louie Barry, Jacob Ramsey, Carney Chukwuemeka, Kaine Kesler & Mungo Bridge among others are legitimate prospects, some courted by some major clubs in England and abroad.
Aston Villa are now tasked with not only properly managing the development of these emerging talents but also making sure they don’t fall into the trap door that has ended James Bree’s time at the club.