RJ Sepich is an ardent Aston Villa and USMNT Supporter. Sepich is the Sports Editor at The Pitt News, the daily student newspaper at the University of Pittsburgh. This is RJ’s first piece for TSG.
Like many Aston Villa fans and players, Villa midfielder Barry Bannan was probably happy to see the end of a miserable season for the West Midlands side. It was the worst Premiership campaign ever for Villa, who just skirted relegation while finishing a not-so-respectable 16th.
Up next for the Scottish international is a trip to the States for a friendly with the US, and Bannan is likely welcoming the trip.
The diminutive Bannan—all of 5’7’’—struggled to get into Alex McLeish’s defensive-minded side at Villa this season. On the national scene though, he still managed to impress for Scotland during the run-in of their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign. In September, in his first competitive start for his country, Bannan assisted on the only goal of a 1-0 victory over Lithuania and his man-of-the-match performance led several pundits to declare him the future star of Scottish football.
He finished off the qualifying campaign with back-to-back starts against Lichtenstein and Spain as Scotland narrowly missed out on the playoffs after a 3-1 defeat to the defending European and World Champions. The now 22-year-old held his own against a Spanish midfield comprised of Barcelona’s Xavi and Manchester City’s David Silva, using the skills he learned in his earlier years at the same Aston Villa academy that has recently produced the likes of Chelsea’s Gary Cahill, Sunderland’s Craig Gardner, and a handful of other young Villa players such as Gabriel Agbonlahor, Marc Albrighton and Ciaran Clark.
Barry Bannan’s youth career began at Celtic, but he then joined Villa’s well-known academy system on a trial at 14-years-old. The Scot spent the next few years developing his game as a creative midfielder, making dozens of appearances in the youth and reserve teams at Villa. Bannan and promising young American right back Eric Lichaj were both staples of the Villa reserve team during the 2008-2009 season, and they both began working their way into the first team the next year.
After an impressive start to last season, which included a remarkable 50-yard diagonal ball with his favored left foot that set up Albrighton for a goal at Fulham, Bannan’s shining moment in a Villa shirt came against Manchester United in November 2010 when he outplayed and outclassed fellow-Scot Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick in midfield for the majority of the match until, in typical United fashion, the Red Devils scored two late goals to earn a draw.
The performance led then Villa manager Gerard Houllier to liken Bannan to Barcelona’s great midfield maestros Xavi and Iniesta – two players Bannan often tweets about regarding his admiration for their style of play – because of his ability to dictate games with his passing despite his lack of height and strength.
Along with in-form Wigan midfielder Shaun Maloney, Bannan should earn his 11th cap and start in the middle of the park for Scotland against the United States this Saturday, and don’t be surprised if he pops up with an assist or even a long range goal. And even if he doesn’t make an impact in the scoring department, Bannan is sure to be on the ball frequently, pulling the strings for the Scottish midfield like he does for Villa when given the opportunity to play.
It’s a shame that Lichaj, who was one of the few bright spots this season at Villa, hasn’t been called up to the USA squad for this match because that matchup would have been entertaining to watch for Scotland, United States and Aston Villa fans, alike.