Aston Villa’s best XI of the century: Who has made the team?

Here’s Villa fan Andrew Darby’s pick of Villa’s best players over the years

Aston Villa have had many talented players wear the famous claret and blue over the years, but who should make the best XI of those to play for the club this century?

BirminghamWorld spoke to Birmingham-raised but now exiled Villa fan Andrew Darby - who flies the club flag across the pond in New Jersey - to discover his picks.

What do you think of the line-up? Let us know who you would select by leaving us a comment.

Emi Martinez is firmly established as Villa’s number one. Picture: Neville Williams/Aston Villa FC via Getty Images.

Goalkeeper:

Emi Martinez

Villa’s current number one has been a huge success since arriving from Arsenal for £20m in September 2020.

In his first season at Villa Park, Martinez kept a club record 15 clean sheets in the Premier League and has, quite simply, been a class above recent Villa keepers.

Many observers had wondered why the Argentinian had failed to become the regular custodian at the Emirates Stadium and had instead spent spells on loan at lower league English clubs.

Those observations were clearly justified as Martinez has gone from strength to strength over the past 18 months.

He earned his first cap for the senior Argentina national side in September last year and helped his country to win the 2021 Copa America – winning the Golden Glove for the tournament as he kept a clean sheet in a victorious final against Brazil.

Defenders

Mark Delaney

The £500,000 capture from Cardiff City proved an inspired piece of business by John Gregory, even if the then Villa boss cruelly later criticised the Welsh international for “playing like a tart” in a fixture against Watford.

As was often the way though, Delaney proved his doubter wrong as he shoved that half-time jibe down Gregory’s throat by popping up with a second half winner against the Hornets.

Delaney’s Villa career was interrupted by knee injuries, but he found a way to bounce back and produce consistent performance at right-back.

Delaney, who is now the head coach of Villa’s under 23s squad, made 193 appearances for Villa in all competitions. In his first season at Villa Park, he helped the side to sixth place, the semis of the League Cup and the FA Cup final, in which he played the 90 minutes in a 1-0 loss to Chelsea.

Gareth Southgate

The current England manager arrived at Villa Park from Crystal Palace in 1995 for a then hefty £2.5m having previously played as a right-back and then central midfielder.

He was converted into a centre-back by Brian Little and the decision proved to be a masterstroke as Southgate proved the cornerstone of a formidable defence.

In his first season in B6, Southgate lifted the League Cup as the club qualified for the UEFA Cup and in 1998/99 he played in every Premier League game.

Southgate helped the team to the 2000 FA Cup final as he continued to impress, but soon afterwards he angered the Villa faithful by handing in a transfer request in which he said he needed to leave to progress his career.

However, his subsequent £6.5m move to ambitious Middlesbrough a year later resulted in a healthy profit for Villa and Southgate impressed in the north east as he became the first Boro skipper in the club’s 128-year history to lift a major trophy as they won the League Cup.

Southgate also helped Boro to the 2006 UEFA Cup final – a match which proved to be his final appearance as a professional.

Olof Mellberg is a Villa legend. Picture: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images.

Olof Mellberg

Mellberg makes the XI – ironically in central defence alongside Southgate – who John Gregory replaced with the signing of Mellberg from Spanish side Racing Santander.

Swedish international Mellberg is firmly established as a Villa legend having made 232 appearances for the club between 2001-08 before making the move to Italian giants Juventus.

Mellberg enjoyed spells as skipper and played a crucial role in the team which finished sixth in the Premier League and reached the last four of the League Cup in David O’Leary’s first season in charge.

Although the lure of Turin proved too great for Mellberg to turn down, his favour among Villa fans was undamaged and his final home game was designated ‘Olof Mellberg Day’ in appreciation of his service.

Steve Staunton

Just as he did with Liverpool, Staunton enjoyed two successful spells with Villa and his selection at left-back is an easy one.

Staunton was a tough and competitive defender with a wand of a left foot which was a constant menace to the opposition from crosses and free-kicks.

Having won numerous honours including two League titles with Liverpool, Staunton moved to the West Midlands for £1.1m in 1991 and in his first stint which lasted until 1998 he won two League Cups as well as being an outstanding performer in the side which pushed Manchester United all the way in the 1991/92 title race.

After leaving on a free transfer to Liverpool, Republic of Ireland legend Staunton then made another

free transfer move back to Villa in 2000 as he enjoyed another successful spell which came to an end in 2003.

Midfielders

Gareth Barry

When it comes to longevity, there are very few in Barry’s league.

The former England international holds the record for the most Premier League appearances with 653 – the bulk of which came at Villa having joined the club from Brighton as a trainee in 1997.

Barry made 441 appearances for Villa in all competitions and scored 52 goals in a spell which lasted until 2009 and his versatility as a left-sided player or midfielder was phenomenal.

It is an injustice to his efforts at the club that Barry did not win a major honour with Villa before switching to Manchester City with whom he won the League and FA Cup.

John McGinn

Scotland international McGinn is surely the best pound for pound signing in the current Villa team having impressed consistently since his switch for around £2.75m from Hibernian in the summer of 2018.

Celtic were desperate to sign McGinn but he opted to move south and sign for Steve Bruce and his impact was instant.

Under Bruce, Dean Smith and Steven Gerrard, McGinn has been a regular in the side in both the Championship and Premier League. His thunderous left foot means a goal is never too far away and the 27-year-old also possesses a great engine which allows him to get about the opposition.

Highlights of McGinn’s Villa career include a stunning 25-yard volley against Sheffield Wednesday which was named Championship goal of the season and also scoring in the victorious play-off final against Derby County later that season.

Villa’s vice-captain McGinn played a key part in the club’s dramatic escape from relegation in 2020 when the break in the season caused by the pandemic allowed him to return from injury for the final stretch of games dubbed ‘Project Restart’.

Ashley Young

Versatile Young is now in his second spell at Villa Park and once again proving a very using member of the squad.

However, it was during his first stint in B6 that former England international Young really caught the eye with 30 goals in 157 Premier League appearances between 2007-11.

Young, who has operated as a winger, striker and behind the forwards, before latterly featuring at

full-back for both club and country, has been renowned for putting in a real shift for the team as well as showing trickery and pace going forwards.

Villa paid a then club record £8m rising to £9.65m for Young following his brilliant spell at Watford and they were paid back every penny before his £17m switch to Manchester United in 2011.

Young is fondly remembered for scoring two goals and assisting two more in Villa’s 5-1 derby win against Blues in 2008 and he is in elite company including the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard in having won the Premier League Player of the Month award on multiple occasions.

Jack Grealish has been Villa’s most gifted player of recent times. Picture: Clive Mason/Getty Images.

Jack Grealish

The man who costs Manchester City a British transfer record £100m has had his critics for off-field incidents, but on the field there is no doubt he is Villa’s player of the modern generation.

Grealish netted 29 goals in 185 league matches for Villa but it is the assists and creative play he brought to the club which he joined at the age of six for which he is most highly praised.

Fabulous close control and the ability to ghost past players have become hallmarks of Grealish’s game and he is without doubt a player who should play an even bigger role for England moving forward.

Grealish’s return from injury to captain Villa during their club-record ten league wins in a row which ultimately helped secure promotion in 2019 has proved a massive turning point in the club’s recent history as, without him, they would surely have not returned to the Premier League at that stage.

Grealish then scored the crucial goal in a 1-1 final day draw at West Ham which ensured Villa’s top flight survival in 2020. Although he is now playing elsewhere to the angst of many Villa fans, his contribution in allowing the club to thrive under its current owners can never be questioned.

Strikers

Christian Benteke

The big Belgian’s form has been up and down since leaving Villa Park, but there is no denying he was a huge success for Villa with just under a goal every two games during his 89 top flight appearances.

Villa made a £25.5m profit on Benteke when Liverpool met the release clause in his contract in 2015, shortly after Benteke had helped Villa to the FA Cup final.

Powerhouse Benteke was unplayable on his day, one of which came in the 2012-13 season when he netted twice in a 3-1 win over Liverpool at Anfield. He ended that campaign as runner-up to Gareth Bale in the PFA Young Player of the Year award.

He also beat Dwight Yorke’s record for most Premier League goals in a season for Villa and became the club’s first player to pass the 20-goal mark in all competitions since Juan Pablo Angel in 2003-04.

To his credit, Benteke suffered some nasty injuries at Villa but he managed to battle back and

produce consistently good form which persuaded Liverpool to part with a huge sum to buy him.

Jack Grealish has been Villa’s most gifted player of recent times. Picture: Clive Mason/Getty Images.

Gabby Agbonlahor

After being scouted by both Villa and Wolves, Agbonlahor chose to join his boyhood team’s academy and he did not look back as they remained the only club he would play permanently for in his 14-year professional career.

Agbonlahor, who earned three senior England caps, made 391 appearances in all competitions for Villa and scored 87 goals.

Agbonlahor remains Villa’s all-time leading Premier League goalscorer with 74 across 11 consecutive seasons and will remain in club folklore for his exploits as the nemesis of fierce rivals Birmingham City, who three times found themselves on the end of winning goals from Agbonlahor.

Birmingham-born Agbonlahor, who possessed searing pace and could also be highly effective out wide, sparked delirium in the away end in 2007 when he headed home an 86th-minute winner at St Andrew’s just a few moments after clearing Liam Ridgewell’s shot off the line at the other end.

Another memorable moment arrived in the 2009-10 season when Agbonlahor headed the winner in a 1-0 victory at Manchester United – Villa’s first league win at Old Trafford since 1983.

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