February 20, 2014 – Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert on Alan Hutton – “‘It will be unlikely that he will ever play here. He knows that.”
December 7, 2014 – Lambert proclaimed – “Alan Hutton is playing as well as any right back in the country at the moment.”
For so long, it felt like the only time supporters would get a chance to see Alan Hutton in action came when images from Aston Villa’s training sessions would emerge, or on his multiple loan spells & in most cases it would only be when he would represent Scotland.
It was such a bizarre situation to see a player get his only ‘first team action’ while playing for his country.
But it was true — in 2012-13, Hutton started for Scotland in seven matches while not registering a single appearance for Villa (he ended up going on loan spells to Nottingham Forest & Mallorca).
It was more of the same last season as he played ten matches for Scotland & zero for Lambert’s side. He eventually was loaned out to Bolton Wanderers for the last few months of the season.
Hutton was a ‘victim’ of his £40,000 per week salary which doesn’t expire until the end of this season. He was impossible to move (think Dean Shiels – but on a much grander scale) & the manager just didn’t see him as a part of the solution on the pitch.
So what happened? What variables were in place to spur Hutton to the success he’s experienced this season?
“The first was Randy Lerner putting Aston Villa up for sale & tightening the purse-strings over the summer.”
“Hutton had been a part of the group of players that Paul Lambert had just entirely frozen out. When it became obvious that he was going to have to reinforce the club on limited funds, he suddenly did an about-face and welcomed back Hutton.”
“Which is how it should have been from the first place.”
“When we had last seen Hutton he was miserable, but Lambert’s conception of economics is a bit screwy. The club had already bought Hutton & were still paying him, so why tell him he doesn’t need to be a part of the team?”
“It’s not as if playing him would’ve cost any more.”
“But then when he got begrudgingly used, something strange happened: he was good.”
“As in, really good (at least in Aston Villa terms) and he earned a spot as the regular starter. He hasn’t done anything stupid yet to relinquish that spot & now many of us are realizing that perhaps we wrote him off too hastily.”
That’s the thing – Hutton has been good & in Lambert’s own words – as effective as any right back in England right now. He’s been a regular in Villa’s first eleven from the get-go – starting in 12 of Aston Villa’s 15 league matches this season. One of the numbers that sticks out is that he has only committed eight fouls in those matches while getting fouled 27 times. That ratio gives you a sense of a player playing a clean, efficient game out of the back. But it was his winning goal v. Leicester this week that hurled the spotlight in Hutton’s direction.
After the match, Alex Carson of 7500 to Holte wrote – “It honestly wouldn’t be off-base to say that he’s the most important player in the squad at the moment, something that’s incredibly great from a guy that was on the Bomb Squad for the last two years.”
“He never complained, never sulked, and unlike his former Bomb Squad mates, he’s performing at a really high level. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.”
Lambert echoed these sentiments while discussing Hutton’s resurgence, via The Birmingham Mail, he said – “I’m really pleased for him. Strangely enough I’ve always had a good relationship with him and I said to him if I can help you go out on loan I’ll help on that side of it.”
“Obviously he went over to Spain and to Forest. He was coming into his last year and I thought I’m going to sit with him and speak to him. Good as gold, he was so easy to deal with.”
“I’m delighted it’s worked out, especially for him. He’s got nothing to prove. I don’t think he needs to make up for lost time.”
“He’s playing really well here, he had a good career at Rangers, he’s played at big clubs before. Alan’s got nothing to prove to me. He’s won things, he’s a top player.”
Lintott added, “He’s not the best attacking presence (his goal this weekend against Leicester aside) but he can at least generally be a body in the attack on the right side. He gets up the pitch pretty quickly even if he doesn’t do a ton when he’s there.”
“But he’s become truly useful as a defender. For the past couple of years at the left and right back positions Villa have struggled to find someone who can defend. Hutton has got surprising pace that lets him get back from the attack quickly, and he’s somehow picked up a really keen eye for a tackle and positioning.”
“Before he was frozen out, neither of those things were true. He was a bruiser who flew recklessly into tackles and who made far too many mistakes.”
“Now he’s playing intelligent football, making tackles at the right position and time, and channelling attacking players into positions that mitigate their potential danger. He’s not flawless, but he’s significantly improved from when last we saw him.”
“We’re 15 matches into the season, and nothing about his performance seems to be a mirage. I saw someone on Twitter mention the other day that Hutton has to be at least a candidate for the club’s player of the season thus far. At first I thought that was absurd, but he’s played most of the matches, which can’t be said for most of the other players I’d consider for that honor. And in those matches he’s been solid to good to sometimes even great.”
“He’s not the most compelling player, but he’s been a revelation this season & he’s part of a newly stout Villa defense that is this club’s building block.”
It has been a refreshing & somewhat startling comeback for Hutton. Rangers fans always knew the talent was there & it has been bittersweet to see him flounder in his quest to find an opportunity to flourish. The fact that teams were willing to pay handsomely for his services nearly miscast him as the ‘typical modern footballer’ – content with a healthy pay cheque & not as enamored with contributing to the greater good of a club’s success. While Hutton may have made some miscalculations along the way, he is well on his way to winning back the Aston Villa supporters who had long ago given up hope on a player that many labeled as ‘rancid’.
Now about Dean Shiels…