Choosing Aston Villa's Best XI of the Last 11 Years
It has been an eventful past 11 years for Aston Villa. During this time period, the club has contended for the Champions League, played for a trophy at Wembley and flirted with relegation.
The following 11 players were the standout performers at their respective positions to have worn an Aston Villa shirt from the 2003-04 Premier League season to the present. These players were judged solely on their performances for Villa, disregarding any successes or failures they experienced at other clubs.
Goalkeeper: Brad Friedel
Current Tottenham keeper Brad Friedel only played three seasons at Aston Villa, but he started every league game for the club during this time.
The American stopper arrived from Blackburn in 2008 during Aston Villa's best run of Premier League form, helping his team finish sixth during his first two seasons with the club. Friedel even played in a Cup final for Villa, starting the League Cup final for the team in 2010.
During his spell in Birmingham Friedel was a consistent, calming influence on the team. He was a reliable shot-stopper with a wealth of experience to offer. Villa are still benefiting from Friedel's influence as he helped mentor current first-choice keeper Brad Guzan.
Honorable Mentions: Thomas Sorensen, Brad Guzan
Right-Back: Mark Delaney
The position of right-back has been a difficult one for Aston Villa in recent times. Few players have managed to hold onto the starting job for longer than a season.
One man who had a more lasting influence for the club was Mark Delaney. While injuries prevented the Welsh defender from playing longer for the club, Delaney featured for eight seasons at Villa Park.
Delaney retired from football after his contract with Villa expired and has since remained at the club as a youth coach, continuing his influence on the team.
Honorable Mentions: Luke Young, Matthew Lowton
Centre-Back: Olof Mellberg
Olof Mellberg joined Aston Villa from Racing Santander in 2001 and spent seven seasons as a fan favorite among the Villa Park faithful. Mellberg was a fixture at the back for his entire spell at the club and captained the team for many years.
A physically powerful defender, Mellberg defended his goal tenaciously while also offering a threat from set pieces. Mellberg would eventually depart Birmingham in 2008, joining European giants Juventus, but he is still fondly remembered by the Villa fans.
He continues to play high-level football today, currently playing for Danish champions FC Copenhagen.
Centre-Back: Martin Laursen
Through his first two years at the club it would have been unimaginable that Martin Laursen would ever make a list of great Aston Villa players. Recurring knee injuries severely stalled the Danish defender's start at Aston Villa.
Under Martin O'Neil, however, Laursen thrived and experienced a tremendous, if relatively short, period of form. Laursen's time at Aston Villa saw him win numerous accolades, including being named club captain, the supporters' player of the year and the Danish player of the year.
While the knee injuries that hampered Laursen's start at Villa Park would force him into an early retirement in 2009, Laursen more than proved himself as a wonderful player for Villa.
Honorable Mentions: Richard Dunne, Carlos Cuellar, Ciaran Clark
Left-Back: Wilfred Bouma
Like many of his fellow defenders in this team, Wilfred Bouma's Villa career was greatly hindered by injury concerns. But similar to his peers, Bouma's impressive performances for the club while fit earned him a place in this team.
A Dutch international, Bouma had found great success at his home club PSV before joining Villa in 2005. A versatile defender, Bouma helped Villa rise from a struggling club under David O'Leary to a contender for continental football for Martin O'Neil.
While he failed to play a single game in his final two seasons at Villa Park, Bouma was a terrific player when fit and the most talented left-back that Villa have recently fielded.
Honorable Mentions: Stephen Warnock, Jlloyd Samuel
Central Midfielder: James Milner
It may seem strange to see James Milner's name listed in central midfield. The English international came to the club from Newcastle as a winger, and he continues to play there for Manchester City today.
Nonetheless, Milner's greatest season of his career came when he was deployed as a central midfielder upon the departure of Gareth Barry in 2009. During the 2009-10 season, Milner was the vital player who led Villa to their strongest season in the Premier League to date, winning the PFA Young Player of the Year award.
Although Milner left the club soon after, his £20 million transfer to Manchester City shows how highly he was regarded while playing for Villa.
Central Midfielder: Stiliyan Petrov
As Martin O'Neil's first signing as Aston Villa manager it may have been easy to dismiss Stiliyan Petrov's purchase as a comforting holdover from O'Neil's previous team. It took no time, however, for that notion to prove false.
Petrov was a regular starter and eventual club captain during his six seasons at Villa Park. Known for his feisty tackling, steady passing and the occasional wonder goal, Petrov consistently proved himself as one of Villa's best players.
The Bulgarian may have been forced into retirement due to his diagnosis of leukemia, but the tributes and support that the Villa fans have showered him with demonstrate how influential he was as a Villa legend.
Central Midfielder: Gareth Barry
As the player to have made the most appearances in a Villa shirt in Premier League history, it should be no surprise to see Gareth Barry join Milner and Petrov in midfield.
While his contentious departure to Manchester City may have stung many fans, Barry was a consistent star for Villa for over a decade. Never flashy but always effective, Barry was always influential in the middle of the park.
Rumors from the Mirror's Steve Bates of a return to Villa Park this summer failed to materialize, but Barry continues to prove himself as a capable player at Everton. With time the Villa fans' frustration at Barry's transfer will fade, and the midfielder will be rightfully remembered as one of the club's all-time great players.
Honorable Mentions: Lee Hendrie, Nigel Reo-Coker, Nolberto Solano
Attacking Midfielder: Ashley Young
Playing first as a winger and later behind a lone striker, Young's combination of trickery and pace allowed him to beat any defender. This, combined with his crossing ability and eye for goal, made Young a deadly player for Villa, where he was named PFA Young Player of the Year in 2009.
Young was at the center of Villa's greatest successes during the past 11 years, helping Villa achieve European football for three consecutive seasons.
The Englishman eventually departed Villa for Manchester United in 2011, but he made his name during his five seasons at Villa Park, and he experienced many memorable moments in a Villa shirt.
Honorable Mentions: Stewart Downing, Andreas Weimann
Striker: Christian Benteke
It seems unbelievable that a player could be a club legend after barely more than a season at a team; nevertheless, Christian Benteke is threatening to do just that.
The Belgian striker has quickly proved himself to be one of the most devastating finishers in the Premier League after notching 28 goals in just 48 matches. Benteke is physically dominant, technically gifted and just 22 years old, continuing to improve.
While his transfer request this summer suggests his long-term future may not lie at Villa Park, Benteke is among the most talented players to have donned a Villa shirt in the past 11 years.
Striker: Gabriel Agbonlahor
Gabriel Agbonlahor has never had as spectacular of a season as some of his team-mates on this list, but his loyalty to the club and status as Villa's all-time leading scorer in the Premier League are more than enough to earn him a place in this team.
The only player in this list to have played alongside all ten of his teammates, Agbonlahor's searing pace allows him to beat defenders and score goals few other players are capable of.
Currently playing his ninth season for Villa, Agbonlahor has continued to show his adaptability and growth as a player. Agbonlahor has continued to grow into his new role as a winger, rather than playing centrally, where he looks set to continue his long and successful career at Villa Park.
Honorable Mentions: Juan Pablo Angel, John Carew