Gabby Agbonlahor has praised Unai Emery’s impact at Aston Villa and admits he is excited to see the club return to European football.
Manager Emery steered Villa to an impressive seventh-placed Premier League finish last season after taking over as manager in October.
Villa quickly found their stride under the former Arsenal boss and a late-season rally saw the club end their 13-year hiatus from European football.
Former Villa striker Agbonlahor has enjoyed seeing the turnaround at the Midlands club and couldn’t hide his excitement at next season’s Europa Conference League campaign.
“I think it’s been a long time coming,” Agbonlahor told talkSPORT. “It’s been 13 years since Aston Villa played in Europe. That’s too long for a club of Aston Villa’s stature.
“The fan base is there, the stadium is there, the owners are there. Villa should be in Europe every season.”
Emery the Euro mastermind
The Aston Villa boss is known for his European pedigree having won three-consecutive Europa League trophies with Sevilla.
That has left Agbonhalor in no doubt that Villa have the right manager in place to emulate West Ham’s success of last season by going all the way in Europe.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “A lot of Villa fans were jealous of West Ham fans last season.
“The journey they went through, the nail-biting games. That’s what you want in European football.
“It’s the type of competition Aston Villa should be looking at trying to win. When you finish seventh in the Premier League you should be better than most teams in that competition.
“Aston Villa will take it seriously, they will bring players in and I really think they’ve got a great chance. I’m really excited for Aston Villa to be back in Europe.”
Mickey Mouse cup
“The reason I called it a ‘Mickey Mouse Cup’ was because it was at the early stages of the competition being formed.
“Now the competition’s gained exposure, there’s been bigger teams that have come into the competition and to see what it meant to West Ham last season, it’s gone from Mickey Mouse to a top European competition.”
Villa were quick to buy into Emery’s methods and an upturn in form after the turn of the year proved to be the catalyst for European qualification.
After unpacking the club’s late-season heroics, Agbonlahor pinpointed Emery’s coaching methods and man-management as the reason behind Villa’s impressive turnaround.
“The big thing I’ve heard from players is that every player feels like he’s getting more from the manager.
“Tyrone Mings has come out and said ‘he’s getting more out of me’ and every player’s got nothing but positives to take.
“That comes from coaching, meetings, watching games, watching opponents giving advice on opponents and every game you watch Villa play now, they look organised. It’s really exciting times at Aston Villa.
“I like Jacob Ramsey, I thought he was very good. John McGinn, Tyrone Mings but the stand out one for me was Ollie Watkins, I thought he was in frightening form.
“He’ll get my goalscoring record in the next two years! I’m happy for him, he’s committed, works hard and he’s getting better every game.”
Villa still in need
He continued: “I think they need a right back, losing Ashley Young was a big blow. Someone to put pressure on Matty Cash, competition for places.
“I’d get a number ten because I think [Philippe] Coutinho might leave and another striker. But I think at centre-half, we’re okay. Diego Carlos can’t get in the team so I wouldn’t sign another centre-half.
“I think we need three players. If you’re being greedy you might say can we get another winger or two?
“You’re going to need a thicker squad and more bodies in there but bodies that are going to make a difference.”