Isaiah Osbourne fighting back after Aston Villa training ground arrest
Isaiah Osbourne had the world at his feet.
At the beginning of the 2009-10 campaign the then 21-year-old had started to break into an Aston Villa side that were flying high, having finished 6th under Martin O’Neill the previous season.
The Birmingham-born midfielder, who had represented England at youth level, was starting to draw comparisons with his hero Patrick Vieira, and in the Villa dressing room the likes of John Carew, Stiliyan Petrov and Emile Heskey were telling him it was only a matter of time before he cemented a spot in the first team.
WATCH: Isaiah Osbourne speaks to the Express & Star
Then on one fateful October day, his world fell apart when police officers turned up at Villa’s Bodymoor Heath training ground.
Osbourne was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to rob, frog-marched out of the training complex in front of shocked players and staff, and hauled down to Kings Heath nick for questioning.
Opening up publicly for the first time since the incident, Osbourne, now 30, describes how he found himself in the middle of a bizarre and confusing episode that he says has dogged his career since.
"The arrest was embarrassing," he recalls. "Ashley Young and Gabby Agbonlahor and the rest of the players were standing there amazed at what was going on."
Osbourne says he had put his £17,000 Mercedes up for sale on Auto Trader, but the deal went badly wrong when a group of men turned up to buy it with counterfeit cash.
A fight then ensued between the group and Osbourne’s friend, who the player had tasked with overseeing the deal.
“To the police it looked like we had set up a robbery,” said Osbourne, speaking to the Express & Star at an event at Birmingham’s Colmore Club.
“But this wasn’t the case. I was completely innocent and found the whole thing hard to get my head around."
No charges were ever brought against him and the case was dropped, but according to the player, it led to him being branded with a stigma that he has never shaken off.
He says his Villa career nosedived after the incident, and insists senior figures who have now left the club told O'Neill's replacement Gérard Houllier not to play him. "It was made clear that they wanted me out of the door," he said.
Largely fruitless loan spells at Forest, Middlesbrough and Sheffield Wednesday preceded his departure from B6 in 2011.
He went to Scotland ‘to get away from it all’, but on signing for Hibernian he started to hear the familiar murmurs of ‘there’s that player who got arrested’.
It was the same at Blackpool, where he says a senior club figure explained to him that he was getting low wages because signing him was deemed ‘a risk’.
Signing for Walsall
In 2015 he signed for Walsall, with Osbourne revealing he accepted wages of £350-a-week on the premise he would get a rise once starlet Rico Henry was sold.
His first season was wrecked by injury, but he became a fans' favourite in the following campaign, making 27 league appearances as the Saddlers finished 14th in League One.
However the pay rise never materialised, and Osbourne left for a spell at League Two Forest Green Rovers.
"So many managers have said I am good player and they believe in me, but because of the arrest I've always had a reputation as being a bad egg," Osbourne says.
"I am far from it. In the dressing room I'm seen as a joker, the one who makes everyone laugh. It's not like I'm outspoken and I've never been in trouble at a football club.
"That's why it has never make sense that people have a certain view of me. Stigma sticks."
Osbourne admits there is an element of unfulfilled promise about his career to date.
Whilst at Villa he says he was on Albion's radar, with talk of a swap deal involving Curtis Davies coming to nothing – although Davies would eventually join Villa for a reported £10m fee.
He insists he has few regrets in his career from a football perspective, but bemoans the fact that only rarely has he been given a decent run in the team at any of the clubs he has represented.
Currently a free agent after turning down a new contract offer at Forest Green – "They gave me just nine days to decide and I believe I can do better," he says – the father-of-four has been spending time with family and friends at his home in Birmingham.
His seven-year-old son and namesake is on Villa’s books, and Osbourne senior says he still harbours ambitions to return to the top flight one day.
“I firmly believe I am good enough for the Championship,” he said, “and if I have a good season there, who knows? There is always the chance I could get back in the Prem.”
For the moment, with the English season starting today and the closure of the transfer window imminent, Osbourne desperately wants to find himself a club.
“I’ve been in this position before, but this time I feel strong, fit and ready for a new challenge,” he says. "If that means going abroad, then I'll do it.
"Given the chance, I know I can prove that I'm good enough."