Aston Villa squad of the century: The defenders
Though the 21st century might to this point have been trophyless for Villa, some excellent players have worn the famous claret and blue shirt.
Supporters have been helping the Express & Star to compile a 23-man squad of the century so far and over the course of this week we will be sharing the results. Today, it is the turn of the defenders.
There is simply no disputing the most popular defender to have played for Villa over the past two decades.
Laursen was named in every supporters’ squad we received, testament to the huge respect in which he still held.
The Denmark international’s Villa career was in truth a tale of two halves. Signed for £3million from Milan in 2004, Laursen made just 14 appearances during an injury-ravaged first two years in the Midlands.
It wasn’t until the 2007/08 season things finally took off, Laursen leading Villa’s defence with distinction and scoring six goals as Martin O’Neill’s team claimed a sixth-placed finish in the Premier League.
Appointed team captain at the start of the following campaign, his excellent form continued but the good times would not last. Laursen sustained a knee injury in a 2-1 home win over Albion in January 2009 and never played again.
Joining Laursen in our squad is another hugely popular Scandinavian centre-back.
Signed by John Gregory from Racing Santander in 2001, Mellberg provided warning of what was to come with an outstanding display on debut in a 0-0 draw at Tottenham.
The Sweden international would remain a dominant figure in defence over the next seven years and 263 appearances for Villa.
There was no better demonstration of his close bond with supporters than his final match for the club when Mellberg, who has signed a pre-contract agreement with Juventus, arranged for replica shirts to be given out to each of the 3,200 fans who made the trip to a 2-2 draw at West Ham.
The next centre-back to be included in our squad is the man Mellberg was signed to replace.
Southgate left Villa for Middlesbrough in 2001 having taken aim at what he perceived as the club’s lack of ambition.
It was a sour end to a six-year stay in the Midlands which had seen Southgate, better known as a midfielder when Brian Little signed him from Crystal Palace for £2.5million in 1995, become a regular in the England set-up.
A member of the Villa team which won the League Cup in 1996, Southgate took over the captaincy soon after, displaying the leadership qualities now so clearly evident in his role as England manager.
The fourth and final centre-back to earn selection brings us right up to the present day.
Mings might have only made 44 appearances for Villa but his impact on the club’s fortunes has been considerable.
There are few players, meanwhile, who have experienced such an incredible journey, from mortgage advisor to England international, from the purgatory of long-term injury to the glory of promotion.
If there is one area of the pitch where Villa have consistently struggled since the turn of the century it is the full-back positions.
That is perhaps best highlighted by the fact one of the players to make our squad made only 18 appearances and was never officially on the club’s books.
While Walker spent just five months with Villa on loan from Tottenham in 2011, his performances remain fondly remembered by supporters, who were given a glimpse of the talent which would see him move to Manchester City for £45million six years later.
The other right-back in our squad transferred for only a fraction of that amount but perhaps proved one of John Gregory’s shrewdest signings.
Delaney joined Villa for £250,000 from Cardiff in March 1999 to little fanfare but over the next eight years was a regular fixture in the team. A consistent and dependable defender, he also earned 36 international caps for Wales.
Leading the fan votes on the other flank is Wilfred Bouma. Signed by David O'Leary for £3.5million from PSV Eindhoven, the Netherlands international was another player who particularly excelled following Martin O'Neill's arrival as manager.
Cruelly, his Villa career was cut short by a dislocated ankle suffered in an Intertoto Cup tie against Odense in 2008.
Though he never played for the club again, Bouma did break back into the Dutch national squad after rejoining PSV on a free transfer in 2010.
The final defender to make our squad might have been small in stature, yet he had the heart of a lion.
At just 5ft 4ins, Wright is the shortest player ever to have appeared for Villa but made up for his lack of height with work-rate and commitment to the cause.
A member of the 1996 League Cup-winning team, Wright also reached the FA Cup final with Villa in 2000 and made 334 total appearances before departing in 2003.
The men who missed out
Villa have certainly not been short of decent centre-backs over the past two decades. Richard Dunne, Ron Vlaar, James Chester and current assistant boss John Terry all received numerous nominations but could not force their way into the top four.
At full-back, Luke Young was the unfortunate man to just miss out. In fact the former Charlton man proved equally as popular as Walker among supporters. Yet for all Young’s qualities, the Express & Star judges felt that on balance the latter’s blistering pace was simply too much of an asset to ignore.