By his own admission, this season has been stop-start for Aston Villa and England's Gabriel Agbonlahor. After hitting double figures in each of the last three campaigns, the Birmingham-born forward has been frustrated by injury and has found the net just twice in 20 appearances. However, 2010/11 has included one reason to be cheerful: the 24-year-old put pen to paper on a new four-and-a-half-year deal with the club back in November, with Agbonlahor admitting that he wants to remain a Villan for life.
FIFA.com caught up with ‘Gabby’ recently to chat about the highly-respected Aston Villa academy that nurtured his talents, his electric pace, playing for England, and his future at club and international level.
FIFA.com: Gabby, what's the secret to the success of the academy at Aston Villa?
Gabriel Agbonlahor: The attitude of the players, the coaching staff and the youth development team has been pivotal in the success of our academy. We are just beginning to see the next batch of players coming into the first team now with the likes of Marc Albrighton, Ciaran Clark and Barry Bannan, so long may it continue.
Who in your career has been a particularly influential figure?
Steve Burns, who is the assistant academy director at Villa. He has been at the club since I started and he helped me a lot during my time in the youth team. Steve was also the one who spotted me when I was playing junior football, so I have got a lot to thank him for in terms of my career.
Since making your debut in March 2006, how do you feel you’ve developed?
Year by year you get more experience and I think that’s helped me improve as a player more than anything. When you first make your debut you are a bit nervous, but that obviously subsides over time and allows you to develop your game. I scored on my debut, which we ended up losing 4-1 at Everton, but since then the Premier League has got harder, as you can tell by this season’s table, so you are continually required to perform, and the experience helps. Ultimately I just look to take each game as it comes and try to perform as best I can.
Who was your footballing hero growing up?
I’ve always been a fan of Thierry Henry, he was a player I particularly admired. The way he plays - his pace, his power and the way he scores goals - really stood out for me.
Unlike many English strikers – and like Henry - you have a great deal of pace. How do you feel it benefits your game?
Pace is always a great asset to have. Obviously there are some strikers where speed isn’t one of their strong points but they excel in different areas. Pace helps in that it worries defenders. It forces them to defend differently and can change their approach to trying to deal with you. I’m lucky in that I’m naturally quick. When I was at school I did a lot of sprinting, particularly the 100 metres. I’m not sure how fast I can run that these days, but I would at least say I’m the quickest at the club.
You had a choice between an international career with Nigeria and Scotland as well as England. Do you feel you made the right decision?
England is where I was born so it was a natural choice to choose them. I’ve been a bit unlucky when it comes to appearances though. When I’ve had call-ups I’ve had little injuries and I wasn’t risked, so that has got in the way a bit and that’s why I’ve had to pull out of the latest squad (for the games against Wales and Ghana).
What does playing for England mean to you?
Well, even just winning one cap would have been fantastic, so I’m not going to sniff at getting three so far, and I still have a long time ahead of me. I will never forget my first game though. Finding out I was to start against Germany for my debut was hugely exciting, but the nerves were obviously there seeing as I was representing my country. That game, alongside my Villa debut and scoring against Birmingham City, is definitely right at the top of my career highlights. I’m now just looking forward to getting the opportunity to pull on the shirt again.
Was it a blow then to miss out on the squad for South Africa 2010?
I was upset certainly, but it was a tough squad to get into anyway, and a number of great players missed out. It is a bonus to get into an England squad for anyone, so I’ll just hope to get my chance to prove my worth in the future and look to help us qualify for EURO 2012.
So, what does the future hold for you at club and international level?
At the moment I am just focusing on getting games in and playing more and more for Villa. I definitely see myself as a one-club man, which I feel is important, and hopefully I have the chance to continue here long into the future. I signed a new contract recently and if it was up to me I would stay at Villa Park for the rest of my career, so I hope that’ll be the case.