NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 05: Mike Williamson of Newcastle makes a challenge on Charles N'Zogbia of Aston Villa during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Aston Villa at Sports Direct Arena on February 5, 2012 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
For someone that Alex McLeish had been pursuing for over two years, Charles N'Zogbia never seemed to fit in particularly well with the Scot's philosophy. The two fell out regularly, McLeish suggested that N'Zogbia was lazy while N'Zogbia took his frustrations with Villa's negative style public on his Twitter account. All this added up to a decidedly lacklustre season for a player that Roberto Martinez once compared to Lionel Messi.
N'Zogbia only managed to score two goals in thirty-two appearances for Aston Villa last season, which is a substantial decline from the career high of ten that he scored in his last season playing for Wigan Athletic. Even after accounting for the difference between Alex McLeish and Roberto Martinez, it remains a disappointing return for the winger who spent the beginning of last season challenging for a spot in the French national squad. N'Zogbia was also credited with four assists on the season, one below team leader Gabriel Agbonlahor. It says a lot about N'Zogbia's debut season for Aston Villa that the first hit I got when searching YouTube for relevant highlights was his introductory press conference.His Villa career has begun with fits and starts, but I have reasons for optimism.
First of all: Paul Lambert. This has been my basic argument with any obviously skilled player that disappointed last season (see also: Stephen Ireland, Darren Bent.) The upgrade from Alex McLeish to Paul Lambert is incalculable. The only thing they have in common is an accent. Second, and perhaps more interestingly, is a pet theory I've been kicking around ever since Villa began to be linked to two players from French club Rennes (Yacine Brahimi and Tongo Doumbia, about whom we here at 7500 to Holte hope to hear much more.) I've said for a couple years now that Aston Villa should be looking at clubs like Newcastle United, teams that were willing to look outside the British Isles for talent and take chances. What does this have to do with Charles N'Zogbia, you ask? Well, one of the "fun facts" journalists would often bring up about Alan Pardew's new-look Newcastle team as they challenged for a Champions League spot last season was that most of the team spoke French. Hatem Ben Arfa, Yohan Cabaye and Gabriel Obertan are all native Frenchmen, not to mention the African players like Cheick Tiote and Demba Ba. Charles N'Zogbia was the only member of Aston Villa's playing squad who spoke French, unless James Collins is more worldly than he lets on. I don't care how long he's been playing in England, if no one at your job speaks the language you're most comfortable with, you're going to struggle. I have high hopes for N'Zogbia next season, and if I had to put money on a Villa player breaking out next season, I think it just might be him.