Club: Aston Villa
Position: Central Midfield
Date of Birth: December 1st 1989
Place of Birth: Airdrie, Scotland
Previous Club(s): Celtic
It’s easy to knock Barry Bannan because of his stature. Sure, he’s tiny, and sure, he plays in the engine room in midfield, where he’s often up against a bigger foe. But he’s never let it affect him, and therefore you shouldn’t let it affect your judgement of him, because he’s a cracking talent. Ironically, a 14 year-old Bannan left Celtic during Martin O’Neill’s heyday, only to then be blooded through to first-team level by the same man five years on.
After falling through the cracks at Celtic, who were largely indifferent to the boy from Airdrie, he took a trial offer from Aston Villa. He featured in a pre-season tour of Germany and earned a two-year deal off the back of being voted the tournament’s best player. It was hard for Barry, a Celtic fan, to reject his club’s more vociferous advances once Villa became interested, but he headed down to Birmingham, against the advice of those who told him he was too small to make it in the game.
He may indeed be small, but his game is a technique-based one, picking the passes from midfield, moving intelligently into space and rarely letting himself get into situations where he will be outmatched. As a result, he’s rarely out-thought, and this quickness of thinking and a magnificent left-foot for set pieces meant he became a regular name on the Villa scoresheet, notching 13 times in 2007/08 as the club won the national Academy title. He was a growing part of the Reserve team of the same season which finished runners-up to Liverpool.
Still, he has the hardest work ahead of him. The breakthrough to professional football has thus far been kind, but brief. He has spoken of being tutored by former European Cup-winning winger and current Villa Assistant Manager John Robertson, which will serve him well. Over the long term he may find it harder, but can draw encouragement from the fact some of the game’s greatest past and present players have been short of stature but never lacking in ability. Bannan can add his name under the ‘future’ column of that grouping.
After cementing a regular Reserve-team place at Villa Park and growing in confidence, things started to happen really quickly at the turn of the year. When Villa were faced with a tricky UEFA Cup tie at CSKA Moscow before a vital league match, O’Neill decided to play the kids in Moscow. Bannan, who had already made his debut away to Hamburg, started the game, and was one of the team’s best performers on a tough night against top-class opponents. His impressive outing earned interest from elsewhere, and a loan spell at Derby County followed until the end of the season.
A dream spell continued as he came off the bench on his debut to score with a low drive from close range, having only been on the pitch for 25 minutes. Following the game, he was called into the Scotland Under-21 squad by manager Billy Stark for the match against Albania.