Football Features

What happened next? The Aston Villa side that qualified for Europe in 2009/10

By Oliver Young-Myles

What happened next? The Aston Villa side that qualified for Europe in 2009/10

Published: 10:30, 6 May 2023

It has been a tough decade-and-a-bit for Aston Villa following three years in the Championship wilderness and a relegation dogfight on their Premier League return in 2019/20, but things are starting to look better under Unai Emery.

The Spaniard was drafted in over autumn of this season following an inauspicious start to the 2022/23 campaign under Steven Gerrard. Six months on from his appointment, and the Villans are, not only safe from relegation trouble, but on the cusp of retuning to Europe.

A club that once regularly found themselves competing at the top end of the Premier League table once again find themselves back rubbing shoulders with the perennial big boys, and they are now harbouring aspirations of gatecrashing the European places, something they achieved in the late-noughties.

For three successive seasons between 2007 and 2010, the Midlands club secured sixth-place finishes in the Premier League — in 2009/10 they fell just six points short of finishing in the final Champions League spot and even reached the final of the League Cup, where they were narrowly defeated 2-1 by Manchester United.

The manager who oversaw that successful run, Martin O’Neill, departed on the eve of the 2010/11 campaign and that — coupled with a gradual restriction on the club’s transfer budget — resulted in Villa plummeting down the league in subsequent seasons.

So, what happened next to Villa’s class of 2009/10?

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Goalkeeper: Brad Friedel

Current club: Retired

Career path: USSF, Columbus Crew, Liverpool, Blackburn, Aston Villa, Tottenham

Aston Villa apps: 131

A Premier League veteran by the time he arrived at Villa Park in 2008, Friedel was in the form of his life while playing for the club despite his advancing years.

Following three stellar seasons between the sticks, the American moved on to Tottenham where he was first-choice prior to the arrival of Hugo Lloris in 2012.

In 2015, Friedel announced his retirement aged 44 and since then he has been a club ambassador for Spurs in the United States. He subsequently went into coaching and previously managed MLS side New England Revolution and the United States U19s.

Right-back: Carlos Cuellar

Current club: Retired

Career path: Numancia, Calahorra, Osasuna, Rangers, Aston Villa, Sunderland, Norwich City, Almeria, Maccabi Petah Tikva, Maccabi Petah Tikva, Ironi Kiryat Shmona, Beitar Jerusalem, Bnei Yehuda

Aston Villa apps: 120

Snapped up following an outstanding season with Rangers north of the border during which he helped the Glasgow side reach the last ever Uefa Cup final.

Despite being a centre-back by trade, the Spaniard predominantly lined up on the right side of Villa’s defence and to great effect too, playing 28 league matches in his debut season.

Cuellar stayed at Villa Park for four years before moving to Sunderland, Norwich City and Almeria. He then left Europe before making a name for himself in Israel.

Centre-back: Richard Dunne

Current club: Retired

Career path: Everton, Manchester City, Aston Villa, QPR

Aston Villa apps: 111

An unfortunate casualty of the influx of multi-millions at Manchester City — a club where he had won the Player of the Year four years running between 2005 and 2008 — Dunne joined Villa on deadline day in 2009 and became a fixture in the side from then on.

Dunne was a first-team regular in his first three seasons at Villa but after suffering from injury problems and losing his place under Paul Lambert, he left in 2013 to join QPR whom he helped achieve promotion to the Premier League in 2014.

These days he is most seen on punditry duty for BT Sport.

Centre-back: James Collins

Current club: Retired

Career path: Cardiff City, West Ham, Aston Villa, West Ham, Ipswich Town

Aston Villa apps: 108

After spending four years in and out of the West Ham team, Collins opted to join the other claret and blue Premier League side Villa in 2009 where he slotted into the heart of defence alongside Dunne.

Collins was an undisputed regular in his three years at Villa, making over a century of appearances before being surprisingly sold by Lambert in 2012, making a return to east London. He left Ipswich Town in 2019 and announced his retirement in October 2020.

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Left-back: Stephen Warnock

Current club: Retired

Career path: Liverpool, Coventry City (loan), Blackburn Rovers, Aston Villa, Bolton (loan), Leeds, Derby County, Wigan Athletic, Burton Albion, Bradford City (loan)

Aston Villa apps: 104

The fourth and final member of the back four, Warnock was also signed in pre-season of 2009, joining the club following a few impressive years with Blackburn Rovers.

His form during the 2009/10 campaign was rewarded with a place in England’s World Cup squad although he failed to dislodge Ashley Cole from the starting team.

After slipping down the pecking order, Warnock dropped down into the Championship with Burton and spent the final few months of his career on loan at League One side Bradford.

Right midfield: Ashley Young

Current club: Aston Villa

Career path: Watford, Aston Villa, Manchester United, Inter Milan, Aston Villa

Aston Villa apps: 190

The outstanding talent in Villa’s side under O’Neill. Eyebrows were raised when Villa parted with a fee of around £10m after he had spent just half a season in the Premier League with Watford but he proved to be exceptional value for money over the next four-and-a-half years.

Whether playing on the left or right wing or as a No.10, Young was the creative hub of the Villa side and managed to chip in with 38 goals in all competitions for the club in his first spell.

Young was twice named in the PFA Team of the Year while at Villa in that initial stint and his form earned an £18m move to Manchester United in 2011 where he’d go on to win a league title before joining Inter Milan in 2020 and winning the Scudetto.

Last season, the 37-year-old returned to Villa Park and he now captains the club under Emery as they hope to re-enter European football.

Centre midfield: Stiliyan Petrov

Current club: Retired

Career path: CSKA Sofia, Celtic, Aston Villa

Aston Villa apps: 218

Villa captain and leader under O’Neill, Petrov brought exceptional passing ability and composure in the centre of the park, as well as the penchant for scoring the odd spectacular goal.

Unfortunately, the Bulgarian’s top-flight career ended prematurely in 2013 after he was diagnosed with leukaemia. Petrov battled back from the illness, though, and made headlines when he turned out for a local Midlands side in 2014 before joining Villa as part of the coaching set-up the following year.

Petrov turned down a player-coach role with non-league side Nuneaton Town in 2016 but has since completed his UEFA pro coaching licence.

Centre midfield: James Milner

Current club: Liverpool

Career path: Leeds United, Newcastle United, Aston Villa, Manchester City, Liverpool

Aston Villa apps: 126

It could be said that James Milner has been better in his 30s than he has ever been. But arguably the best form he exhibited regularly in his career was while playing as a central midfielder for Villa.

With Petrov happy to sit deep and dictate the tempo, Milner had the license to break forward and support the attack and he managed to contribute seven league goals in 2009/10.

His performances led to a place in the Premier League Team of the Year and a £26m move to Manchester City, where he won two Premier League titles, one FA Cup and a League Cup prior to his move to Anfield in the summer of 2015.

Under Jurgen Klopp he has lifted another Premier League title and won the Champions League, and he is expected to complete a move to Brighton this summer, extending his existence in the top flight.

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Left midfield: Stewart Downing

Current club: Retired

Career path: Middlesbrough, Aston Villa, Liverpool, West Ham, Middlesbrough, Blackburn Rovers

Aston Villa apps: 79

Brought in following the relegation of his homegrown club Middlesbrough, Downing’s crossing ability played a key role in Villa’s European charge and he was integral in both of his seasons at the club.

The England international left under a cloud in 2011 to join Liverpool for £20m but his time at Anfield was a major disappointment as he famously failed to score a goal or provide an assist in his debut campaign.

After Brendan Rodgers deemed him surplus to requirements, Downing moved to West Ham where he starred before returning to Boro in 2015. He then went on to Blackburn Rovers after four seasons at the Riverside Stadium and bowed out of the game in 2021.

Striker: Gabriel Agbonlahor

Current club: Retired

Career path: Aston Villa

Aston Villa apps: 391

Agbonlahor’s searing pace was pivotal to Villa’s counter-attacking style and the three consecutive sixth-place finishes were undoubtedly the peak years of the Birmingham-born forward’s career.

His 13-goal haul that season remains comfortably Agbonlahor’s best return in front of goal and the ensuing years have seen him drop from being a fan favourite and club captain to a sorry symbol of their decline.

The season in which Villa were relegated, Agbonlahor’s behaviour off the pitch attracted negative press while his club were on the brink of relegation.

However, Bruce afforded him several opportunities in the 16/17 season, which saw him play 13 league games as Villa finished 13th. He finally left the club in the summer of 2018 before hanging up his boots.

Striker: John Carew

Current club: Retired

Career path: Valarenga, Rosenborg, Valencia, Roma, Besiktas, Lyon, Aston Villa, Stoke City, West Ham

Aston Villa apps: 127

The Norwegian forward was one of the first additions of the O’Neill regime, joining in January 2007, and he spent four years at Villa Park, netting 47 times across all competitions.

His partnership with Agbonlahor up front was an effective one with his aerial prowess complementing his colleague’s pace.

Carew ended his career at West Ham in 2012.