16 days, 2 centre backs

After the retirement of Martin Laursen and a series of costly defensive errors during last season, most Villa fans would have assumed that at least one new central defender would be top of Martin O’Neill’s summer shopping list.

Instead, our sole signing so far is a midfielder injured until December, and the squad has now lost a centre back in Zat Knight.

The problems start with Luke Young and Wilfred Bouma. A strong contender for Player of the Season last year, Young has had to fly home from Spain with a thigh injury, and with Bouma still not up to 100% fitness, young American Eric Lichaj and Nicky Shorey have been playing right- and left-back respectively. And for Curtis Davies and Carlos Cuellar, it is not just the lack of experienced replacements should they themselves pick up injuries that O’Neill has to worry about; as good as their reputation may be, both Davies and Cuellar have put in below-par performances in a number of pre-season games.

Football - Middlesbrough v Aston Villa Barclays Premier League

Curtis Davies looks on as Villa concede against Atlante

So when you consider the apparent weakness of the Villa squad, the sale of Knight to Bolton seems even more baffling. And with less than 3 weeks until the beginning of the Premier League season, O’Neill needs to act quickly. A poor start could hinder the club’s high ambitions of bettering last year’s final league position. To finish 5th, or even 4th, money has to be spent, and soon. Selling before buying only makes for even more of an uphill struggle.

Zat Knight’s Villa career

After an eight-year spell with Fulham, in which he made 150 appearances and scored three goals, Knight moved to Villa on 29th August 2007, strangely enough after scoring an own goal in his last match for Fulham, which helped Villa to a 2-1 victory against the Cottagers. The 6ft 6in defender signed a 4-year-contract with the team he had supported since a young age, describing the move as “a dream come true.”

He certainly could have used the same phrase when talking about his debut in claret and blue. On 2nd September, he was a key player in Villa’s 2-0 win against Chelsea, helping keep a clean sheet and getting on the scoresheet himself. A header from a Gareth Barry corner in the second minute of the second half was celebrated by patting the badge on his shirt and running jubilantly towards O’Neill.

Knight’s only other goal for Villa was also memorable; a dramatic injury time equaliser against Arsenal on Boxing Day 2008. The Gunners were leading 2-0 against the run of play, and after Barry’s 65th minute spot kick reduced the deficit, Knight was in the right place at the right time to put a left footed shot past Manuel Almunia and send Villa Park into raptures.

Knight celebrates his goal against Arsenal

Zat put in the utmost effort into every game he played, and did not complain at all about being left on the bench for long periods. But frequent lapses of concentration, many of which ended up costing the club points, and a habit of hoofing a long ball up the field, meant that he slipped down the pecking order somewhat, and when he did play he became a sort of scapegoat for the team’s defensive problems. On July 29th 2009, Knight moved to Bolton Wanderers for a fee of around £4 million, after making 40 appearances for his boyhood club.

In the end, Knight was just not good enough for a team trying to qualify for the Champions League. The irony of pairing up with Gary Cahill - the man he replaced in the Villa team - will no doubt amuse some fans, but on behalf of the majority, I say thank you Zat, and best of luck at your new club.

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