Colombian goal hero Juan Pablo Angel has penned an open letter – lifting the lid on his six-year spell as Aston Villa ‘s No.9.
The one-time club-record signing finished with a record of 62 goals from 158 starts in claret and blue after John Gregory rolled out the chequebook to bring the striker in from River Plate for £9.5million.
Angel, now 43, took time to adjust to life in B6 but, under David O’Leary in the 2003/04 season, really came alive and fired home 23 goals in all competitions for Villa that season.
He eventually left for New York Red Bulls in 2007 before finishing his playing career where it all started – back home in Medellin, Colombia with Atletico National.
Writing his Villa story, Angel told The Coaches’ Voice : “When the Premier League appeared on my horizon, I had already won the Argentinian title with River Plate, and been top goalscorer in the league.
“After joining Aston Villa, though, things weren’t easy. There is always a normal adaptation process that every player must face, but I went through a difficult personal situation away from the game. My wife became ill when we came to England, and she spent almost six months in hospital when we had our first child.
“But the league itself had its own difficulties. The language, the weather, the physicality and speed of the competition.
“The demands were also different to my previous clubs. In Colombia and Argentina, I had played for clubs where we were obliged to win – not only each match, but every competition we entered. At Aston Villa, I had joined a team with a lot of history but one that wasn’t expected to win the league.
“And, in terms of organisation, the club wasn’t really prepared when it came to bringing in overseas players from our region.”
Angel, who helped Villa to a sixth-place finish in 2004, added: “All together, I played for four managers during my time at Villa. Each was very different.
“John Gregory was the one who brought me to the league, and we had a good season with him – but he didn’t last long. Then came Graham Taylor. Very different. I don’t know if ‘traditional’ is the right word, but the game was changing rapidly and it felt like he was more of his time. We had a lot of problems that season, and were even in danger of going down. In the end, though, we just avoided relegation.
“Then David O’Leary arrived, and he completely transformed the mentality of the club. He had had a very successful spell at Leeds United, and he brought not only a new way of playing, but also a different spirit with much more advanced methodologies. Together with his backroom staff, he developed us a lot as a team and we ended up having a fantastic season, fighting for the European places.
“That season, I scored 23 goals in all competitions. The truth is that I didn’t really understand the scale of what that meant in a league like the Premier League. To be able to score 20 goals for a team like Aston Villa – I have better understood the significance of that with time. It was probably one of the best things that happened to me.
“Martin O’Neill arrived towards the end of my time in England. He was another manager with a different way of running the team who managed the group really well. He was also given a lot of resources to build a more competitive team, but still not to the level of the big teams in the Premier League. The budget was still different to the extent that we couldn’t really compete with those clubs at the top of the table; the squad was still a long way off.
“That was always one of the main difficulties about coming from leagues where I was used to winning to a team that – at times – was fighting for survival.
“But to be part of what eventually became the best league in the world, a tremendously competitive league, and to be successful in that league, is something that still makes me feel very proud.
Below: The Villa Park reception given to Martin Laursen and Juan Pablo Angel
“And Aston Villa’s return to the Premier League makes me happy. I was deeply saddened by the fact that a team of such stature, such great history and with such great fans was playing in a division where it doesn’t belong.”
The former forward has embarked on a coaching course and looks set for “the next step” and will eye a coaching or managerial role in the not too distant future.
“The Football Association of Wales offered me the platform to do my coaching courses, and it is something that I have greatly appreciated,” added Angel.
“And now, yes, I would like to be a coach. At the moment I’m doing it in my head, being part of a coaching staff, being the head of the coaching staff. Once I feel I’m ready, I will go out into the market and see what my options are.
“In the meantime, the important thing is to carry on teaching myself. To be ready for the next step of my adventure.”