Jaden Philogene left coaches mesmerised before epic Aston Villa rise

8 minute read

Aston Villa winger Jaden Philogene is playing his way into Unai Emery’s plans for next season after impressing in pre-season.

He has started all three of the club’s friendlies, and scored in their latest game in the USA - against Fulham in Orlando. Philogene was handed the opportunity to stake a claim for a position in Emery’s squad earlier this month while Leon Bailey was given an extended break after competing in the Gold Cup with Jamaica, and the 21-year-old has caught the eye.

After winning the penalty which got Villa back in the game against Walsall at the Bescot, he then caused problems for Newcastle’s defence at the Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia on Sunday. His goal against Fulham on Thursday broke the deadlock for Emery’s side and set them on their way to a 2-0 win at the Exploria Stadium.

Philogene has only been on the books at Villa since the club embarked on an epic Championship campaign which eventually saw Dean Smith lead his boyhood club back to the Premier League, but despite the hundreds of millions of pounds spent on players and the lofty ambitions of club owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens, the teenager remains a part of the first-team picture at Villa Park.

Questioning his future in the game at 16 to making his Premier League debut at 19, for a player who has been turned away from a whole host of clubs around the country, Philogene has found a home at long last. It’s the feeling of being valued and treated with the respect that his talent deserves.

Most academy footballers will spend up to a decade plying their trade and earning their stripes through a club’s youth ranks until they’re handed a professional deal or allowed to look for opportunities elsewhere, but Philogene has taken a unique route to the top, one that has brought more than its fair share of setbacks and challenges.

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Spells at Arsenal, West Ham, Brentford and Norwich City came and went with a scholarship at a professional football club proving elusive. Philogene left school with little hope of progressing his career as a pro player until he was offered a lifeline. In August 2018, the Pro:Direct Academy welcomed Philogene onto a very different pathway into professional football.

“He plays like he would with his mates on the streets and that’s how he plays his game today,” Pro:Direct Academy manager Danny Payne told BirminghamLive. “Without doubt he was one of the most talented players we have had in our academy.

“He had a natural talent in possession and he had a great ability to get past players and beat them. He had an ability to create chances, which sounds simple but it’s very, very difficult because the detail of his play was excellent.”

Philogene only spent a matter of months at Pro:Direct after being snapped up by Villa at the start of 2019 - the winger just needed that time to focus on his game and knuckle down in an environment which championed creativity and expression, which were luxuries he might not have been afforded previously.

“Jaden was part of the Brentford academy until it folded and then he spent time on trial at a number of clubs,” Payne added. “One of our former coaches, who was involved with Norwich for a period, had Jaden as part of a Norwich centre in London and then he came across to us while he was trialing at other clubs.

“We fully supported him going on trial and I think he got to a point where he wanted to be settled and start enjoying his football again. That’s when he came across to us at Pro:Direct at our central London hub.”

Jaden Philogene scores against Fulham

Jaden Philogene scores against Fulham (Image: Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images for Premier League)

Established in 2010, the Pro:Direct Academy welcomes players aged 16 to 18 years to train like professionals by UEFA & FA licensed coaches and compete in weekly competitive fixtures against academy teams from across the country. Players also study BTECs and A-Levels at one of the academy’s many hubs across the UK.

Philogene instantly took to the programme and was soon regarded as one of the more exciting footballers that the academy had worked with, across any one of their 21 sites situated across England.

“The thing with Jaden was that we knew he was by far one of the most talented players we’ve ever had but it was about making sure we could continually challenge him, and I think that’s what we did really well,” Payne explained.

“We always tried to play him with the older lads and always tried to put him up with the second year boys and make sure he was playing with them. In terms of a player, he would play wide left and that was his best position for us, obviously where he plays for Villa now and he had that great ability to beat players on the inside or the outside.

“He showed excellent end product and statistics in terms of goals and assists in his time with us, he was an all-round, really, really good kid.

“There were always teams aware of him and plenty of teams coming to watch him. He went on trial to a couple of clubs at the start of the year but there was always interest in Jaden, always scouts watching him and building reports on him. He chose Villa at a time where there were a few other clubs interested.”

Likened to a street footballer for his raw pace, ability to carry the ball with close control and a natural ability to ride tackles, Philogene also has a stern mentality to get back in the saddle after knock-back after knock-back. It’s puts him in good stead to attack these important year of his career.

“It comes down to how that player wants to apply themselves day to day and that was the thing with Jaden, when it came to his football he loved it. We use him as an example a lot because although he loved it and always played with a smile on his face, he wanted to win and he wanted to be the best. In training we use that example to other players, talking about Jaden’s will to win and desire to be the best,” said Payne.

“It was no surprise really that he moved on because as coaches we had to be quite hard on him to make sure he continued with his levels, it was obvious that he was so talented, we just had to make sure we could keep getting more and more out of him as we possibly could.

“He was a typical 16-year-old, ups and downs as you’d expect, sometimes happy, sometimes with the world on his shoulders but when it came to his football, always trying to nutmeg people when he was meant to be listening and a really good lad.

“A really bubbly lad around the place, he was always enthusiastic, gave it his all in training and matchdays, it got to a point where it was too easy for him if I’m honest.”

Jaden Philogene stars against Newcastle in Philadelphia

Jaden Philogene stars against Newcastle in Philadelphia (Image: Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

The majority of Pro:Direct players would have already experienced an academy environment before signing on, but Payne believes his players must make up for lost time to excel above their peers who are already developing at professional football clubs.

“For me, whether they like it or not, they’re behind scholars, where they want to be and they’re behind professional footballers when they come to us,” Payne added. “That’s just the reality of it so I think that they always have to do more than what a scholar would and what a professional footballer would do to get their chance.

“We’re not a professional football club, we know that, but we try to run our sites as close to a professional academy as possible. But essentially it comes down to the player wanting to go above and beyond to do the work and earn that recognition, it’s not easy at that age especially for an Under-19 or Under-17 to get signed.

“That unfortunately is the reality of it because when you’re older people will question whether you can play for the first-team whereas at Under-12 level for example, they can work with that player for longer.

“We’re just excited as an academy to play a small part in his huge journey, and we are only a small part of it, he was only with us for a short spell which is important to understand, but we’re excited to see what he continues to do, checking in on him every week.”

What do you make of Philogene’s pre-season so far? Tell us in the comments section…

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