Blog: Talented trio striving to make biggest step of all
Dan Harrison on the progress of Samir Carruthers, Graham Burke and Michael Drennan.
2nd Jul 2013
Blog: Talented trio striving to make biggest step of all

Young, hungry and determined to get better.

Those are the shared hallmarks of the new recruits who have rolled into B6 over the summer.

But as well as casting the net far and wide for emerging players who fit his Villa vision, Paul Lambert has seen plenty of potential from the club's own talent factory.

Academy graduates Nathan Baker and Andreas Weimann penned new deals in recent weeks, with U21s skipper Daniel Johnson also committing his immediate future.

Then this week, three of Villa's NextGen Series heroes - Samir Carruthers, Graham Burke and Michael Drennan - signed up to continue their footballing education under Lambert's wing.

A big push towards first team football is next on the agenda for the talented trio who have been a joy to watch during their time in the youth ranks.

Academy director Bryan Jones described Drennan as a striker who "scores goals for fun" after bringing him over from Kilkenny back in 2009.

So far, the young hotshot has lived up to that billing.

Drennan - a budding hurling player before opting to pursue a career in English football - struggled with confidence and homesickness in the first year of his scholarship.

One thing he has never been is goal-shy.

Most pleasing is the way he and compatriot Burke have dovetailed to form a potent strike partnership - exemplified in their demolition of PSV Eindhoven and Sporting Lisbon last term.

Drennan's predatory instincts have complemented the silkiness of compatriot Burke, who has turned heads with his ability to glide across the turf when in possession.

Villa supporters sat up and took notice of Burke during an impressive first team cameo against Walsall in pre-season 2011.

Since then, the Dubliner has become one of two academy graduates to be handed senior debuts by Lambert.

Burke's composure has shone through since his arrival at Bodymoor Heath as a 16-year-old.

No wonder he was so calm and collected with those two high-pressure spot-kicks in the NextGen final.

The most-experienced of this prodigious Irish trio is Carruthers, both in age and Premier League game-time.

In the past 12 months we have seen a different Carruthers to the exuberant, crafty teenager who first came to prominence during Villa's run to the FA Youth Cup final in 2009-10.

Tony McAndrew's decision to hand the 20-year-old the captain's armband for the business end of the NextGen Series proved to be a masterstroke.

The ex-Arsenal schoolboy has thrived on that sense of leadership, marrying those qualities with his tremendous flair.

"To be captain of the NextGen team and sometimes the U21s, it is a big responsibility," said Carruthers.

"You have to be responsible for the team's behaviour on the pitch and off the pitch as well and being a captain for the NextGen gave me experience for being responsible with the first team as well.

"You know in certain situations how to behave so it is a good learning experience, being a captain."

That off-field maturity gleamed during Carruthers' interview shortly after he penned his new two-year deal.

Usually a shoe-in for an audacious quip or a cheeky expression on camera, this was a focused Carruthers.

He best summed up the collective drive of this highly-rated group.

The Islington-born midfielder who has been on the cusp of the first team for two years won't accept "nearly".

"It is all I've ever wanted to do - be in the squads for Premier League games," he added.

"We're nearly there but nearly isn't close enough and you have to go for it.

"Even if I play a game or two it doesn't mean I have made it.

"I don't want just a game or two - the main aim is to be playing every single week and that is what everyone wants to do.

"It is good to have those experiences over the last couple of years but my main aim now is to place a mark somewhere in the team."

dan harrison,
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