Exclusive: Crewe midfielder Murphy on best mate Westwood's rise
They played together in central midfield at Crewe for close on fourteen years so Luke Murphy is the perfect man to ask about the rise of Ashley Westwood to top-flight prominence with Villa.
Murphy and Westwood, in fact, started out in the U9s, signed their first professional contracts together in April 2008 and still regularly chat via tweets, phonecalls and texts.
Murphy admits Westwood's departure from the side and the club has been like having his "right arm removed" but the midfielder is thrilled to see his good pal starring in claret and blue.
While pundits were somewhat surprised to see Westwood make the move up the ladder to Villa, Murphy insists no-one at Crewe was remotely shocked by the transfer.
If anything, they were baffled as to why it didn't come sooner, given Westwood's vast improvements season-on-season.
"Some people may have seen the transfer as a shock. But, trust me, it's not a shock here to anyone who's worked with him or played with him. We know how good he is. And we knew that he should be playing his football in the Premier League.
"We think he's perfect for the top-flight. Some people would look at a player from League Two being transferred to the Premier League and think it's odd. But we definitely don't think that.
"He's always been the standout player in every team we've played in together. For me, it was only a matter of time. I am delighted he got the move to Villa."
Murphy revealed Westwood was an intensely shy lad as a kid coming through the ranks but his personality developed alongside his football talent.
He was always praised for his performances in training and in games but refused to dwell on the acclaim, preferring to keep his head down and concentrate on improving even further.
The fans adored him but the only thing Westwood loved was being a professional footballer.
"He has always been very level-headed. He always stood out each week as one of the very best players. His passing was always immaculate and he was just a brilliant all-round midfielder from way back.
"Coaches and players always used to tell him how good he was but he never liked hearing it. He always preferred to get on with it, work hard in training and keep his feet on the ground. That's just Westy.
"He was never in trouble. His dad helped him in terms of keeping him grounded and he obviously had a football background too, with his brother, who also used to play at Crewe.
"He knew from an early age how to handle things. And if there ever was a chance he would get out of line - which never happened - they would always be there for him to get him back on the straight and narrow.
"He just loves football and beinga professional footballer. Crewe was his team from a very young age so he obviously loved playing for Crewe. Now he's moved to Villa and I'm certain he'll do brilliantly for them. He's certainly started that way!"
But what of Westwood's strengths in that central midfield area?
When told of Westwood's pass conversion rates of 85%, 91%, 94% and 86% in the past few weeks, Murphy shrugged.
"That's no shock at all! He keeps the ball and his passing range is tremendous. It was brilliant in League Two but it will be up there with the best in the Premier League also.
"Those pass stats don't surprise me in the slightest. He never loses the ball. He's a clever player, he's always thinking ahead with his passing. He's one or two thoughts ahead of everyone else on the pitch.
"He was great to play alongside. I played with him throughout my career. You get an understanding.
"I know it's clichéd but you do get a real feel for where each other is on the football field. You don't even have to look. Playing with him helped me in my development too.
"He's just improved every year massively. He was shy lad when he was younger. But he's come out his shell these past few years.
"He was always popular with the other lads. He was a great guy. He was great to have in the dressing room. He was a superb captain too. He led by example. His demeanour didn't really change despite getting the armband. He led by what he did, not screaming or shouting.
"It was just great playing with Westy. Our partnership was great. It obviously developed over many years and playing alongside him by the end was like food and drink."
It's clear that Murphy looks back affectionately at his time in the middle with Westwood and he admits it's been bizarre not seeing him beside him out on the pitch these past few months.
But he's thrilled to see his pal playing in the upper echelons of football's most popular league.
"It was weird at the start. I played with him for so many years. It was so, so strange playing with other people.
"That understanding was unique. But you can't hold people back if they're destined for bigger and better things. The Villa move came out of the blue. It was a bit last minute. I think he was in talks with Swansea when Paul Lambert came in for him.
"I didn't get chance to chat to him before he put pen to paper. I just texted him afterwards and he texted me straight back. I just said: "Brilliant mate. You deserve it."
Westwood has now made what could be viewed as the big jump - League Two to Premier League - but Murphy believes there's much, much more to come from the influential midfielder as he reaches his peak years.
"He can go as far as he wants. He has made a step-up to the Premier League. He certainly doesn't look out of place. I think he can be a great midfielder for Villa for many years to come.
"He never gives the ball away. Those sort of players don't always get the plaudits that the goalscorers do but they are always in the Premier League excelling, keeping the ball, keeping everything ticking out there on the field. You need players like Westy."
We're certainly very glad to have him!
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