The Big Interview: Reo-Coker's "mixed emotions" at Villa spell
There's a long pause on the phone as Nigel Reo-Coker struggles to find the words to aptly describe his spell at Villa.
The question posed - how do you look back at your claret and blue career - is not an easy one because of the ups and downs he experienced.
This is a player, after all, who impressed greatly during his first season, saw his role diminish somewhat in the next two campaigns before enjoying a resurgence in his fourth term.
His answer when it comes is not surprising as he surveys the landscape of four years.
"I have a bag of mixed emotions," said Reo-Coker.
"First and foremost, Villa is a magnificent club. But I do have frustrations when I look back.
"My biggest disappointment is that the fans didn't get to see the best of me. I felt I had more to offer during my time there.
"Overall, I enjoyed it. It's a fantastic club - the fans, the facilities, the dressing room atmosphere, the staff.
"I played in some memorable games there too. But as I said, my biggest regret is that the fans didn't see the very best of me.
"In the first season the supporters got to see me week-in and week-out but I feel I was getting better and stronger in my final campaign.
"I feel like I was improving. My football style changed. I was still an industrious midfielder but I added some new dimensions to my game."
His first term after signing in July 2007 from West Ham couldn't have gone better as he made thirty-six starts in the Barclays Premier League.
There were so many stand-out games - the 2-0 win against Chelsea which all but ended the Jose Mourinho era, the 4-4 at Tottenham, the 2-1 and 5-1 wins over Blues, the 4-4 at Stamford Bridge, the 4-1 win over Newcastle with John Carew bagging a hat-trick and the 6-0 win at Derby.
Reo-Coker looks back fondly at that debut campaign, saying it "went by in a flash."
"It was fantastic. It felt like I blinked and it was over. That was due to the pure enjoyment of playing the games.
"Every match was a highlight. It was a new start for me. I wanted to make an impact.
"It was a superb dressing room to be in too - that first season and beyond. There were the likes of Ashley, Stewie, John Carew, Sidders, Emile. There were some great personalities in there."
Reo-Coker found his opportunities limited the following two seasons for "reasons out of my control" but even during that difficult time there was always one thing you were guaranteed when he turned out for Villa.
That was an all-action performance full of energy and endeavour.
That characteristic was born of a man genuinely aiming to impress for our "historic and traditional" club.
And it was a trait that the fans fully appreciated.
"I am someone who takes things seriously. Football is my occupation. It would be no different regardless of the job. I care as a person.
"I was representing a club with masses of history, not just any club, a club with a huge heritage and tradition. It was a privilege.
"It is a privilege to a professional footballer but added to that it's even more of a privilege if you play for a club like Villa. You have to have pride in it.
"I think the fans appreciated that at Villa. I always felt the warmth from the fans.
"I am someone who gets emotionally-involved everywhere I go. For me, being at Villa was a proud moment in my career. I took it seriously.
"If anyone ever questioned the team in my presence, I would get into an argument about it. That's how much I cared.
"But I loved the fans for their support. They were great. I still chat to a few of them now who I became friends with.
"Villa is a fantastic club, great, great club. The support they have at home and away is tremendous.
"Villa reminded me of the days when I came through at Wimbledon as an apprentice. Wimbledon was a very family-orientated club. Everyone was polite and really nice to each other. That's how I found it at Villa.
"The few times I have been back to Villa, it just feels like going back home.
"When I came with Ipswich, I was chatting to the security guards, all the guys that work at the stadium, that's just the warm nature of the club.
"They talked to me about their family and I talked to them about my family. That was standard. It's very family-orientated. It's a club I still hold dearly in my heart."
He only made nineteen starts in 2008-09 and that dropped to just six starts in 2009-10.
But traversing those two campaigns was the moment which fans remember Reo-Coker fondest for - lifting the pre-season Peace Cup.
Villa overcame Juventus in the final on penalties and Reo-Coker raised the trophy aloft as captain.
Despite the low-key nature of the competition, Reo-Coker looks back with a smile at the mighty Malaga marathon.
"For myself at the time, I was trying to desperately fight back and get back into the team. I was trying to be the best I could be.
"I thoroughly enjoyed the competition and I think we played really well. I believe a lot of the credit for that win has to go to Brad Guzan. He was magnificent, truly fantastic.
"It was great. I know it was a pre-season tournament but you have to look at how we performed and the calibre of teams we came up against and defeated.
"I thoroughly enjoyed it and still look back at it with great pride and happiness.
"My friends at the club still wind me up about it by sending through pictures of me holding up the trophy.
"It was something great, though. It's still an achievement and still a win. It was a fantastic tournament.
"We didn't win by luck, we won by performing well. They were difficult games and top-class teams we played against."
When it comes to talk of 'top-class' it's fair to say that also describes some of the players Reo-Coker shared a dressing room with during his spell.
He speaks admiringly of the crop.
"Ashley was fantastic. I remember playing against him when we were both in the Championship. He was at Watford. To see how he developed, progressed and improved when he was at Villa was superb. He was unbelievable in training.
"Gabby is unique. He is so talented. I don't think people realise how good he is.
"We had a good mix. There was Ciaran, Marc, Fabian, Barry and Nathan coming through too."
Clark, of course, will be one of the players charged this weekend with seeing off another of Reo-Coker's former clubs, West Ham.
It's a game Reo-Coker is relishing watching.
"I think it will be a very entertaining match. West Ham are physical, big and athletic. They are on a good run at the moment too.
"It's a huge test for the boys. But I know the boys at Villa. They won't shy away from a challenge, they won't hide, they will roll up their sleeves and give it their all. That's all you can ask for too."
Pick up your tickets for West Ham.
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