Long-serving academy director Jones bids fond farewell
The man responsible for the emergence of players such as Gabby Agbonlahor, Gary Cahill, Gareth Barry and Andreas Weimann bids a fond farewell to Villa this week.
The retirement of academy director Bryan Jones will mark the end of an era at Bodymoor Heath.
Jones leaves his role this week following a 35-year association with the club and will hand over the reins to newly-appointed academy chief Sean Kimberley.
Born in Staffordshire, Jones began nurturing young footballers in his role as a PE teacher at St George's School in Aston.
It was at St George's where he taught a talented youngster by the name of Gordon Cowans, who would go on to become one of Villa's greatest-ever players.
Jones first arrived at Villa on a full-time basis in 1980 when Ron Saunders recruited him as youth development officer.
He followed Saunders to Birmingham City in 1985 before returning to Villa part-time in 1988.
In 1996, Brian Little persuaded Jones to return in a full-time capacity. His comeback coincided with the advent of academies in English football and Jones was chosen to head up Villa's operation.
"I first came full time in 1980 under Ron Saunders and there was myself as youth development officer, then we had a coach and one physio," said Jones.
"Now we've barely got enough office space to put all of the staff in!
"We've got 15 full-time staff, coaches everywhere and the part-time staff - including coaches and physios - must number at least 30.
"It is a massive, massive organisation now.
"I take all the accolades but all I do is appoint the staff. We've made some decent decisions in appointing them to be fair, but it is a team effort.
"There is no 'I' in team. Over the years it has been a success and we have a certain philosophy of how we want to play the game.
"We pass through the team and we want to produce good technical players.
"That is what I firmly believe in and I hope that will continue for years to come."
There have been a host of success stories from Villa's talent factory during Jones' tenure.
The academy has produced numerous first team stars, from the likes of England internationals Agbonlahor, Cahill, Gareth Barry and Darius Vassell, through to the most recent debutants Callum Robinson and Jack Grealish.
The club won the FA Youth Cup in 2002 and the NextGen Series - a Champions League-style tournament for U19s - in 2013.
And under the Premier League's Elite Player Performance Plan [EPPP], Villa's academy was also ranked No.1 in the country.
Despite all those accolades, Jones insists there is no greater thrill than seeing a home grown star make his debut at Villa Park.
"I think the greatest moment for any member of staff concerned with the development of young players is when you see them walk out at Villa Park making their Premier League debut," he said.
"There is no greater feeling. Yes, winning Youth Cups and European tournaments are great for the club and it enhances your reputation.
"But watching the Gabbys, the Cahills and the Weimanns making their first team debuts - that is the great pleasure."
For every Agbonlahor and Weimann, there are those who have had to move on to forge careers elsewhere.
There are two cases in particular that stand out for Jones.
"We've sold players over the years and I've been quite disappointed," he explains.
"Gary Cahill was the obvious one. He is one of the best centre halves in the country at the moment.
"He is in the England side and is probably worth between £20 and £25m.
"That gives us great pleasure because we know we were responsible for his development.
"We develop players from the age of nine and we have a number that have come through from that age like Gabby Agbonlahor, the Moore brothers, Nathan Delfouneso among others. The list is endless.
"But I think one that gives me great pleasure is a boy called Jonathan Hogg. He was released by Middlesbrough when he was 14 because he was too small.
"He was a decent player and had a really great attitude. He had two serious knee injuries but he is still playing in the Championship for Huddersfield.
"He is one of those players that would just not lie down and die - he was absolutely unbelievable attitude-wise.
"If you've got that attitude and you can mix it with ability you are going to go a long way in this game."
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