Jlloyd Samuel may have left Villa six years ago but our former left-back says he still has a "big soft spot" for the club which launched his career.
Samuel, who came through our celebrated youth academy, moved to Bolton in 2007 after ten years of wearing claret and blue.
The 32-year-old insists he's never lost that affection for Villa.
In fact, he followed the survival bid of Paul Lambert's men in the closing weeks of the campaign and admits he was willing the team on all the way from Iran, where he now plies his trade.
"I had a really good time at Villa. I really enjoyed it thoroughly. The club will always have a big soft spot in my heart.
"I was following them in the last few games. I was biting my fingernails hoping they wouldn't go down.
"I have certainly been checking out their progress from afar. I was praying they'd stay up.
"There seems to be a lot of optimism and rightly so. I think Villa will get better under Paul Lambert.
"I have watched his career as a manager and I have always liked him - the way he brings players through and the type of football he plays. The youth policy looks good.
"Alex Ferguson has proved that if you bring someone through and stick with them, good things can happen.
"Overall, I think of Villa very fondly and I always will, because that's where my career started. I spent ten years at Villa. That's a long time to spend at one club.
"I learnt my trade there. I met some good friends and really enjoyed it.
"I played my best football there too. I felt really good.
"I knew the players around me - the likes of Gareth Barry and Darius Vassell. I grew up with them.
"I broke into the team and everyone knew about me and I knew about them. It was easier because I was playing with lads I'd grown up with. They understood my game and I understood theirs too."
Samuel joined Villa in July 1997 as a YTS trainee before penning professional forms in January 1999.
He made his debut against Chester City in September 1999, coming on as a sub in the League Cup clash.
But it's his full debut he remembers most fondly, a 2-0 Villa Park victory over Derby County in the Premier League from March 2000.
"I remember that game really well. It was a fantastic feeling to make my full debut and to do so in a winning team was doubly special.
"It was a good way for me to start my career. It will always be with me.
"I played centre-half because Gareth Southgate was out injured.
"People associate me with being a full-back but they sometimes forget I started out as a centre-half.
"I played there growing up. Myself and Gareth Barry were both playing in the middle at that point.
"I went to left-back and right-back and now I play in centre midfield.
"I was always versatile and it was nice to be able to fill in some positions for the team when needed.
"It also helped me play more games. If you're just in one position and you're out of favour, you won't play. But if you can play in a variety of roles, it widens your options."
The following season was one of consolidation as he impressed for the reserves but only played a handful - five starts, two subs - of games with the first-team.
In his third full season as a professional, Samuel finally made the breakthrough to the senior set-up, with a little help from a trip to Kent.
Until he joined Gillingham on loan in October 2001, there seemed little prospect of the promising young starlet adding to the half-dozen appearances he had made during the course of the previous two seasons.
But Samuel benefited enormously from nine First Division games for the Gills and when Villa were short of defensive cover for the match at West Ham two months later, he was hastily recalled.
He was soon making his seventh senior appearance, too, taking over in the second half when Mark Delaney suffered damaged medial knee ligaments.
Samuel held the right-back position for the next seven games during Delaney's absence and performed so well that he was then switched to his more natural left-back spot, where he continued to impress.
"I went there and never really looked back. I was really enjoying it at Gillingham. I was playing week-in and week-out.
"Interestingly, that's where I got switched to left-back. I went there as a centre-half and left as a full-back.
"I remember getting called back and MD got injured. I had to fill-in at right-back and it went on from there. I finished by playing left-back that season."
Alan Wright was the more recognised left-back as the 2002-03 season began under new boss Graham Taylor.
But Samuel impressed the boss so much that Wright had to settle for a bit-part role.
Wright did play some games but generally when Samuel was filling in at right-back.
The unruffled manner in which he accepted his demotion and his performances when called upon underlined what an outstanding professional Wright was, according to Samuel.
"It's always good to have competition. Graham Taylor came in with new ideas. Whenever there's a new manager coming in, you always know you have a chance of playing.
"I was a young lad coming through, fighting for a position in the team with a quality left-back and a quality professional in Alan.
"He was very encouraging to me. He wasn't bitter when I played. He helped me. He gave me advice. And I learnt from watching him the previous seasons. I was grateful to be there with him."
Taylor departed at the end of that season but Samuel was still very much in favour when David O'Leary arrived in the claret and blue hotseat.
He was first-choice left-back the following term, playing every minute of every game as Villa finished sixth.
He even found time to score his first goals for the club - at home and away to former club Charlton [watch in video player above] - as well as a cup effort against Bolton.
"That was a good season. Things went well. I really enjoyed that time. It helped that I was playing all the time and I had the total trust of the manager.
"Once you feel that faith, you can go out there and express yourself. Sometimes if you're not secure in your own role, you can be more cautious and try not to make mistakes.
"If you're playing every week, it breeds confidence.
"I wanted the next game to come around quickly. I loved my football. I wanted to keep going and keep playing. I didn't want the season to end because everything was going really well."
He missed a few games the following term due to shoulder and groin injuries but it certainly still brought highlights, the biggest being the 3-1 win over Birmingham City which ensured a double over our rivals from across the city.
"People say they can't believe Gary Cahill scored that overhead kick. I can! He was very technical. He was a ball-playing centre-half with masses of ability and a great touch.
"I missed that first game when Kevin Phillips scored the winner at St Andrews so it was fantastic to be involved in the win at Villa Park later that season.
"It was relief for us and the fans. They were our bogey team at the time, which is never good but it's even worse when they're your rival team. Once we broke that, everything was fine and it went great from there."
Samuel eventually found his chances limited under Martin O'Neill as the Irishman preferred Wilfred Bouma - signed by O'Leary - to fill that full-back role.
Samuel felt his time was up in claret and blue and, interestingly, felt "people were bored of me still being at the club."
He moved to Bolton, Cardiff and finally Esteghlal in Iran, where he now plays.
"I had to move. But it was a family decision. My wife was from Bolton. It made it easier.
"There was an option of a four-year deal there. I felt it was time to move on.
"I had been at Villa for a long time and I think people get bored of you being at a club for a long time.
"I needed a new challenge. I never look back with any regrets. I enjoyed my time at Villa. But it was time to move on.
"Eventually, I moved to Iran. Originally it wasn't on the cards, certainly. I had the option to join other clubs in this country but it just didn't feel right.
"When I got offered the chance to move to Iran, I was sceptical because it's a whole other world. I wasn't sure what was going to happen but I went over there to see what it was like.
"I went for a week. It was nothing like you'd expect it to be. I was shocked. I enjoyed it.
"I started playing in midfield. It went well and I have never looked back.
"I play in the centre of the park now and I am enjoying it because I can get forward, which I have always liked.
"It's all gone great. I am even managing to score some goals!"
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