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Villa v Sunderland club connections gallery: Gavin McCann

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Villa v Sunderland club connections gallery: Gavin McCann

Adrian Heath had the perfect solution for manager Howard Kendall when Everton were due to take on Arsenal and the power of Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit with a midfield crippled with injuries: "Play Gavin McCann."

McCann caught Heath's eye during the early period of Kendall's third spell in charge of the Toffees, when he was part of the Goodison Park backroom staff.

Check out this exclusive picture gallery of McCann in action.

"When we first joined Everton again we obviously knew a lot of the players, certainly from our time with the club beforehand but Gav was one we didn't know," said the man who had a brief spell at Villa Park twenty years ago.

"I took most of training in the pre-season and he kept catching my eye. I would come in and say to Howard: "The lad McCann's a good player.

"I did some homework and saw that he hardly played any reserve games in the previous season.

"I spoke to Colin Harvey, someone whose judgement I really value, having worked with him for long periods, and Colin agreed the lad had ability but that he didn't see enough of it.

"That's maybe because he wasn't playing enough games.

"Obviously the fact he had been to the National School of Excellence at Lileshall meant he had shown promise. It was pretty evident that he could play and he had a real attitude to want to do well.

"We put in a few reserve games and he did well and it got to the stage where we were struggling in midfield more than anywhere else so I told Howard to play Gavin.

"He came on against the Gunners and he did ever so well. We were 2-0 down at half-time but we came back to draw 2-2 and he got about their midfield.

"As the season finished he was getting more and more involved but then Howard left and I followed. The next year, when I joined Sunderland, I told Peter Reid to go and get the boy."

Reid took the advice on board and went to watch McCann play for the Toffees second string against Liverpool.

It was a typical derby game and McCann was sent off but Reid had seen enough.

A month later the player arrived at the Stadium of Light for £500,000.

Heath added: "I just couldn't believe he wasn't involved at Everton. But sometimes at big clubs that happens. They buy players for quick success and they don't really know the talent they have on their doorstep.

"Sometimes you're looking for outside players when you already have them and I think Gavin was an example of that."

Walter Smith succeeded Kendall at Everton and made the high-profile purchases of John Collins and Olivier Dacourt to improve their midfield and the writing seemed to be on the wall for Gavin.

McCann became an integral part of the Sunderland set-up, becoming one of Reid's most exciting young players and earning an England cap, ironically at Villa Park against Spain.

It was Tord Grip, Sven Goran Eriksson's sidekick in the England set-up, who underlined McCann's name and this was before Eriksson had even left his post at Lazio.

He was a revelation in the Black Cats midfield, breaking up play and showing his impressive passing skills week after week.

Unfortunately the 2002-03 season took its toll on a lot of Sunderland players.

Both Reid and his successor Howard Wilkinson were dismissed from the managerial hotseat and the underperforming players were blamed as the club were relegated from the top-flight after finishing bottom.

Mick McCarthy was installed as manager towards the end of that disastrous season, with a brief to cut the wage bill.

The final straw for McCann came when he was not given his usual shirt number in the team and so in July 2003 he left the club, signing a three-year contract with Villa.

His astute passing skills, sharp tackling and genuine ability to use two feet ensured him a regular place in the heart of the Villa midfield in his first season.

The highlights were the goals he scored against Crystal Palace and Chelsea - both in the League Cup.

He may have scored his first top-flight goal for Villa in 2004-05 but he won't look back at the campaign with any real affection.

He battled on with a knee problem until the New Year but his campaign was effectively over after the third round FA Cup tie with Sheffield United.

He subsequently underwent two operations and didn't kick another ball, having to settle for a solitary appearance on the subs bench against Liverpool in the final game of the season at Anfield.

His happiest memories of the campaign - which started well - were a sparkling display against Chelsea and, of course, his headed goal which paved the way for a 2-1 victory over Bolton at the Reebok Stadium.

He didn't turn out as often as he would have liked in 2005-06.

When fit, his passing skills were admired. But he suffered a miserable time on the sidelines for a long period with a series of troublesome injuries.

He did score the equalising goal at St James's Park, however, a bullet drive which ensured a 1-1 draw on Tyneside.

He was a mainstay in Martin O'Neill's midfield, alongside Stan Petrov, in 2006-07 until the final stages of the campaign.

When O'Neill told him at the end of the term that he couldn't be guaranteed first-team football, he joined Bolton on a five-year contract in June 2007.

Check out this exclusive picture gallery of McCann in action.

AVFC Official
By @AVFCOfficial 25th April 2013
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