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The Sad Flabby End of Aston Villa's Captain Gabriel Agbonlahor

Are top-flight footballers the last acceptable targets of abuse in modern Britain?

by Francisco Garcia
25 April 2016, 1:12pm

Agbonlahor in action (Photo by Dagur Brynjólfsson, via)

It took Aston Villa captain – he's technically still captain – Gabriel Agbonlahor just under a month to dramatically and irreparably rupture his career. He has revolutionised the concept of having a bad week at the office, realigning the bar for failure so high that the majority of would-be fuck-uppers will now barely be able to snatch a glimpse of the frame. Take a bow, Gabriel – we're knighting you for your services to ruining everything.

Let's begin at the beginning. For almost the entire season, Aston Villa have been bottom of the league. It took until their game against Man United on the 16th of April for the plug to be finally, mercifully yanked from the sputtering life-support machine that's been sustaining their residency in the top-flight of English football. After a season of unceasing misery and torment they were relegated after a 1-0 loss.

They sink to the Championship as unquestionably one of the worst sides in Premier League history. Dreadful beyond comedy. Rotten beyond wildest belief. The soggy full-stop on a half-decade of rank mismanagement and institutional decay.

Agbonlahor wasn't in the match day squad, let alone the first 11, on the day they went down, as he'd already been placed in ominous sounding "intensive measures", informed to stay away from the first team by interim manager Eric Black. The Mirror reported that he wasn't fit enough for selection because he was more than a stone overweight.

A few days before, he'd been photographed on holiday in Dubai puffing on something that looked like a shisha pipe. This isn't illegal, but football players are obviously not supposed to be smoking tobacco between games. He was reprimanded by the manager.

In an act of almost charming childishness, a few days after he got back from Dubai, he pulled a sicky just before the club's defeat to Bournemouth. Agbonlahor had been training with the squad all week but called the night before to say he thought he had a virus.

A week later – in fact, on the very same night that Villa's relegation was confirmed in a match Agbonlahor didn't play in – he was out in London, pictured at the Mayfair Hotel scowling into an iPhone camera, laughing gas canisters scattered at his feet. Like night follows day, he was

suspended yet again.

At the time of writing, there have been reports that Villa are looking to sack him, which might prove tricky with two years left on his £60,000 a week contract and the impending financial armageddon of relegation to come. He's now been told to stay away from the training ground entirely, but the "Flabby Gabby" tabloid headlines roll on.

Football pundits have of course been merciless. Ex-Villa defender Shaun Teale labelled him "a fucking disgrace", and Talksport host Stan Collymore divulged that he'd rang Agbonlahor directly for a heated exchange in which they apparently "tore strips off each other". On social media things have been even less measured - we don't need to list everything that's been said here, safe to say if you search for Agbonlahor and an expletive of your choice you will find hundreds of irate Villa fans and goading bystanders. Even his actual mum did an interview saying she always knew he'd go off the rails and she's not surprised Villa have gone down.

Normally, when a public figure who hasn't actually committed a crime receives this level of abuse, there is someone calling for restraint. There's a vast and ever-growing awareness of the psychological impact that toxic online scorn can inflict. But tolerance is not on the table here; it seems that Gabriel Agbonlahor and the overpaid, overfed, overindulged universe of top-flight football has managed to make itself the exception; the last acceptable target of abuse in Britain.

But I've got to admit: I feel a bit bad for him. Agbonlahor came through the youth ranks, a local lad made good, erupting to prominence age 19 during the 2006-7 season as an exciting talent, full of pace and incisive finishing, with a knack for goals in big games. He collected a few caps for the England team in various drab friendlies at the fag end of the early 2000s. Then he levelled out, stagnated. The numbers got worse, the pace declined, the hamstrings tightened, the waistline expanded. Seeing him now is like bumping into the alpha-male punchy lads from secondary school, still slightly baffled as to why the prime of their life ended before their 21st birthday. It's all a bit sad, really.

So I say a sad farewell to you, Gabby, as there's surely no way back from this. From now on, there will be plenty of time for as many shisha pipes and £900 bottles of Moet as you like.

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