Ten to watch in 2013/14 - 3. Matthew Lowton (Aston Villa)
Sometimes it can take a while to become an overnight sensation. Plodding away in the lower leagues, being a journeyman player, not earning a bad living, but always thinking that you could do so much better if only given the chance, must be the lot of 95% of professionals. Doubtless, there’s many a potential star player that never gets a look in as the ‘big’ clubs shop abroad for the latest ‘must have’ acquisition. Fortunately, there are still a few managers out there that can spot a bargain; see a talent in the raw, and apply the polish to develop them into the finished article. It’s called coaching, I guess. Fortunately for Matthew Lowton – and Aston Villa – Paul Lambert is such a manager. Often described as the builder of ‘no name’ teams – that is, squads intentionally built without the glitz and glamour of the established stars – some have used the sobriquet as a criticism. It should be a compliment.
When Villa manager Lambert plucked the relatively unknown Lowton from Sheffield United last year, it was hardly a signing to set the pulses racing. A £3million full back is not the sort of deal that gets fans rushing to have the player’s name on the back of their new shirts. As the season progressed however, and Lambert’s team developed in confidence and ability, Lowton quickly established himself as one of its leading lights. If you had a Fantasy Football team last year, Lowton was an ideal pick. Valued low by most leagues, the points ‘return on investment’ was exceptional. Away from fantasy and back to reality, the 2013/13 season was English when football realized that Matthew Lowton was a name to remember.
It was a turbulent season for Villa, but coming out the other side with their Premier League credentials intact, will see the team now case-hardened and ready to kick on. That description could also comfortably describe Lowton’s individual progress. Moving to a Premier League club, and occupying the right back role in a struggling side would have been difficult enough for most lower league players, especially one who had spent five years at that level and experienced a couple of loan spells, including one to eastern Europe with Hungarian club Ferencvaros. Lambert was astute enough however to pick a player that could not only cope, but also excel at the higher level.
The latter end of the season saw Lowton develop into one of the outstanding English defenders in the country, and whisper it softly, but there were calls for him to be recognized at international level by Roy Hodgson. Twelve months previously, the chances of the national manager having even heard of the player would probably have been small indeed. As the new season looms though, I think it not extreme to suggest that if Lowton’s performances continue on their current profile, it would not be a surprise should international recognition quickly follow.
‘Second season syndrome’ is a threat often thrown at players after their ‘breakthrough’ season. Lowton’s history however suggests that – especially with an experienced manager like Lambert to keep his feet on the ground – that there’s not much chance of that occurring. Equally, for the same reason, I can’t see much danger of an inflating ego outpacing his talent. It’s perhaps a little strange to say, but at 25 years old, Lowton could still be termed a ‘prospect.’ For now, though I’m happy to include him in my “Ten to Watch” as come next May, this guy could be a true Premier League star.
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