Having returned to pre-season training with Aston Villa last week, Conor Hourihane still faces question marks over his future at the club heading into the new campaign.
The 30-year-old joined Villa in 2017 and has gone on to make 150 appearances for the club, scoring 29 goals and providing 23 assists as he played a key part in our promotion back to the Premier League.
A lack of playing opportunities saw him join Swansea City on loan last season, and with just 12 months to run on his current contract, the same questions are being asked of the Republic of Ireland international.
As per The Athletic, both Sheffield United and West Bromwich Albion are showing interest in Hourihane, and so it poses another difficult decision for all concerned this month.
Hourihane has Villa role, but exit expected
It’s arguably fair to say that Hourihane still has a role to play for Dean Smith at Villa. As we look to compete at the top level in the Premier League and look to win one of the domestic cups, we’re going to need a strong squad to be able to rotate and rest players while also posing different problems to the opposition.
John McGinn, Douglas Luiz, Marvelous Nakamba, Morgan Sanson and others will all be vying for positions in the deeper midfield roles in what is likely to be a 4-2-3-1 system next season, while there are youngsters coming through who are now knocking on the door to get a chance to play and impress.
That said, Hourihane has the experience and quality to come in and do a reliable job for Smith when necessary, and it’s certainly difficult to find players who can do that so seamlessly.
However, is it enough for Hourihane? And further, is he of a high enough quality level to help us compete and break into the top six this season?
The answer to both is arguably no, and particularly with his contract only having a year remaining on it, it seems as though the smart strategy for all concerned would be to part company. Hourihane would get a more prominent role elsewhere which he deserves, and Villa will look to push on and see if our youngsters are the real deal or perhaps we dip into the market again to improve.
It will be a real shame to see Hourihane go as he has earned the respect and love of the Villa faithful having been a top player for us and a consummate professional. If an exit does indeed materialise this summer, to avoid leaving him frustrated on the bench and to prevent the stunting of the progress of our youth stars who can play in similar roles, it might be time for a more permanent exit in the coming weeks.