Ahmed Elmohamady and Neil Taylor will both be leaving Aston Villa in the summer with their contracts unlikely to be renewed at the club.
The full-back pair joined the club as Villa were plotting their route of the Championship and they both became staple members of Steve Bruce’s and later Dean Smith’s first XI’s.
Between the two oldest members of the Villa squad, they’ve featured in 229 Villa games combined with many of those games seeing the full-back duo spread high and wide as Villa made a fist of promotion out of the Championship.
Welsh international Taylor penned a four and a half year contract in January 2017 in a deal that saw Jordan Ayew head to Swansea in the opposite direction.
Although his game time in the Premier League has been severely cut this season, Taylor has already played over 100 games for the club having proven himself to be a shrewd signing for Villa over these past few years.
The left-back played a major part in Villa earning promotion back to the Premier League in 2019 and also played every single minute of Villa’s successful Championship play-offs campaign.
Upon joining the club over four years ago, Taylor said: “I loved my time at Swansea but I’m looking forward to this new challenge in my career.
“You only have to look at the facilities, the stadium and the fanbase to know that this is a huge club that deserves to be in the Premier League.
“I spoke to James Chester before the move and he had nothing but good things to say about the club so I’m looking forward to getting started.”
Often opposing Taylor on the right-hand side was Elmohamady during the time Villa spent in the Championship. The Egyptian racked up over 120 appearances in claret and blue after making his debut against Hull City in August 2017 – the club he joined Villa from.
Hailing from El Mahall El Kubra in Egypt, Elmohamady has been a familiar face in English football since he arrived in this country in 2010. Spells at Sunderland, Hull and Aston Villa have seen him make over 330 domestic appearances.
Capable of playing on either flank, Elmohamady has two Championship Play-Off Final wins to his name as well as an FA Cup runners-up medal. On the international stage, he has helped Egypt to win two Africa Cup of Nations titles.
When Elmohamady joined Villa he promised to get the club back up to where it belonged.
“I am delighted to be here at Aston Villa,” Elmo said.
“Aston Villa is a great club and I am thrilled to join – it’s one of the very biggest clubs in England and its history and tradition is there for all to see. It’s a great time to join too as we look for promotion to the Premier League.
“I will give absolutely everything to help us achieve that goal. I know, first hand, what it takes to win promotion and I want that feeling again.”
Neil Taylor’s influence goes far beyond the pitch
While Taylor has managed just 15 minutes of Premier League football this season, his role around Bodymoor Heath has become more important than ever.
Not many people know that Taylor’s mother, Shibani Chakraborty, is a Bengali from Kolkata and the half-Welsh, half-Indian footballer is now using his experiences to support the hopes and dreams of aspiring footballers of similar backgrounds to himself.
As a child, Taylor played cricket for his village side in North Wales and looked up to his sporting role model: “Sachin Tendulkar is a huge character and sportsman to me,” he told The Independent newspaper.
After pursuing careers in cricket and football during his teenage years, the Aston Villa left-back has since become a mentor for more Asian footballers to get their equal opportunity.
“Around Birmingham, I still don’t see enough Asians playing in other youth teams,” Taylor told The Associated Press. “The higher numbers you have, the more chance you’ve obviously got of creating elite players.”
Eight years after making his professional debut for Wrexham in a 5-0 loss to Villa in 2007, Taylor was named player of the year at the Asian Football Awards at Wembley. The annual awards ceremony recognises the achievements of British Asians in English football, and in 2015 Taylor was acknowledged for his outstanding work.
Villa’s former defender and youth product Easah Suliman, who is of Pakistani heritage captained England Under-17s and won the prestigious young player award at the same ceremony. Four years prior to Villa’s double award scoop, those from an Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin made up 5.3% of a 56,075,912 population in England and Wales.
But after only eight players from Asian backgrounds made first-team appearances across the 92 clubs in England’s top four divisions last season, Taylor is now helping to improve those statistics.
“Society is changing,” Taylor told the Today Programme on Radio Four.
“We are at the point now where everybody is united in the fact that if it happens, it’s being reported, people are being found and we’re getting to the root of the problems.
“As a society, we are starting to realise that you can’t get away with what you say these days. You’ve got to be careful and I think that racial prejudice is starting to get out of the game.
“We’ve seen it with ‘Black Lives Matter’ and it’s great what is happening. Society is changing.”
This season, though, we’ve seen Punjabi teenager Arjan Raikhy make his first-team Villa debut in the FA Cup against Liverpool after Taylor continues to mentor and provide support to the 18-year-old around Bodymoor Heath.
Raikhy is one of nine Asian scholars in the English game this term with 15 players on a professional contract, including the likes of Leicester City’s Hamza Choudhury and Swansea City’s Yan Dhanda. 32-year-old Taylor has remained a big part of Dean Smith’s senior group that he often leans on for advice surrounding Villa’s younger players, despite his lack of minutes on the pitch this season.
In February of this year, the PFA launched its Asian Inclusion Mentoring Scheme, an initiative focused on increasing the number of Asian players within professional football. The scheme, which has been running since early last season as a pilot, aims to enhance the experience of Asian footballers at all levels of the professional game by creating a structured network of support that allows them to thrive.
Current and former players, who have playing experiences across all four leagues and internationally, including Danny Batth, Malvind Benning, Otis Khan, Zesh Rehman, Anwar Uddin, and Taylor are all working with the PFA to provide support to the future generation of Asian heritage players.
Although Asian and Asian British people make up almost 7.5% of the British population, in the 2019/2020 season just eight players made first-team appearances across the Premier League and English Football League.
PFA mentor, Taylor said: “It’s what’s needed from the bottom going up.
“The mentoring is the bare minimum we can do for the upcoming players as we’ve had a career in the game. Less than 1% make it right to the top and it’s important we instil the right mentality in the players from a young age.
“I’ve been talking to the scholars, academy players and their parents on this programme about the player pathways and some of the potential pitfalls they may face along the way. If we are to make a mark and send the right messages to those who want to take up football as a career, this is a step in the right direction and it hasn’t been done before.”
Wherever Elmohamady and Taylor choose to take their careers post-Villa, the two will be fondly remembered for their duties in assisting the club’s promotion back to the Premier League.