Hen­drie says Sin­clair was far from Vil­lain of piece

For­mer Eng­land mid­fielder knew Celtic man would get back to his best in Scot­land


OME peo­ple might say Scott Sin­clair has been a vic­tim of cir­cum­stance and you don’t have to trawl too far into the past to find the ev­i­dence. Last sea­son would do. One of English foot­ball’s for­got­ten tal­ents found him­self stag­nat­ing in the toxic en­vi­rons of As­ton Villa.

Hav­ing es­caped the Manch­ester City bench in a bid to re­vive a on­ce­bur­geon­ing ca­reer, he found him­self in an­other car-crash sce­nario as one of Eng­land’s big­gest clubs slowly slid to­wards Pre­mier League obliv­ion. In short, he must have won­dered where it had all gone wrong.

Hav­ing a lack of be­lief is not some­thing to level at Sin­clair. A prod­uct of the Chelsea youth academy be­fore go­ing on to play for the Stam­ford Bridge first team and then City via an im­pres­sive cou­ple of years at Swansea, he has al­ways backed his own abil­ity. He was, nev­er­the­less, pow­er­less to pre­vent As­ton Villa slip­ping out of English foot­ball’s top-tier af­ter the club en­dured an an­nus hor­ri­bilis.

That tor­tur­ous spell at Villa now seems a life­time ago as the high-fly­ing Celtic winger, who the fans have come to adore, is well in the run­ning for the player of the year awards. Lee Hen­drie, who played more than 250 games for Villa, had his heart bro­ken as he watched his beloved side ca­pit­u­late. Yet he now seeks com­fort in the fact Sin­clair has not let the or­deal de­ter him from mov­ing on to bet­ter things.

“I watched Scott Sin­clair a lot at As­ton Villa and he just needed to get away and get his ca­reer back on track,” said Hen­drie. “Villa were on a down­ward spi­ral, things weren’t go­ing well and the fans got on his back a lit­tle bit, as they did with most of the play­ers at that time.

“Scott has been at some great clubs and you know he’s got qual­ity. You don’t get signed by big clubs like Manch­ester City for no rea­son. And when things aren’t go­ing well at a foot­ball club, you need to look at the sit­u­a­tion some­times and ask your­self if it’s time to move on and it was for him.

“There were a num­ber of qual­ity play­ers at As­ton Villa at that time who were un­der­per­form­ing, but a lot was to do with 25,000 fans ex­pect­ing so much. When that hap­pens, play­ers can go into their shells and that’s what hap­pened at Villa Park. You know what fans are like when things aren’t go­ing well – they start blam­ing the big play­ers who came in for big money.”

Af­ter re­unit­ing with Bren­dan Rodgers, who he served at Chelsea and Swansea, many south of the bor­der would have switched off to the progress Sin­clair is now mak­ing in green and white. Not Hen­drie.

The 39-year-old, who played for an Eng­land se­lect side at the week­end’s Fer­nando Rick­sen char­ity foun­da­tion match in Fleet­wood, has been mon­i­tor­ing the for­mer Swansea man with an in­ter­est that goes all the way back to watch­ing him score the win­ner in the Premier­ship opener at Hearts.

While others may be­lieve scor­ing 18 goals in Scot­land is less of a feat than do­ing so even in the English sec­ond tier, Hen­drie is far from unim­pressed. “I went to a lot of the games dur­ing Scott’s time and as an As­ton Villa fan my­self it was frus­trat­ing, but I watched Scott’s de­but for Celtic at Hearts and I know he’s got qual­ity and pace,” he went on.

“He showed glimpses of it at Villa, but he needed to go to a club where he could shine again. When you’re in a team that’s not do­ing well you don’t stand out as much. When he first moved to the club I said it was a very good sign­ing be­cause he’s quick, di­rect and scores goals. He did that when he first joined but he was com­ing into a team on the way down.

“When wingers per­form well, the fans ex­pect it every sin­gle game and it’s hard. The English league is a bit dif­fer­ent from Scot­land and it just didn’t pan out for him but he has un­doubted abil­ity.

“I’m glad the move to Scot­land has worked out and he’s go­ing in the right di­rec­tion again. It doesn’t mat­ter if he’s scor­ing against In­ver­ness Ca­ley This­tle or who­ever. It doesn’t mat­ter be­cause you still have to go out and pro­duce.”

Sin­clair is in the first sea­son of a four-year term, he is en­joy­ing his foot­ball and is play­ing un­der his men­tor. How­ever, given his next con­tract will likely be the most im­por­tant of his ca­reer, should Celtic fear po­ten­tial suit­ors?

“Cer­tainly if he’s scor­ing against the big­ger clubs and on the Cham­pi­ons League stage then peo­ple are go­ing to start look­ing at him again,” said Hen­drie. “Celtic are a big club and it was a big step for him to go to Scot­land. He could have ended up at a club fight­ing rel­e­ga­tion, so he’s taken a good step by go­ing to Celtic who are a big club that are go­ing to win things. Peo­ple will keep tabs on him.”

ONLY ONE WAY TO STOP HIM: Scott Sin­clair has found his mojo again fol­low­ing dis­ap­point­ing spells at Villa and City

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