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