Nigel Reo-Coker: From West Ham to Aston Villa to…Fulham?

There was once a time when this Croydon-born, Sierra Leone raised central midfield dynamo was captaining West Ham United into the FA Cup final of 2006 to face the might of Liverpool. Reo-Coker, a former England under-21 captain, was the lynchpin in a midfield containing talents such as Yossi Benayoun and Matthew Etherington, yet Reo-Coker still stood out as the main force in the West Ham side. His inspirational drive, robust tackling and incredible desire to chase down his opposing midfield counterpart placed him on the verge of the England World Cup team to travel to Germany for the 2006 FIFA World Cup.

Fast forward five years down the line and Reo-Coker finds himself on the free agency pile after just being released from Aston Villa. The Villans paid £8.5 million in the summer of 2007 for the midfielder and in the beginning, the fee seemed worthwhile. Reo-Coker began his career at Villa Park in a sparse central midfield role, fighting for a place alongside Stilyan Petrov and club captain Gareth Barry, and his perseverance was granted by his ability to not only play in the middle of the park, but also at right back or right midfield. After Barry’s departure the summer after Reo-Coker’s arrival, the midfielder took over the captaincy for the 2009 Peace Cup, which Villa subsequently won. This season was the troublesome one for Reo-Coker and the season that sparked his sudden downfall in appearances and recognition.

A training ground bust-up just short of a month into the season with then manager Martin O’Neill saw Reo-Coker dropped for the following game against Portsmouth and the fall-out from this argument was a lack of regular playing time for the 27 year old and he fell heavily out of favour with O’Neill at Villa Park. Reo-Coker spent the next two seasons flitting in and out of the first team, but after the departure of O’Neill from Villa Park, the midfielder found his feet again and was given another chance by new manager Gerard Houllier. His performances have been a bright light in a dark season at Villa Park, but his reluctance to accept the new terms laid at his feet by the Aston Villa board have consequently resulted in his release from the Midlands side before the start of this upcoming season.

What has happened to Reo-Coker? Despite his mini-revival towards the latter end of this season, Reo-Coker still isn’t at the level he was at whilst at the beginning of his Aston Villa career. When he broke onto the scene at Wimbledon as a fresh faced 18 year old, his performances resulted in captaincy for the Dons and resulted in the move to East London and West Ham in the 2004-05 season, where he was again given the captaincy. Reo-Coker is evidently seen as a natural leader, being captain at all three of his professional clubs to date at some point, and his talent and drive were inescapable at West Ham. It seems that somewhere along the way, Reo-Coker has lost his confidence of such. He is nowhere near at the ability to displace any of the current crop of England midfielders and that’s a free-fall from a player who was bursting down the door of the England set-up at the 2006 World Cup.

Maybe a move to another club will re-ignite the career of Reo-Coker, but where could he possibly go to that isn’t a step-down from Aston Villa? The ninth placed finish for the Villans means that surely the 27 year old will move to a top ten Premiership side.

The top four will hold no interest in Reo-Coker and with Tottenham and Liverpool eyes firmly fixated on either Charlie Adam or Scott Parker, there will be no move there. Everton and Fulham could be possible choices, but with such a tight wage and transfer budget at Goodison Park and the ability of Leon Osman, Mikel Arteta and Jack Rodwell in the centre of the park, that does not seem a viable option.

Fulham could be the move for Reo-Coker. It moves him back down into London and the ambition of current manager Mark Hughes could help Reo-Coker get his footballing brain back into gear and make further impressive strides, if his own beliefs of making the England World Cup 2012 squad are to be realised. It’s time for Reo-Coker to re-discover the mercurial form he held back in the mid-00′s and show that he really is a force to be reckoned with in the Premier League.

His form has been average, but for a player of his considerable talent levels, he should be expected to hold down a regular position and be able to stake his own place along some of the top Premier League central midfielders.

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