Aston Villa boss Dean Smith has hailed the hunger in the eyes of Danny Drinkwater as a key reason behind the midfielder’s loan capture until the end of the season
The long-term absence of John McGinn, who is not expected to return to action until late March after fracturing his left ankle just before Christmas, forced Smith’s hand to sign a replacement in the mould of the all-action Scotland international.
Although Drinkwater’s career has stalled since a £35million move to Chelsea in the summer of 2017, Smith has no doubt the 29-year-old can recapture the form that helped Leicester win the Premier League title that year, and led to the big-money switch to Stamford Bridge.
“Everybody knows about him from his Premier League-winning season with Leicester,” said Smith. “He got the move to Chelsea and it probably didn’t work out the way he would have liked.
“Then he had a loan move to Burnley this season and he probably hasn’t played as many games as he would have liked, but from meeting him I liked the hunger – I saw it in his eyes.
“He has a lot to prove now because it hasn’t happened for him at Chelsea. We’re going to give him an environment where he can flourish and he looks really hungry.”
Drinkwater’s move to Chelsea was expected to catapult his career, especially as he also had three England caps to his name by that stage.
But he made only 23 club appearances over the following two seasons – notably with just one last term – before joining Burnley on loan at the start of this season, only to play in two games in almost five months under manager Sean Dyche.
“It’s been frustrating for him but you only have to look at the quality at Chelsea to realise it’s a tough squad to break into for a lot of people they’ve signed through the years,” added Smith.
“Changes in managers don’t help players either. But from what I’ve heard from other people, and himself, is his hunger and desire to play has always been there.
“When he’s not been involved in the first team he’s asked to play for the Under-23 team at Chelsea and Burnley, so that shows the hunger of the player to be at the top of his game when he is called on.
“Attitude is the biggest thing for me. The top ones are those with the best attitude. He certainly has that.”
Smith is adamant he does not see Drinkwater’s arrival as a gamble, notably after an incident at Manchester nightclub in September which resulted in him being sidelined for a spell after suffering ankle ligament damage.
“I felt at the time Burnley and Danny dealt with everything that had to be dealt with, and he’s moved on from that,” said Smith. “He never shied away from that when I met him, so there’s been an honesty about him right from the off.
“I don’t see it as a gamble. I see it as a top quality signing of a top player in this league. He wants to play football and show everyone what he is about.”
Drinkwater’s first game will be in the Premier League at home to Manchester City on Sunday as he is cup-tied for the Carabao Cup semi-final first leg at Leicester on Wednesday after playing for Burnley earlier in the competition.