Jlloyd Samuel broke through the club’s youth ranks and went onto make nearly 200 appearances in an Aston Villa shirt.
Playing his part in eight Premier League seasons during his time in claret and blue, Samuel became a mainstay at full-back after initially plying his trade at centre-back.
On what would have been his 39th birthday, we remember him as a teammate and player in the words of the people he played and worked alongside.
Samuel, who was born in Trinidad and Tobago, grew up in London and was part of the famous Senrab youth team that helped nurture the likes of John Terry and Jermain Defoe. He spent time in the academies of Charlton and West Ham before signing for Villa as a trainee in July 1997.
It didn’t take long for the defender to make his senior Villa debut, and in 1999 at the age of 18 he replaced Gareth Barry in a 5-0 League Cup demolition of Chester City. Appearances were fleeting over the next two seasons after he made his Premier League debut in February 2000, but it was clear to senior players in the squad that he was capable to playing in the top tier.
Paul Merson said: “When I was here he was in the team every week, so he must have been 18, 19. He was well ahead of his time to be playing wing-back in those days, it’s hard enough playing as a 28-year-old as a wing-back, he was a kid playing that way.”
Having broken through under John Gregory and also played under Graham Taylor, it was under David O’Leary that Samuel enjoyed his best season in a Villa shirt. The full-back played every minute of the club’s 38 Premier League games as they finished sixth in the table and reached the League Cup Semi-Finals. His form at club level earned him his only call-up to the England set-up under Sven-Göran Eriksson in March 2004, although he didn’t feature for the Three Lions.
O’Leary, who managed Samuel for two years at Villa, said: “He was a very happy-go-lucky, smiling boy. I just remember him from day one as a refreshing young lad who wanted to do well. It was a pleasure to be his manager for three years. He wanted to learn, get better and do well. He wanted to play for you and I was grateful for his attitude.”
By the time he decided to move to Bolton Wanderers in 2007, Samuel had racked up 191 appearances for the club, scoring three times.
Samuel spent ten years at Aston Villa, but his professional career lasted for a further eight years after he departed Villa Park. The defender represented Bolton and Cardiff before heading to Iran, where he played for Esteghlal and Paykan, creating many lasting friendships along the way.
Darius Vassell said: “Jlloyd was my brother on and off the pitch. He encouraged me to believe in myself as a player and person and always checked up on me to make sure I was ok. Jlloyd showed me that he was much more than a footballer and through him I have met so many special people and gained so much knowledge of what our world has to offer us.”
After his spell in Iran came to an end, Samuel returned to England and became player-manager of non-league Egerton in 2017. There he called upon the services of a number of former Premier League players, including Nathan Ellington.
Ellington said: "He loved football and giving back. That was the whole point of Egerton. He was at training every day, putting his heart and soul into it and helping the youth players coming through. It had nothing to do with money but a genuine care for people. He was selfless, willing to give back and help.”
Following his passing in 2018, the outpouring of emotion from former teammates, managers and clubs spoke volumes about the man Samuel was. Tributes came in from up and down the football pyramid, including ex-Villan Ashley Young who summed up how he is remembered by most in the game.
Young, who signed for Villa from Watford a few months before Samuel left for Bolton, said: “He took me under his wing when I joined Villa and helped me settle. Such a good guy on and off the pitch and a truly good friend.”