Aaron Tshibola: A price tag victim lost in MK Dons' midfield
With spiralling values in the modern game, players are finding it harder and harder to live up to their price tags. Unfortunately, Aaron Tshibola is one of those players.
Costing Aston Villa a reported £5 million a little over a year ago when he moved from Reading, the 22-year-old came to Stadium MK with a certain weight of expectation on his shoulders, and he has failed to deliver anything near the sort of performances his perceived value would suggest.
In the victory over AFC Wimbledon on Friday, a performance where the team shone as a whole, he was probably the least memorable on the field. Against Northampton five days later, he was a passenger, and what little he did, he did badly.
Casually giving the ball away, he never showed a desire and drive to get the ball back - perhaps just his demeanour masking his passion. His defensive duties were few and far between, while he contributed little going forward either. His only redeeming moment was a long-distance effort tipped over by Cobblers keeper Matt Ingram early in the second half.
Social media is awash with those questioning his work-ethic, passion, his want to be a Dons player. And in 11 appearances, Dons fans are unlikely to have seen much worth getting excited about in the midfielder, though his performance in the 1-0 defeat away at Blackpool has been about his only redeeming showing since arriving.
His price tag brings with a level of responsibility and expectation. It's not his fault Roberto Di Matteo was willing to part with a lot of money for his services, and in any other line of work, he probably wouldn't be discussed so critically for his inability to live up to the hype brought about by it. And indeed lesser players have been judged less harshly because there's no expectation.
Dons fans have had experience of £5 million midfielders before though and unfortunately for Tshibola, he doesn't come with the same impact a certain Dele Alli made.
"Aaron is a very good player," said manager Robbie Neilson, who jumped to his defence on Tuesday night. "He hasn't been one of the top performers but he has been a big part of the team.
"Players aren't going to be 100 per cent every game - and if they do, they aren't going to be here. We have to try and help people and get them through periods when they aren't playing well, but that's part and parcel of being a footballer."
Aidan Nesbitt, a player signed on deadline day and dubbed 'a development player' by Neilson, has had fans out of their seats in every appearance he has made and almost made an immediate impact against Northampton when he rounded Ingram but couldn't a shot away. Nesbitt though is not necessarily the answer.
"They're different players," Neilson continued. "The difference between the first 30 minutes and the last 30 minutes is night and day. The first 30 minutes is tight, second balls, it's aggressive and pressing. But at the end it's expansive, there are pockets to run into.
"Tshibola can deal with the ball in tight areas, he has physicality, he can move the ball quickly. Aidan, once he's in a pocket, can be phenomenal but unless there's a pocket to get into, it makes it difficult for him."
Tshibola isn't the only midfielder, or indeed Dons player, not to be setting the world alight though. Dons' record signing, and last season's top scorer Kieran Agard has struggled to make an impact thus far, Robbie Muirhead has scored just twice since signing in January and Ouss Cisse causes more alarm than he settles nerves. None though have the expectancy like the weight of a multi-million pound price tag.
In a team looking to mount a title jaunt, there can afford to be no passengers. Rightly or wrongly, Tshibola will be judged on his selling price and rightly or wrongly, he isn't living up to it.