Henri Lansbury

With Luton Town comfortably 3-0 up in their Championship clash with Swansea City on 18 September, all the Hatters needed to do was keep cool heads and see out the game for three points.

That memo did not quite reach Henri Lansbury, however.

In being overly keen to restart the action after a Swansea foul, Lansbury took a big swing at an attempted quick free-kick, but instead only succeeded in sending opponent Ryan Manning flying.

It resulted in an on-pitch melee, yellow cards for both Lansbury and Manning, and Swansea being revitalised to come back and snatch a 3-3 draw late in the game.

Manning summed the incident up afterwards pretty perfectly: “Everyone was a bit baffled as to what was going on. Luckily enough it didn’t hurt me, somehow.”

The clip of the incident almost instantly went viral, pushing Lansbury back into the mainstream football spotlight – a position he has rarely occupied since he was the next big thing at Arsenal.

Joining the Gunners’ academy at nine-years-old, Lansbury was very highly regarded throughout his youth career, making his senior debut for Arsenal less than three weeks after his 17th birthday.

He played for England between Under-16s and U21s, captaining the Three Lions to the final of the U17 European Championship in 2007 and the U19 Euros two years later, losing both, to Spain and Ukraine, respectively.

Among his team-mates in the latter competition were Kieran Trippier and Kyle Walker, who would go onto start for England in the senior Euros final 12 years later.

Lansbury was among an immensely-hyped group of English youngsters emerging at Arsenal around that time, with a number of them given run-outs by Arsene Wenger in the League Cup so their performances and potential would be scrutinised.

That team won the 2009 FA Youth Cup, thrashing Liverpool 6-2 on aggregate in the final as Lansbury started both games, featuring in a midfield alongside Jack Wilshere and Francis Coquelin.

Of that crop, Lansbury was among the most hotly touted. A confident and creative midfield force, in 2009-10 he helped Watford earn promotion to the Premier League, before returning to Arsenal and making his top-flight debut at the end of that campaign.

Wenger was certainly convinced, handing him a long-term contract and saying of Lansbury in January 2010 : “He will be a big player for me. He is at the moment having a very interesting experience [at Watford] that we judge to be very successful.

“He will come back at the end of the season and practice with the first-team in the next pre-season. Then we will assess the situation with him together.”

The peak of Lansbury’s Arsenal career came in September of that year, when he scored his only goal for the club, netting in a a 4-1 cup victory over north London rivals Tottenham.

“To come in against our rivals and score is a dream,” he told the club website afterwards. “Coming here [and playing] is massive. I’ve had all my mates on the phone today saying ‘Are you starting? Are you starting?’

“Obviously I’m pushing for a place every week, that’s why I want to be in the first team. I’ve just got to keep working hard in training and hopefully I’ll get my chance.”

The chance, however, was never properly presented to Lansbury, who instead, having signed a new contract, spent the rest of his Arsenal career being shipped out on loan to the Championship, with no shortage of teams keen to take him on.

He earned Premier League promotions in three consecutive seasons with three different clubs – Watford, Norwich City and West Ham. During this time he surely could have stepped up to a lower-ranked Premier League side, but his contract at Arsenal kept him tied up, and instead pushed him towards clubs that were not in the same division.

This earned Lansbury a reputation, however undeserved, as being too good for the Championship, but not able to hack it in the Premier League.

Squeezed out of the first team at Arsenal, Lansbury eventually joined big-spending – at the time – second-tier side Nottingham Forest. He became captain and was widely viewed as a leading midfielder in the league, but could not inspire the club back to the top-flight.

From there he moved on to Aston Villa in January 2017, and though Villa did eventually get back to the Premier League with Lansbury – he made 10 league appearances in 2020-21 – it was very much with him as a squad player.

The manager who had signed him, Steve Bruce, was replaced by Dean Smith, who in turn preferred John McGinn and Conor Hourihane in the Championship, before bringing in several more midfield options upon them reaching the Premier League.

Now 30, Lansbury’s career can be summed up through the terms in which Luton manager Nathan Jones described him after he signed for the club last summer.

“We’ve lost a lot of experience this summer, and with the youth and energy and all the qualities that we are bringing in, we felt that we needed two things: that real know-how at the level, but also that real top-end quality, and we believe Henri gives that.

“He’s a fantastic midfield player, has had a wonderful career, been promoted from the division more than once, has played for some massive clubs and has real good pedigree.”

Lansbury, the reliable Championship midfielder, with the whiff of his best days being behind him, now catching the eye for his ill-advised hacks at opponents rather than his goals or assists.

He has had a career most who want to be footballers could only dream of, but for someone so eye-catching and successful in his youth and at the start of his playing days, it feels there could have been a lot more.

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