Scott Hogan has seen enough clean slates to roof a housing estate but the Aston Villa striker is hopeful of a few more as he looks to kickstart a career that has been starved of momentum at club level and with the Republic of Ireland.
First called up by Martin O’Neill back in early 2014, it was another four years before he made his debut for this country, against Turkey last March. He has since missed out on the four games played by the Boys in Green.
His club career — a winding odyssey that has required hard work and patience and largely taken him relentlessly upstream through nine different dressing-rooms — has been marooned in dry dock of late too.
Injuries have long been a drag on his progress but Hogan has been fully fit for weeks now and still went unused by Steve Bruce prior to the manager’s sacking at Villa Park. A call-up from O’Neill was, in the circumstances, a welcome surprise.
He makes no bones about the frustration he has felt.
“Yeah, my missus does as well, to be honest. I’m always moaning because, if I’m happy in football, then I’m happy at home. She bears the brunt of it, I suppose. But it has been frustrating. The lads at Villa would probably know if I’m not playing I’m not myself. It’s so frustrating.
“Coming away with the national team, you’re away from the club environment and I want to establish myself here.
“That’s what I want to do but the most difficult thing in football is not playing and the second most difficult thing is playing in a system where there is just no way on this earth it’s suited to you. You are sort of hung out to dry a little bit.”
Hogan was signed by Bruce as a number nine — and given the jersey to prove it — on the back of 14 goals in 25 appearances for Brentford but it hasn’t happened for him in Birmingham. He scored once in his first half-season with the Villans and only eight more have followed in the year and a bit since.
Bruce’s liking for a 4-2-3-1 system didn’t help. Nor the fact that he was regularly asked to play a deeper role. It has all been hard to take for a striker who aped Jamie Vardy’s route from non-league and the factory floor to the big time. Stop-start, he says of the last few years.
It could have been very different. West Ham showed real interest in signing him from Brentford before he opted for a different hue of claret and blue at the start of 2017.
West Brom and Crystal Palace made late enquiries too and there was more recent talk of a switch to Sheffield United during the summer.
The Blades currently sit top of the Championship while Villa are failing to cut the mustard down in 15th and in need of a new gaffer after Bruce’s exit. Woulda coulda.
Thierry Henry and John Terry, the latter a former Villa player, had been mentioned as possible successors.
Late last night came the news Terry would indeed be part of the new management team but as assistant to Dean Smith rather than Henry.
The development means Brentford are now searching for a new boss but, having spoken positively of Terry yesterday, Hogan will be pleased the former Chelsea captain will be part of the new management team.
“He was great last year JT. Different to what you expect. He’s almost quite shy. Not the most vocal but he leads by example. Obviously as a central defender, he’s watched the game from the back all his life and he understands things.
“He understands patterns of play, where to be, his reading of the game... He’s arguably been England’s best defender, the Premier League’s best defender, so if he can pass his knowledge on that would be brilliant.”
Hogan admits his confidence isn’t where he wants it to be but he is still only 26 and uses the example of Brighton’s Glenn Murray, a veteran in a rich vein of scoring form, as proof that the instinct to find the net never leaves the natural predators.
So, yet another clean slate awaits when he flies back to the English midlands next week, regardless of who gets the Villa job. An opportune time, then, to get on the scoresheet for an Ireland team in need of a poacher who can mine a rich vein of form.
“Yeah, but I’m not coming away on international level thinking about Villa, I’m thinking about Ireland. If I score, it’s for that reason.
“It’s not because if I score, it’s going to help me at Villa. That’s not what you’re here for.”