Multiple sources are reporting that full back Eric Lichaj is set to join Leeds United on a one-month loan, giving him an opportunity to secure a regular place in the first team after falling out of Gerard Houllier's rotation. The 22-year-old right back's starting debut for Aston Villa was a solid performance in a 2-1 win over West Bromwich Albion, but the buzz surrounding the young defender grew far louder the following week when Villa hosted Tottenham Hotspur. Despite his club going down in defeat to a 10-man Spurs side, Lichaj had a tremendous day, no small feat given the fact that he was assigned to mark Gareth Bale.
Lichaj's next game was slightly less of a triumph; while no Aston Villa players acquitted themselves well in the side's 4-0 spanking at the hands of Manchester City Lichaj was particularly poor, so much so that his performance was referred to as 'a nightmare' by manager Gerard Houllier. Shortly thereafter Aston Villa moved to acquire Spurs right back Kyle Walker on loan and Lichaj hasn't played for the senior team since. He hasn't even been so much as included in Houllier's squad since Jan. 5. A few poor performances for the reserves in the wake of the Manchester City game combined with Walker's arrival and the return of Richard Dunne to favor as one of Villa's first-choice center backs has pushed Lichaj well out of Houllier's current pecking order, though all indications are that he is still very much a part of the club's longer-term plans.
This move makes a lot of sense for all involved parties; Leeds get a player that can help them push for promotion to the Premier League, Lichaj gets first-team football in a competitive environment and Aston Villa ensure that one of their better prospects gets the opportunity to continue to develop his game. Fans of the USMNT should be plenty pleased as well; Lichaj can be an important player for the squad going forward, but he's not going to improve or catch the eye of Bob Bradley as the third-choice right back of a lower-table Premier League team. The Championship is clearly a step down, but Leeds are legitimate contenders for promotion and that level of competition is a positive thing for any young player to experience. It also gives Villa a better chance to take stock of where his game is than his appearances for the reserves; was his dip in form related to a hit to his confidence, or were his better performances above what can be expected from his current level of ability? These are important questions that need to be answered and the sooner the better, both for Villa and for Lichaj.
If Aston Villa have done one thing consistently well over the past few years it's develop young talent. Martin O'Neill might be gone but those responsible for the youth system are still in place and where it comes to the development of players like Lichaj, they still hold a fair amount of sway. If he is able to shine with Leeds, there's good chance he can work his way back into the Villa rotation at the start of next season. If his time there is less than successful, that gives Villa the chance to work a loan (or, in a less likely scenario, a permanent move) at the beginning of next season to ensure he has an opportunity to secure a regular place from the get-go. No matter what the case this has to be seen as a positive in terms of his development both now and in the future.