Chris Herd - one of just four Australians in the first team squad of a Premier League club - has turned to his ex-pro dad to help whip him into shape for the most important season of his career.
By
David Lewis

30 Jun 2014 - 12:32 PM  UPDATED 30 Jun 2014 - 4:22 PM

Willie Herd, who spent 13 seasons in Scotland’s top flight with Falkirk and Partick Thistle, has been honing the fitness of the injury-jinxed Aston Villa defender in one-on-one sessions at the club's Bodymoor Heath training base in a bid to help the Perth-born would-be Socceroo get his career back on track as he enters the final year of his deal with the Midlands club.

A succession of injuries and an in-house issue with the Villa hierachy last season left the versatile Herd, 25, with just two first team appearances and with it all to prove to coach Paul Lambert - in what is shaping as a make-or-break season.

Lauded as one of Villa's brightest prospects in a breakthrough 2011-2012 season, Herd - who made his initial impact as holding midfielder - has been beset by setbacks over the past two years but, according to dad Willie, is primed to burst back to his best.

A winger in his playing days, Herd snr, 54, said of his two-month trip to the UK: "Chris is looking lean and hungry and, after all the injuries over the past couple of years, it's almost like him starting from scratch again.

"He obviously had an issue with the club last year but that has been sorted and he is looking forward, rather than back.

"Villa gave us the run of their facilities and we worked on a lot of things, from general fitness to ball work.

"I've kept up with the coaching side of things since quitting the game as a player and I wanted to do my bit to pass on what I know to help Chris hit the ground running in what is a big season for his career.

"We started off training at just a local park in Birmingham and then headed to Villa's training base. He also did gym work and pool work.

"Football is a marathon and not a sprint. And for Chris it will now all be about maturity kicking in.

"In the past he's sometimes been a bit over eager to impress and has been playing at a 100 miles an hour.

"My message has been about pacing himself more and channelling his aggression a little bit ... maybe a case of using his head as much as his body to make things happen on the pitch."

Despite just 171 minutes of game time last season, Herd was named in Australia's squad to face Ecuador in London in March after coach Ange Postecoglou went to meet him in Birmingham.

But he pulled out at the eleventh hour for “personal reasons”, with Alex Wilkinson - who went on to partner Mathew Spiranovic at the World Cup at the back for Australia - taking his place.

It was Postecoglou's intention to give Herd every opportunity to make his squad to Brazil but his extended absence from Villa's squad ultimately precluded that.

The door for the 2015 AFC Asian Cup remains ajar for Herd, who is still awaiting his first cap after injuries rubbed him out of a succession of squads for his country.

However, his dad insisted his top priority is to regain his starting spot at Villa and put his injury issues behind him.

"The message to him when he met Ange was that if he was playing he would have been involved in pre-World Cup camp but it wasn't to be," he said.

"The most important thing for him is do well for his club and make up for lost time. If that happens, I can't see why Ange won't look at him again.

"I think there's a lot more to come from him in terms of development. He won't reach his peak for another three years and he still has a lot to learn.

"Hopefully, given the opportunity, he will take it again, as he did three seasons back.

In that season Herd made 19 appearances for Villa in a variety of roles including fullback, centre back and midfield.

"It's all about getting games under his belt and I think you will see a much improved player emerge," Willie said.

"He's had some bad luck with injuries. Basically one after another... it's incredible.

"But hopefully that's all behind him now."