English Angle: To The Bitter End - Aston Villa Lose Martin 'Lionheart' Laursen

Villa's skipper has hung up his boots, and Goal.com's Greg Ptolomey has had a look at the unfortunate circumstances surrounding his decision...
Aston Villa couldn't quite break into the top four this season, despite their best efforts. There's no doubt that they missed their skipper, the club's official Player of the Year last season, Martin Laursen.

The Danish defender has only made one appearance since suffering a knee injury in December, and the Villans weren't able to sustain their stunning start to the season – at one point a giddy minority even tipped them for the title – and will now settle for another go at Europe's secondary competition, the re-worked Europa League.

On Friday, it was confirmed that Villa's season, and Laursen's career, would end on the most disappointing of notes: the 31-year-old announced his retirement.

After a stint in Italy, Laursen arrived at Villa Park in 2004 and battled hard for the first couple of years, overcoming the knee complaints that had hampered his career to that point. He stormed back to establish himself as one of the Premier League's most influential, all-action, never-say-die defensive powerhouses. Last season in particular, he made an absolute nuisance of himself at both ends of the field, leading Villa's emergence as a new domestic challenger.

Following last summer's Gareth Barry transfer saga, Laursen was named club captain by boss Martin O'Neill, and the move made sense regardless of Barry's situation. No-one in the squad typified O'Neill's fusion of strength and enthusiasm more than the blonde destroyer.

But his knees thought otherwise. His previous clubs, and indeed his national team, had seen Laursen struggle through a multitude of problems with his left. Just before Christmas, his 'good' knee, the right one, was damaged during a win over West Ham United; Villa were hopeful. After all, the problem wasn't with his dodgy joint this time.

However, the end was nigh. He aggravated the injury after returning, undergoing surgery after Villa's win over West Bromwich Albion in January. Then, training in Dubai in April, it became clear that the problem could be career-ending, despite the club's initial murmurings.

When 'Lionheart Laursen', as he was known by the fans of former employers Hellas Verona, calls it quits, you know there is no coming back. O'Neill wouldn't have tried to force him to go under the knife again with a view to next season, either; the Northern Irishman's own playing career was ended in similar fashion – a less suitable similarity shared between the pair.

Laursen made 91 appearances in the claret and blue, also winning 53 caps in the red and white of Denmark, and picking up a fistful of medals whilst part of the Milan squad.

Team-mates Ashley Young and James Milner spoke before the announcement about what a huge loss Laursen would be to the club and now Villa have no choice but to ask Randy Lerner for a generous summer war-chest. The rumours are already flying around in terms of a replacement: Brede Hangeland of Fulham and Valencia's Raul Albiol, according to early reports. The Villans will also be hell-bent on ushering another long-term crock, Wilfred Bouma, back to full fitness.

Right now, though, we'll leave it to Martin Laursen to try to sum up his feelings as he's forced into retirement.

'It's strange; football has been my life," he said. "I've been a professional since 1997. I've not done anything else. For the past two years I've been playing the football of my life for Villa, and that's the sad and frustrating thing about it.

"But I'm looking at all the good things that have happened. I'm almost 32, not 22 and you have to stop at some point. You can't keep playing football forever.

"I can honestly say, 'That's life,' and it has to go on for me as well."

Greg Ptolomey, Goal.com