Over the years, Villa have done really well in bringing through talented young players but unfortunately have been even more effective at moving them on prematurely and cheaply. Several exciting prospects have been allowed to leave for next to nothing and without getting a chance at breaking into the first team - Daniel Johnson, Samir Carruthers and Jordan Graham all spring to mind. Graham, in particular, is ripping it up for Wolves at the moment and I heard talk of a £5m bid from Spurs for him which highlights Villa's shortsightedness.
Gardner might be the best of all of them and the fear among Villa fans is that he'll leave and come back to haunt us, even more so than the trio above. It seems incredible to think that he actually broke into the first team under Alex McLeish four years ago and made an appearance as a second half substitute in Paul Lambert's first match in charge in 2012-13. At that stage, he was poised to establish himself as a regular but sadly, injuries have been a real issue for him.
His Villa career has been a stop-start affair. His injuries have been serious - he's ruptured his cruciate ligament in his knee twice - but also, the timing of his setbacks have really hurt. He's lost ground, and dropped down the pecking order in the squad. A prime example is last summer. Back at the club, and after a successful few months at Forest, he did well in pre-season, seemed to be firmly in Tim Sherwood's plans, and then injured his ankle badly in a friendly against Swindon and was sidelined for months.
I'm surprised he hasn't been involved at all for Villa this season. He's been fit for a while, but not in the squad, which seems strange. Remi Garde just hasn't picked him, though he has included a younger central midfielder, Jordan Lyden, at times - and Lyden made his debut against Wycombe last weekend. Even when Garde was without two midfielders in Ashley Westwood and Carlos Sanchez for the visit to Sunderland early in January, Gary wasn't in the squad. That spoke volumes.
It's not as if Villa are blessed with a great midfield, either. Everyone knows we're struggling. Plus, Garde likes to play with three midfielders so that should increase Gardner's chances of inclusion, but he hasn't. Gary is also pretty versatile; Villa fans think of him as a box-to-box goalscoring type but I know he played a deeper role at times for Forest last season and did very well. He could play either role for Villa, given the chance.
I'll certainly keep an eye on his performances for Forest. I think he has a genuine affection for the club, loved his time there, and I'd heard talk of a permanent switch being a possibility. It seems strange that Villa would keep hold of Gardner for so long - clearly, there is potential there - and then allow him to leave as they drop into the Championship. There's a scenario in play here whereby Gardner looks brilliant for Forest in the Championship, signs for the club permanently, and then Villa have to prepare for life in the division without someone who could excel in that league. But then Villa has been a strange club for some time.