Ashley Young: Should We Sell?

I don’t think even the most wishful Aston Villa supporter would be surprised to see the back of Ashley Young this summer. We’ve all come to terms that, after 4 and half wonderful seasons, our £9.75m bargain will take his thrills – both on the webcam and on the pitch – on to pastures new for the beginning of the 2011-2012 season. After O’Neill’s departure and a relegation scrap, there is no question of why. With one year left on his contract, there is no real question of when. The only unresolved mystery, if you like, is who – Liverpool, Spurs or United? (I hear Chelsea are interested in a part exchange deal but I don’t think they have enough cash to throw our way on top of a Torres swap)

However, I don’t buy into this way of thinking (shock horror?). He is our player, whether he likes it or not, for another season after this. Yes, we will lose him eventually – but why shouldn’t we hang on to him and drain every last ounce of juice from him that we possibly can?

Don’t worry, I can already hear the bemused sighs of disagreement – but bear with me.

Okay, we shouldn’t hold a player against his will. Someone, who doesn’t want to be there is “not fit to wear the shirt”. Maybe. But despite his well documented itchy feet over the past 18 months, Ashley has put in shift after shift, performance after performance, poistion after position for the Aston Villa cause without fail. The former Watford man will also just be a mere 26 years old at the beginning of the new term – that’s more enough time for him to enjoy his peak form with a, dare I say it, bigger club. His international form and stock has never been so valuable. And let’s face it, one more small season with a recent top 6 club in the presence of top country men is not so bad is it? I’m sure he’d quickly get over it and go about making sure the likes of Manchester United are still interested in him the following season.

We’d also of course miss out on a nice transfer fee for the departure of our most prized asset. But was it just me, or was anyone else not a bit ticked off 2 years ago that we lost our best player at the time, our captain, our 12 year stalwart for just £12m? Almost half the price that MON had rated him the previous year. This will no doubt happen again. With just 12 months legally remaining at the club, Young will be shipped off for much less than we deserve. And I’ve got a better idea…

What if we were to keep Ashley Young? Yes, the massive chances are that he will go for free 12 months later. But this, in my opinion, is the risk we have to take – and one which could pay dividends in another way. Mr Houllier will be given another crack at the whip and I’d like to see what he has got with our best team. I’d like to see what he can do with a full pre-season behind him both on the training ground and in the transfer market. So we can keep Ashley, because it is our perogative to do so, and, in doing so, we keep a hold of three of England’s most potent attackers in himself, Bent and Downing. Add to that the bonus of Mr Villa, Gabby Agbonlahor. Add to that, the further blossoming of Marc Albrighton and Barry Bannan. Add to that, other ideas Houllier might have. Be it for a sturdier defence, a deeper squad, a permanent capture (and actual use) of an injury-free Michael Bradley. Young might choose to go at a later date anyway despite our best efforts. But surely our best chance of keeping him is off the back of a truly remarkable season – something that might make him think twice, and something which is only possible with our best players still at the club.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d still be 100% resigned that he would go anyway, but before he does, he could leave a legacy behind. He could push us back up the table and make us more attractive for future signings. He, along with our current quality in the squad, could once again re-ignite the Villa so that we are actually prepared for his leaving – and, for me, this is something which will be much more useful, much more valuable, and much more meaningful than an undervalued transfer fee into our kitty.

A great quote by Seth Godin in his business book The Purple Cow sums this way of thinking up perfectly, “it’s safer to be risky – to fortify your desire to do truly amazing things. Once you see that the old ways have nowhere to go but down, it becomes even more imperative to create things worth talking about.”

Randy Lerner has already stated his intent in the Houllier-era by smashing our transfer record. But if we prematurely accept the exit of our best player, we might find it extremely hard to recover from. We might find our selling-club status further copper fastened, we might find other top players looking elsewhere. We’ve been down this road before. But should we keep Ashley for one more year and miss out on the miserly incoming transfer price that’s sure to come our way, it could be the best signing of any this summer. It will restore our position as a club who does as they please and not how others dictate and, with such a quality crop of players already here and coming through, one more year of ‘The Young Effect’ could prove massively benificial in taking us back on the road that we belong. It will prove absolutely crucial in, not only our ability to create things, but in our ability to create things worth talking about.

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Bent’s Pricetag in Perspective

£18m rising to £24m…

I never once denied how overpriced this transfer fee for Darren Bent was. At the time, I used Man City’s valuation of £28m for James Milner as justification for our extravagant spending. I pointed to Barcelona’s exchange of £30m plus Samuel Eto’o for the acquisition of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Even yesterday, I scoffed at Newcastle for rejecting Spurs’ £23m bid for the North East “Hotshot”. But today, Transfer Deadline Day has certainly helped Villa’s case, and Villa’s perceived sanity, in mammoth proportions hasn’t it?

£18m rising to £24m… It doesn’t sound so bad now does it?!

Let’s just come out and say it: £30m for Andy Carroll isn’t enough. Really? I don’t know who is worse: Liverpool for valuating Carroll at this price and willing to part with their record transfer expenditure for Andy’s limited services; or Newcastle for rejecting this extortionate fee!

Carroll has bagged 11 goals so far in the Premier League this term… hats off. However, 5 of these were headers and one was the result of a careless backpass against Chelsea. Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool have had the ball on the deck effective immediately as of the Scot’s appointment and they play from the back. It remains to be seen how the Geordie number 9 would cope in the absence of Newcastle United’s cosmic football. On the other hand, Darren Bent has proven his Premier League worth for 6 seasons now and has almost matched the exploits of players like Fernando Torres – who today will be bought for £50m.

More interestingly, whilst Darren Bent was going about scoring 24 league goals for midtable Sunderland last season, Carroll was making his case for the Magpies number 9 jersey by scoring the 6th most goals in the Championship last term. Andy notched up a tally of 17 Football League goals, playing at a lower standard for a team who hit the net 90 times in the league. Bent, meanwhile, secured 50% of a Premier League team’s goals.

Celtic’s Gary Hooper banged in more than Carroll, playing for Scunthorpe, in the Championship. He is now keeping pace with the Tyne-man’s tally this year, having played less games in the SPL. Hooper is just a year older than the Newcastle “hitman” but was signed for just £2.4m by the Scottish leaders in July. No-one, including myself, would dare utter the words of Gary Hooper and £30m in the same sentence (unless that sentence was stating how he is NOT worth such a ridiculous amount).

Charlie Adam, playing in midfield for last season’s Championship long shots, also scored more than the long haired enigma could manage. Adam has been the stand-out player in the Premier League this year; he was compared to World Cup winner Xabi Alonso with little objections; he has been absolutely and completely integral to 2010’s Team of the Year, yet he is not deemed worthy of a bid worth just £4.5m…

The fact that £30m wasn’t enough for Carroll means that any bid worth £31m or greater would put the 22 year old in the top 10 most expensive players of all time.

The last day of this strangely magnificent transfer widnow has also seen Liverpool seal the signing of Uruguayan forward player Luis Suarez for £22.8m – almost £5m more than Villa’s initial fee. He seems like a good player and will probably go on to benefit the club. He has a good past record, but why should we forget about Mateja Kezman’s 105 goals in 122 league games in the same country? Bought by Chelsea, the Serbian managed just 4 goals. I’m not saying Pool’s new number 7 is doomed to the same fate, but at least with Bent, the risk Villa were running with their spending was extrememly minimal.

And lest we ever forget Man City’s ridiculous valuations. We don’t need to get into the likes of Santa Cruz, Adebayor, Milner, Lescott or Jo again, but what we should mention is that, with Deadline Day, they are expected to acquire the services of Birmingham reject, Seb Larsson on loan for the remainder of the season. City have splashed the cash on the likes of Milner, Silva and Wright-Phillips; they have deemed players like Bellamy and Weiss unworthy of their first 25; and yet they have resorted to playing Jo on the left and have now shamefully turned their attentions to the uninspiring blue nose.

When Villa dared to extract a record £18m from their pockets for the top class services of Darren Bent, they were questionned. Some laughed, some enviously complained at our lavish spree, some said it was too much – it was too much. But two games later, and the Deadline Day activity, Darren Bent, even at £24m, is quickly proving to be a bargain.

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How Important is Bent?

As soon as the record-breaking signature of Dazza Bent went through last Tuesday, I rejoiced for the acquisition of what we have been missing for so long. I claimed that it had been years since we had a natural goalscorer, a 20-goal-a-season striker, a household name leading the line. I said that you would have to look past Juan Pablo, to the 20th century days of Dwight Yorke to find our last genuine goal-machine… But I was wrong.

(And no, I’m not referring to Lionel Heskey)

You would have to look longer… Because, as big of a hit that the little Columbian was with the Holte End, as great the things that Yorkie went on to, as undeniable the talents of Dean Saunders were, each and every one of these legends failed to hit the net 20 times in one league campaign for Aston Villa (and to think that many supporters chastised Agbonlahor for “only” scoring 13 last year).

Since the inception of the Premier League, Aston Villa Football Club have not had one player capable of scoring over (or equal to) 20 goals in one single campaign.

Sometimes, you don’t have to look for the problem. Sometimes, the problem is so glaringly obviously that it can seem too simple. But as a result, sometimes the solution is never adopted. For 18 and a half Premier League seasons, the Villa directors have either showed blind ignorance to the suffocating reality that the team had no deadly front man, or they have simply failed to demonstrate enough bottle to follow through and address the hindrance that has been holding this “massive club” back for way too long.

Of course, players like Yorke and Angel surely knew where the goals were and had they had better board backing at the time, better managerial guidance, even better players, then they could well have notched up more impressive tallies. However, only 2 and a half seasons lie between now and when a Villa team (largely the same bunch) worse than this current crop of players notched up 71 league goals without the help of even one terroriser up top.

Modern day Aston Villa are dangerous. They are capable of opening the best defences and creating chances. Players like Downing, Young, Albrighton and Gabby know just exactly how to put dents in the opposition shields… but for too long, we were missing the one figure who knows instinctively just how to put the sword in the enemy’s jugular. Darren Bent banged in 24 league goals last term, supported by team-mates less able and more restricted than what he has alongside him at Villa Park right now.

Saturday’s beautiful evening of putting Man Shitty in their place showed just how little Houllier’s outfit has to change in order to succeed. We don’t have to look long term, we don’t have to hope Milosevic or Angel have brought their shooting boots, we don’t have to toss up a Hail Mary with Bosko Balaban, we don’t have to play to suit Carew or Heskey… we simply have to get 10 of our players to work hard and go about their attacking business like they can and when the chances come, like they always do, we now have a sure-fire Royal Flush up top in place of the unpredictability of 2 pairs.

When Randy Lerner courageously doubled our record transfer fee, in what some would call a financial gamble, and signed the former Sunderland man, he did what we have failed to do in the past with our incoming forwards – eliminate the element of on-field risk. And it is this assurance that Bent will deliver and fill the void of over 20 years, that makes it possible for Aston Villa to finally start turning potential into product.

Recapturing the League Cup 2012

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Sunderland, Quit Your Whining

The Right Move

The transfer of Darren Bent to Villa is imminent – in fact, it will probably be completed as I write this short piece. But the move is somewhat being soured by petulant Sunderland fans who, for some reason or another, believe they are a better club than us. This could not be further from the truth, and just like Owen Coyle correctly ignored the idiotic murmurs that he was taking a sideways step when he moved to Bolton, Darren Bent has every right to join the 5th most successful side in England – and he has every reason to be excited about it.

Yes, Villa have got off to a bad start this season as their managerial bat switched from 3 pairs of hands and their youth academy was called upon much too prematurely. But even with this aside, Sunderland are most definitely not a better side than the Midlands outfit and for all Bruce’s wonders, I’d still be surprised if they finished above us this year. In fact, Sunderland have finished above Aston Villa just ONCE in Premier League history and you’d have to journey back 10 seasons to find that league table.

Houllier’s crop of players, missing only James Milner from last year’s first XI, finished the 09/10 season in 6th position for a third consecutive time – one point above Liverpool; and need I mention, 20 points above Sunderland. As much respect as I have for Sunderland, you can’t finish 13th in the Premier League and expect to keep hold of a 26 year old international capable of scoring 24 league goals for a midtable outfit.

And before you say it, yes we cried buckets over the departure of Gareth Barry… but that was completely justified – unlike Sunderland’s fickle and unfair attitudes. Barry had served our club for 12 years – Bent was in red and white for 2. Villa had just begun knocking on the Champions League door after residing in the top 4 bracket for so long the previous year. Man City meanwhile, had stretched their lack of silverware to 33 years and finished the season in a solid 10th place position. We were only receiving £12m from the richest club in the world for our most prized asset – whereas Villa are doubling their club record transfer fee just to bring Bent to Bodymoor Heath. Nevertheless, in hindsight, it could be fair to say that maybe we can see through Barry’s actions as he watched almost half a million pounds add on to his bank account each month and Man City compete for the Premier League top spot this term.

On the contrary, Villa’s highest paid player collects just 70K each week and even that is rare for one of Lerner’s employees. So to say that Bent is a money-grabber is absolutely absurd. Maybe the hitman simply woke up one morning and realised that he is 26 and in the form of his life. He is competing with the likes of Drogba, Tevez, Rooney and Torres each year and he is finishing a whopping 50% of his club’s league goals (09/10 season) – maybe Bent plainly realised that he was better than Sunderland.

And just like Bent would like to play for one of the top 4; and just like an established top 6 side like Villa would like to acquire the services of people like Rooney, maybe both parties realised that we were the next best thing for each other. And maybe Dazza believes that he is the missing piece in the Villa Park jigsaw puzzle – and that with him, his new quality teammates, our exciting batch of youngsters, and the proud honourable tradition can once again see the light and with him, 21st century Aston Villa can step up one more level.

And what do you know… Welcome to Villa, Darren – make us believe again.

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A Goalscorer: Villa’s Forbidden Fruit

Well, we’ve always wanted our 20-goals-a-season front man… it looks like we just may have got him.

I read a comment earlier saying, “Aston Villa are mugs”. But, are they? £18m (possibly £24m) is an absolutely extortionate fee, granted. Aston Villa have never spent more than a dozen million on one player, true. But, guess what else? Aston Villa have never had a goalscorer this century either.

As disappointed as I am that Houllier is spending the kind of money O’Neill resigned over, I can only (unfortunately) assume that someone like Ashley Young is on his way out in order to fund this type of transfer. (Very recent reports would have us believe that Downing could be shifted out, but I think we are all more prepared for the departure of the former – so I want to ignore the Downing-to-Liverpool talk) However, if Lerner is simply willing to plough money into the new regime and give Houllier a fair crack at the whip, then I can only feel sorry for MON, but as a supporter, feel genuinely excited.

Excitement is a word which has often found itself dissociated from The Villains this season – so even if we are being “mugs”, I welcome, at least, the new lease of life into what has largely been an arid and fruitless project thus far. Excuses and apologies have been available (a lot from yours truly) from the outset of Houllier’s spell but, at the risk of sounding like a Sky Sports News pundit, at the end of the day, this is a results business. Therefore, as frustrated as I have been by the outcomes of a lot of our games, I’m thankful that Ged has made it to the transfer window to put his stamp on the club.

And yes, we’re smashing our club record and then some if we do acquire Sunderland’s prized asset. But allow me to ask: Is £18m really that bad when you consider the most recent transfers of people like Glen Johnson, Michael Carrick and of course, James Milner? We can talk all day about how these players haven’t lived up to their price tags and it would be easy to argue that at least with Darren Bent, we are guaranteed goals if nothing else (and I don’t particularly want anything else from him). But the point I’m making is that the fee of £18m is somewhat justified simply because such is the inflation of English Premier League players. Besides, Spurs spend big every year, Man City have more than £60m worth in strikers rotting in their reserves (one of these include the Brazilian enigma that is Jo), and any “big” spending on Villa’s part has always been safe, long term and largely unexciting. And we’re supposed to keep up with the likes of City and Spurs…

The prospect of “Dazza” (will that catch on?) is stimulating however. It is long term in that he can provide a good 7 years of service, but it is short term because he will deliver immediately. It is extremely exciting and to top it all off, it is still safe. He will score goals, there is absolutely no doubt about that – and for a club whose wingers lead their scoring charts, this is remarkably refreshing. He’s the type of player who doesn’t need to play well, he doesn’t need to be in the game, yet he still carries a goal-threat worthy of competing with current Premier League greats such as Torres, Rooney, Drogba and Tevez. Bent was criticized for “flopping” at Spurs, but people tend to forget that he was signed by Martin Jol who was axed just 2 months later. This, as well as his 12 league goals under Redknapp should be remembered when considering his Tottenham career. The fact that a midtable club like Sunderland were willing to spend up to £16.5m for his services speaks volumes to declare that his time at The Lane was not a shambles by any stretch of the imagination.

My next point may hurt a little…

But modern day Aston Villa are unfortunately pretty far from the top level of football. We are merely trying to preserve our top 8 status at the minute and with our nose just above the relegation zone because of Goals For this year, the acquisition of such a genuine goalscorer, coming into the prime of his career, is sincerely flattering. Don’t get me wrong, I want us back competing amongst the top 6, the top 4, but players like Van Persie and Rooney, like Drogba and Tevez, they might just be a tad too unrealistic as targets at the present moment. So why not have the next best thing?

Only 26 and already a proven goalscorer, I defy anyone to tell me we shouldn’t be signing a player like this when we’ve been crying out for him for so long. Today, I’m an excited Aston Villa fan who is willing to welcome Darren Bent to Bodymoor Heath with open, desperate arms. Who knows what tomorrow holds. Maybe a return to the upper realms of the league, and maybe a helping hand onto that coveted “next level” we are so often dreaming about.

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Inhibitions to the Sea

It really is an easy game…

Familiar sight

I had to make a choice tonight: Never Been Kissed on E4 at 9pm; or the second half of the Liverpool game. It was an easy decision. Drew Barrymore trying to make it as a writer whilst trying to find Mr. Right? King Kenny never stood a chance. Unfortunately, I live with a Liverpool fan – but fortunately for him, we also have E4 +1.

To be honest, I had no real interest in watching this current Liverpool bunch. They’re going through a rough patch for sure, but as a neutral, this doesn’t make any claim to make me come back and watch more of their hopeless long balls. Thankfully, however, tonight they were up against a hungry, vibrant and fearless Blackpool outfit – and after watching 45 minutes of their football, for me, the newly-promoted Seasiders should be Aston Villa’s inspiration.

I know what you’re thinking: BLACKPOOL are OUR inspiration?? But before you say it, that was 29 years ago…

We are no longer European giants, we aren’t league contenders, the cup drought continues, and even the “glorious” days of top 6 are a distant memory. Don’t get me wrong, I still hang on to some form of stubborn hope that we have a better team than Blackpool… don’t we? (Despite, 7 points – and a game in hand – difference in the two clubs at the moment) But there’s something that Holloway’s outfit has that we don’t (not the orange eye sore – their squad) – No Fear.

Blackpool’s players ooze confidence in every game. When they’re behind, they are resilient. When they’re ahead, they are positive. When they’re coming off the back of consecutive defeats, they are unshaken. Fearlessness stimulates every performance played at home or away from Bloomfield road. Honesty drives every shift the 14 used players are more than willing to put in every game. Is it always pretty? Of course not. They have come out of virtually nowehere. They joined the league as odds on favourites for the drop; patronised before they even kicked a ball; they had seemingly reached the final chapter of their great story. But Ian Holloway, and every one of his able foot-soldiers were not reading the script. And what their attacks sometimes lack in class or consistency, is more than made up for in quantity and directness. Every time an orange shirt retrieves the ball, there is a buzz in the air – he will immediately have at least 4 runners in support and he won’t be afraid to take on the man himself, even if he hasn’t the capability of doing so! If their attacks fail, if a player cocks-up – it is apparently immaterial, because another attack, another roaring crowd, another chance is just around the corner.

So WHY NOT, is my question. Why not throw caution to the wind, why not enjoy our football, why not believe? Aston Villa are blessed with exciting players capable of game changing runs and passes. Gabby, Downing, Young, Marc, Bannan are all ready to be unleashed, ready to cause havoc. Yes, we are playing some nice stuff at times – but let’s get the shackles off. The most impressive thing about Blackpool tonight was their assurance. At 1-1, they deserved a second. At 2-1, there was only going to be one winner. After 90 minutes, Liverpool couldn’t get the ball out of their half – a time when you’d expect the kitchen sink to be thrown at the Blackpool goal.

I’m sick of this feeling of apprehension going up to play the Blue-noses this season. Their defence is there for the taking – they proved that again last night against West Ham – Johnson can’t cope with Agbonlahor; Foster is shaking once again. What would Blackpool do? (This should now be our This is Anfield sign)

They would go for the jugular. They would get players like Young, Downing and Albrighton (if they had that luxury) running at the ageing Carr, the heavy Murphy, the incompetent Liam Fuckin’ Ridgewell at left and right back. They would run at Johnson and Dann and watch as they back further and further towards their 18 yard line. They would pepper Foster’s goal – shoot on sight. They would show little to no respect to the likes of Bowyer and Ferguson.

Birmingham City are there for the taking, and I dread to think of not beating them out of 3 attempts in one season. We are bigger than that, we are better than that. So why not go for it? Why not go to St. Andrew’s with no fear, why bother worrying about the mercurial Jerome? Let’s avenge their classless, shameless, violent League Cup riot. Let’s restore pride in the biggest club in the Midlands. Let’s do it The Blackpool Way!

(Oh, looks like Drew’s about to get the guy…)

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Blue Murder

This was epic. A coming-together of two tribes; an eye for an eye; a clash of titans. Wednesday night had everything you’d expect from a second city square-off: intense rivalry; bloodstained turf; and the refusal to back down. Oh, and there was also a football match before-hand.

Unfortunately, as the Villains once again showed how the new Houllier-era is reaping controlled, glamorous football, we also failed to put the opposition to the sword… once again. I hope Gerard gets his time, I really do. He’s been greatly unfortunate through the long term injuries of many key players and he is yet to dip into the transfer market and properly imprint his stamp on our club. And as sick as I am with these poor results, it is extremely refreshing to enjoy watching Villa play – I can’t remember the last time I did.

However, two games against the Blue-noses without one victory is unacceptable. It was heartening throughout O’Neill’s tenure when we expected a win on derby day. There were no nerves, no shakes and no surprises – simply normal order. But now, I already hate playing Birmingham.

Thankfully, however, the lack of class in the blue half of Brummie, which is all-too-apparent every year, yet again shone through and served only to remind us of the gnawing inferiority complex at St. Andrews. And strangely, in defeat, Aston Villa was victorious.

Taking to the pitch, provoking (and attacking) the away fans, and rubbing our noses in a mere quarter final defeat, the Birmingham faithful demonstrated just how far they really are behind us. The gulf in class between the two clubs is impenetrable: Birmingham City Football Club will always be in the shadow of Aston Villa. And the gulf in class between the two sets of fans was there for the whole world to see as the Clowns let the biggest club in the Midlands know just how much they envy us.

They say that a sore loser makes for an even worse winner. And instead of walking away; instead of starting preparations for their semi-final; instead of finally being labeled as winners, the Brum-scum spoiled their first victory over Aston Villa in years by commencing an unnecessary riot. And not that they were solely to blame for England’s failure to acquire the 2018 World Cup, but their unjustified, thuggish behaviour presented the 22 pompous executives of FIFA an easy avenue to give England the rejection they wanted to give them anyway.

Moreover, Birmingham’s reaction to what was obviously an unexpected victory once again revealed that their season revolves around Villa. Devoid of ambition, blind of direction, and even shameful in victory, it is not unfair to assume that the Blue-noses’ season is now a roaring success – they stole their win over Villa and clearly, nothing else seems to matter. So congratulations Birmingham – mission complete.

I’d also like to thank the Brum-scum because instead of deciphering a football match; instead of looking at where it all went wrong for Villa, where it went right for Birmingham even, I simply discussed their fans’ ridiculous behaviour – like every writer will. Thanks for the reminder of just how bigger a club we are than you – God knows we needed the confidence boost in this slump we’re experiencing. Finally, thank you Birmingham; because even after a winning result on the football pitch, myself, Aston Villa, and indeed the entire country can still say,
“Birmingham City FC: No class; No grace; No hope.”

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