Monthly Archives: May 2010

Updated Summer Transfer Targets

Bottler

On the 16th April, regarding potential Aston Villa Summer signings, I wrote this:

Michael Carrick:

I can’t believe I just wrote this player’s name. Constantly a source of negative criticism (heavy criticism) from yours truly, I’m extremely disappointed in myself that I have turned my back on such strong beliefs. Too often, Carrick is happy to play safe and return the ball to centre back or pass the buck to his central midfield partner. He’s a player who doesn’t seem to want to make something happen, someone who doesn’t seem to want responsibility, and thus someone who hides from the ball…

However, I then went on to explain why I thought Carrick would make a great addition to our first team squad and was quoted as saying that he could bring “panache and more ability to change games” for our top-4-challenging outfit. For this, I am extremely regretful and I would like to rescind any positive word I have had to say about this player, and indeed any wild claim I may have made that he could be of any use to Aston Villa. Instead, if everyone could please refer to the first cut-out on this piece and my 4 years of relentless slandering when trying to work out my thoughts on the former Spurs man.

Not only is it laughable that he was even selected for the squad off the back of his poorest season to date; but the fact that Michael Carrick was given 62 minutes to ply his underprivileged trade for the national team in their penultimate game before the World Cup defies all logic. With Gareth Barry injured, Carrick was ridiculously given another chance to shine, but instead opted to once again cower in the shadows. All season long (and less noticeably, the previous 3 seasons – because Utd were winning), the 28 year old has been rushing his passes, sinking deep, and turning his back to the ball (I’m no manager but I’d hazard a guess that this isn’t a good thing for a central midfield player to be doing). Moreover, when ‘M.C’ reluctantly receives possession in the opponents third, he uses all his skill and effort to scramble the ball backwards to his partner, or slow the whole thing down and push it out to a marked wide man. Shirking responsibility, dripping with anxious sweat and bringing nothing but the sideways dimensions of a timid crab to the country’s biggest club, it’s an embarrassing disgrace that the legendary Old Trafford number 16 was handed down to Michael Carrick.

By the way: I don’t want Villa to sign him anymore…

The fact that I suggested him in the first place goes a long way to questioning my player judgement, and it certainly undermines the integrity of this blog! And the next name on the list of my Villa targets, unfortunately, doesn’t help my case: Branislav Ivanovic. Yes, wouldn’t that be a lovely addition? It also looks like Cesc Fabregas is unsettled in London so we should be tapping into that market as well, shouldn’t we? In fairness, at the time of writing; Ivanovic, as quality a player he is, was certainly not in Chelsea’s long term first team plans. With Belletti, Essien, Mikel, Paulo Ferreira and Bosingwa; Ancelotti had, in my mind, 5 other players in line to step onto the pitch ahead of Ivanovic (and the Yugoslavian still wouldn’t get into Chelsea’s strongest XI). Little did I know, however, that the secret was already out; that everyone knew of his talent and that he was then going to go and win a place in the PFA Team of the Year. I think it’s clear that Ivanovic will have other, more fulfilling options on his plate than Aston Villa; and at that, I don’t think we could even afford to lure him anyway.

Moving on, as time has slipped by; I have become increasingly unenthused by the prospect of Kris Boyd and could see why the masses of fans would do too. Nevertheless, upon further reading of my first transfer article, I can see why I suggested him. With a goal in almost every 1.3 games, at 26, and available for under £3m, I do think it is a brainless purchase for a team with a terminal ability to finish.

Another goal for Kevin Doyle on Tuesday night furthers my belief that he could do twice the job Emile Heskey does; but as Wolverhampton’s main man, I’d be very wary of his price tag. I wonder if we could execute a swap deal with Mick McCarthy’s men, and if so, I hope they don’t realise what they’re giving out and what they’re taking off us in return.

Loan Sharks

I’m delighted to see the spread of the Keane-to-Villa talk and I stand by my other wish list target Rafael Da Silva. I would also be interested in the acquisition of twin brother Fabio (on loan as well) as they are two great ball players who could add different dimensions to our predictable attack from wingback and allow MON to change things around when we’re having trouble breaking teams down (particularly at home).

More importantly, I fully believe that Aston Villa can actually benefit from the uncontrollable spending of Manchester City. As their squad grows bigger and more expensive, it pushes quality (but less luxurious) names closer to the fringes with each transfer window; and I think in Aston Villa, these 6 suggestions (5 of which are homegrown) could find the haven and assurance of a club with the same ambitions. Shaun Wright-Phillips, and all his inconsistencies, would still provide an excellent option in a squad who use just two wingers. Likewise, Martin Petrov has serious, serious talent and despite being 31, he would be an inspired addition to any team, at any time in the game. The signing of these two players would also mean that we would have 4 dangerous wingers (2 right footed; 2 left footed) battling it out for just 2 positions, and helping MON affect real change in match situations, aside from his customary ‘Heskey for Carew’ trick (or vice versa if he’s feeling bold).

Stephen Ireland should be the main target

Moreover, the constant desire to splash the cash at Eastlands could result in City’s disillusioned sub-24 club turning their heads and having a look at the thriving, young, and British based players helping Villa keep up to speed in the Premier League rat race. Players like Nedum Onouha, Micah Richards, and Michael Johnson can only be impressed with how well O’Neill has developed the careers of compatriots Gareth Barry, James Milner, Ashley Young, Gabby Agbonlahor and Curtis Davies; and to be offered the prospect of plying your trade on a regular basis for a top 6 club with a strong English core, must surely be tempting to these young international hopefuls. And in spite of his price tag, the 23 year old Stephen Ireland is, in my opinion, set to take his place amongst some of the Premier League greats. Technically gifted and an inescapable thorn in the opposition’s side, want-away Ireland would definitely prove to be an absolute bargain as City refuse to acknowledge what’s in their midst.

Having retracted some names from my earlier wish-list, I have now proposed the signature of 11 players. It may be audacious to ask for this; but considering the outgoing staff we will record, the fact that we played the fewest number of players (again) in the league, and the speed at which the other clubs are looking to step on, we need to really consider immensely boosting the supply to our first XI, if we are to fulfil Mr Lerner’s Champions League objectives. 

Transfers In Estimated Spend Transfers Out Estimated Income
Rafael da Silva Loan Luke Young £3m
Fabio da Silva Loan Nicky Shorey £3m
Nedum Onouha £6m Carlos Cuellar £6.5m
Micah Richards £10m Habid Beye £1m
Michael Johnson £8m Steve Sidwell £4m
Stephen Ireland £10m Marlon Harewood £1m
Shaun Wright-Phillips £7m Emile Heskey £2m
Martin Petrov £2.5m    
Robbie Keane £10m    
Kris Boyd £2.5m    
Kevin Doyle £7.5m    
       
  £63.5m   £20.5m

The ‘Estimated Spend’ is simply what I would value each player at (based on their previous transfers, age and status) and if I was manager, what I would fork out for each. The ‘Estimated Income’ (which includes some players I don’t want to see leaving) is purely what I think we could hold off for and receive for each.

So I’m asking for good old Randy to dip into his pockets and find £43m lying around!

This, of course, would probably be too much to expect (although he did say if the right opportunity arose for a world-class player, then he could finance it) even though City and Spurs are likely to dominate the market again. On another note, I have suggested players of similar quality and position and if needs be, we could quite easily just choose 3 out of the 6 City players: one of Onouha and Richards; one of Johnson and Ireland; and one of SWP and Petrov. And although I would love to see all 6 coming on board, if we disregarded 3 of these players, that could save up to £27m (bringing the net spend tally right down to £16m).

I also refused to put the names of my two favourite players into the ‘Transfers Out’ Column. We are all aware of the potential revenue a James Milner sale could provide and I don’t care if he is 30, I would expect a respectable price tag to be put on the services of our most experienced player and most talented striker John Carew. With the sale of these two, we could finance my wish-list and then some. But in an ideal world, Villa would look to keep every player not listed in the table, and add them to the quality of my proposed transfer targets. Do that; and I think in the near future, a top 4 finish will be the most modest of our dreams. But whether we can do that this summer; remains to be seen.

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World Cup 2010: England’s 30

New regime?

With just 19 days separating today and the start of the world’s biggest football competition, and with the rugged German and Italian champions flying the flag for the elite of club soccer tonight, it is safe to say that all English men and women are quite happy to buy into the hype of World Cup fever and hope that the international distraction will get them through the summer (and indeed, through another 44 years).

But as my own South African dreams were bitten and broken by the venom of Thierry Henry’s very own Hand of God, I have been able to adopt a more cynical analysis of the would-be-delight of the promises of June/July.

And as the other home nations once again prepare for yet another Summer in absentia, I have found myself falling into the trap of reluctant support for the England campaign – but grow increasingly disillusioned as a “fan”.

Don’t get me wrong, Fabio Capello is doing a great job, and when England shot out of their qualifying blocks with 24 points from 8 games, I was thinking that 2010 could be their year. Not only that, but the Italian masterminded 2 victories over Croatia (their biggest threat to qualification) by a goal difference of +7; and having succeeded in winning a place in the finals with 2 games to spare, I wasn’t worried about the defeat to a Ukraine outfit who desperately needed the points.

Maybe though, it would have suited the St. George’s men a lot better had the World Cup actually taken place a lot closer to October (their final group game), when their momentum was unstoppable. Because as the weeks and months drag on; the air of invincibility within the England camp grows thinner and thinner, the nation begins to analyze any detail of every player, and the threat of rival countries becomes all too apparent as doubt begins to gnaw into championship ambitions.

The time between October and June has also allowed me to reconsider throwing my money at the 7/1 (3rd favourite) odds I could get for Capello’s men to reign supreme in Capetown come the 11th July.

The time between then and now has made me realise that this current England squad are no different to any of the other 21st century outfits. These crop of players aren’t disimilar to the team that failed to reach the group stages of Euro 2008. Yes, they are more organised and certainly more focused and have what would appear to be a lot more self belief. But should they be so confident? Should the odds be so short for England to break their 44 year trophy draught?

It’s easy to argue that they have destroyed Croatia (their supposedly only test to date) with two ruthless masacres… but when the dust settled, Croatia failed to reach the World Cup finals – in fact, they acquired an inferior points tally than the Ukraine did (who would later be knocked out by Greece). In truth, Capello has faced just 5 decent opponents and of these, has won just one of them (Germany way back in 2008). And, of course, the likes of Holland, Spain, Brazil and France are frightening opposition (although having been outplayed be the Republic of Ireland, I would question the latter’s inclusion), but this is the genus of quality that England will have to overcome if they are to prevail from Africa with a winner’s medal come July. And unfortunately, these are the standard of teams who not only I can’t see England overcoming, but the type of nation in which Capello has struggled to gain a result against in the past. Therefore, I have seen nothing of Fabio’s England that would suggest that they can improve on their customary average of a quarter final defeat.

Really?

However, if the past teaches us nothing, then maybe we can learn something from the future – where we have been given an insight to with the selection of the provisional squad of 30. Aston Villa, who fielded 14 English nationalities throughout the course of this season, will have just 2 players on the final plane to South Africa (Warnock will lose out to Baines). One of these players will be Emile Heskey. Heskey, with 3 goals to his name, has been selected ahead of our first choice striker, Gabby Agbonlahor. Heskey, who has been dropped for the majority of our games, makes up 50% of the players representing Aston Villa for England. Meanwhile, Gabby, with 13 goals to boast, hasn’t even been considered. Gabby, who can hold the ball up as well as Heskey and lead the line as effectively as anyone, stays at home. I’m not sure who should be most embarrassed by this decision: Emile Heskey or Fabio Capello – because it is a travesty; and a selection which will only hinder England’s search for glory.

Meanwhile, the selection of the two City slickers is further testament to the appalling job completed by the decisions panel. Shaun Wright Phillips; who not only has been out of form, but out of favour for the entire second half of the season, has, like Heskey, been deemed immune to Capello’s policy of selecting only those players who are in form and playing regularly. It is an outrage that such an inconsistent, non-entity of a player has been made an exceptional circumstance and selected ahead of two-times left winger of the year Ashley Young. It is blatantly obvious that Young is a much more technically gifted footballer than SWP and their effect for their respective clubs in the past 5 months bears no comparison. Yet, Young, like Agbonlahor, has been deemed surplus to requirements.

Andy Johnson. Probably the most disappointing decision of them all. Clearly, he’s not a bad player; but at 22, he still has a lot to learn. He set up 5 goals in his 5 months for City, but down the road in Birmingham; Capello could have chosen the older, the internationally experienced and ready-made left footer Stewart Downing in his place. In fact, Johnson seems to be just a clone of his former teammate, but the current England manager followed the footsteps of his predecessors and bowed to the hype and pressure of the English media.

Recalling the retired Jamie Carragher to the setup was another blunder. This has hardly been the Liverpool player’s best season (not by any stretch) and the fact that he had turned his back on his country should have dismissed any notion that his name be even considered. Bringing him in as full back cover is another questionable decision. Designed as a raw, last-ditch centre back, Carragher will fail to make an impact on the wing (offensively and defensively), and in Gary Neville, Capello could have had a much more competent, and loyal, full back substitute.

All in all, it seems to be a case of “more of the same” as England prepare for yet another major tournament. The eventual switch of Steven Gerrard to the left flank is testament that nothing ever changes in the England setup as Capello attempts to accommodate all his big names. Instead, players should be selected on the basis of who is the best for each position (not on the idea of selecting your 11 best players). European champions, and tournament favourites, Spain, will line out with the exclusion from the first team of names from this list of ridiculously gifted players: Fabregas, Alonso, Busquets and David Silva. Worryingly though, Capello seems to have shirked every big decision to date. His attempted acquisition of Paul Scholes, in my opinion, is further admission to his belief that his team can’t cut it. Not only will England have to come through the dreaded penalty shootout at some stage if they are to be crowned champions, but they must overcome opposition who they have, in the past and recently, just simply been second best to.

Goalkeepers: Joe Hart, David James, Robert Green.

Defenders: Leighton Baines, Jamie Carragher, Ashley Cole, Michael Dawson, Rio Ferdinand, Glen Johnson, Ledley King, John Terry, Matthew Upson, Stephen Warnock.

Midfielders: Gareth Barry, Michael Carrick, Joe Cole, Steven Gerrard, Tom Huddlestone, Adam Johnson, Frank Lampard, Aaron Lennon, James Milner, Scott Parker, Theo Walcott, Shaun Wright-Phillips.

Forwards: Darren Bent, Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe, Emile Heskey, Wayne Rooney

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Martin O’Neill: A Class Apart

I think next year will be exciting and worthwhile, and I look forward to it…

On Wednesday afternoon, Randy Lerner delivered the crucial end of season press conference, behind closed doors – a session which most media sources would have had us believe that change was nigh, that the rain clouds were coming. On Wednesday afternoon, reporters gathered to watch the empire fall; to conclude a so-so fairytale where the hero would not prevail. But on Wednesday afternoon, our commendable four year progress promised it would not stall. On Wednesday afternoon, our beloved U.S chairman ensured that modern day Aston Villa would not peak at the humble heights of last year’s ‘nearly season’. And on Wednesday afternoon, Martin O’Neill had pledged yet another season to the midlands cause; casting aside the dark clouds of conspiracy, banishing the poisonous fibs of timid journalists back beneath the same rock they love to hide under, and restoring hope that both himself and Mr Lerner, and now the masses of Villa fans, believe.

Chinese whispers would have us thinking that MON and Lerner share a futile relationship; that the Northern Ireland man demands serious, serious bucks but that his American colleague will not comply – that the ‘dough’ isn’t available. I have argued that the implementation of transfer funds is critically vital if we are to keep up with the lavish spending spree of our Tottenham and Man City counterparts. But despite Harry Redknapp splashing in excess of £70m in his 18 months in charge of Spurs; Villa find themselves just 6 points adrift, 2 victories. And even though the Citizens could afford to dish out the guts of £125m in just 2 transfer windows, one season; the claret and blue side of Birmingham lies just one win behind. And as Martin O’Neill accepted the challenge of a fifth campaign at a club where the chairman has expressed that Champions League qualification is the aim, it is quite clear that one of two things has happened in the boardroom: Either Lerner read my blog last week and agreed that an injection of wealth needs to be invested into the first team; or O’Neill has seen enough of both his own squad and the rest of the league to believe that the current rate of progress at Villa is sufficient enough to secure glory in 2010/11. I hope that both of the above has taken place. And the fact that this deal was agreed more than 3 months in advance of the new season makes me think that both have taken place. Either way, the important thing is that we did not crucifix the messiah and have yet another year to follow him closer to the Promised Land.

After recently questioning the transfer performance of a certain Mr Benitez, I came into some serious criticism from loyal fans of the Merseyside club (http://backpagefootball.com/info/premier-league/talkin-bout-a-rafalution/) who put their 4th trophyless (and let’s be honest, unimpressive) season down to injuries, poor form and of course the crippling venom that is Hicks and Gillett (no way could “Rafa” be at all responsible for any of their downfalls). Strangely (and rather embarrassingly) though, the Pool fans began to focus on the unflappable performance of Aston Villa supremo, Martin O’Neill; attempting to suggest that I was somewhat hypocritical if I didn’t realise how poorly MON’s transfer policies have held water. Even if Aston Villa’s signings have been sub-standard (which they haven’t been), does it really matter? I was criticizing how badly Benitez has performed in the transfer market, but the Scouse reaction with a “you’re just as bad as us” mentality seems to be an admission that my damning critique was not too far off the mark. Moreover, the article, which was also posted on this site, sparked another Rafa defender to let his guard down by taunting that O’Neill hadn’t signed with Liverpool “yet”. If Benitez is in fact the all-powerful-oracle, Liverpool’s great hope; why on earth would someone be shouting for the arrival of our current manager to replace him?

But one comment which really got under my skin was the following:

I want this man to go do the same with Martin O Neill’s facts and figures in the transfer market before he puts the Villa boss in a bracket ahead of Rafa as a transfer dealer…

And so, delighted to, I obliged…

As if it would be absurd to even hint that Martin O’Neill is more astute than the Reds gaffer when it comes to wheeling and dealing in the transfer window.

One scouser made an erroneous claim that MON had recorded a greater net spend in his 4 years than “Rafa” had in his 6, and I thought I would start by putting this to bed early: O’Neill’s transfer spending has created a loss of £84.2m for the club, whereas Benitez has brought £95.8m into the red for Liverpool. Not only this, 79% of Villa’s spending has taken place in just the last 2 years – giving Benitez an almost 4 year head-start on our main man.

(A lot of these stats have been brilliantly presented by Dan at http://www.astonvillacentral.com where I was pointed to by a Pool fan thinking it would back up his claim that O’Neill has not done well. I was confused to say the least because all I found was further confirmation of the ‘MON-effect’)

Ignorance is a tragic thing, however, and it’s truly upsetting to see that football fans cannot think for themselves. Constantly quoting Paul Tomkins (a Liverpool writer who I have plenty of time for) as gospel to their football beliefs, a lot of Pool fans refuse to acknowledge where Villa have come from – and more importantly, where Liverpool have come from in the same time period. When Martin O’Neill decorated his office at Bodymoor Heath in 2006, Aston Villa were languishing agonizingly close to the relegation zone in 16th place and the cup final draught had been extended to six years. Conversely, in the summer of 2006, Liverpool were newly crowned FA Cup kings and champions of Europe just one season before. From a distance, it would be too easy to recognize that Villa, whose 4 most capped players the following year were Sorenson, Barry, Aaron Hughes and Steve Davis, have done exceptionally well to now finish above a Liverpool team who, four years previously, already boasted the likes of Carragher, Hypia, Alonso and Gerrard.

Under a microscope, to decipher the transfer performance of Martin O’Neill, in a closer inspection, would similarly produce the same positive results. Because as MON entered the realms of ambiguity when he accepted the Villa post, he would later have to get rid of a spectacular 33 players to get to where we are today. What is more interesting is that just 4 of these players were his own signings (one of which was the unfortunate retirement of Chris Sutton). That means, out of the 28 players he brought to the club throughout his time in charge, a massive 85.7% of them are still registered as Aston Villa players – which is undeniable testament to both the obstacle O’Neill faced in throwing out our enormous chunks of dead wood, and in bringing in players to produce effective results.

On the contrary, out of Benitez’s first 21 signings, just 3 of them are still on Liverpool’s books (giving the gaffer a bemusing 14.2% success rate with his first batch of imports). And results speak for themselves as O’Neill managed to hurl The Villains from relegation danger to one point above our opposing Merseyside giants in just 4 years (and even out of the 4 players MON had to sell on – we still made a profit of £850k).

Of course, Villa’s squad is still blessed with the likes of Habid Beye and Marlon Harewood who should, and hopefully will, be sold off this coming window. But these players have contributed (albeit very little) to our squad to help us get to where we are now and the laws of natural evolution will deem such fringe players surplus to requirements as the Villa machine grows in search of bigger and better things. Other rumored departures like Heskey (please, God) and Shorey have also added depth and competition to our first team as O’Neill used all his artillery to turn us from pitiful nobodies into genuine cup and top 4 contenders.

Furthermore, with still a humble £12m as our highest ever spent fee on an incoming signing, Aston Villa are mere babies when it comes to wrestling in the transfer ring. With a severely restricted wage budget compared to the rest of the top 7, we are over-performing every year. And even Benitez and all his boardroom trouble has had the ability to splash in excess of £20m on world class players… and Aquilani. Struggling to even touch £100m of incoming revenue, Villa earned £28.8m less than Spurs in the 08/09 season – whilst the traditional top 4 all reel in at least £100m more than little Aston Villa. Lying in 8th place behind 7 English teams when it comes to annual revenue, it should be ridiculous to claim that Villa have a chance of Champions League qualification. Yet, it isn’t. Why? Martin O’Neill.

Working within the confound of a £12m transfer cap and the restrictions of a meek wage bill, O’Neill has managed to uncover real talent and persuade them to take up residence at Villa Park. Now, every week, we are honored to witness the likes of Brad Friedel, James Milner, Ashley Young and John Carew (all of which amount to just £23m – the same price as City spent on Joleon Lescott) pull on the villa badge and push us closer and closer to the most unlikely of feats: European Qualification and cup success in the 21st century.

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Money Talks: Villa Need to Spend

The beginning of this week has been met with a sense of surreal satisfaction from yours truly. It was the first of Aston Villa’s 8 league defeats which didn’t require an icepack for my wall-punching knuckles. It was the first of Sam Allardyce’s 50 points of which I didn’t care how arrogant he was after claiming them. And it was the first home loss at Villa Park which wasn’t greeted with a chorus of boos from unruly “supporters”.

Because as Man City and Liverpool both dropped points at the feeble hands of Hull and West Ham, the outcome of the Villa Park game was virtually irrelevant. The boys had already secured two more points than last year, they had displaced two teams from last season’s top 5 and for the 3rd consecutive year, they copper fastened their right to be called a “big” Premier League club.

The big evil can bring us to paradise

Sometimes in football though, the term “big” refers to the material wealth of the said club; it analyzes the success of that team. And in today’s society, if I tried to suggest that Martin O’Neill’s Aston Villa is indeed a “big club” in comparison with the customary “big four” (including Liverpool, not Spurs), I’d be a national laughing stock for the reason that the recent success of the usual “big four” is incomparable – particularly by a humble Aston Villa outfit.

Similarly, the spending power of those 4 clubs vastly exceeds the capability of the Birmingham side who, despite surpassing the two Merseyside giants in the Premier League, still failed to break into the division’s elite top 4. Instead, Villa stayed 6th and were overtaken by a couple of Lords of the Manor who were afforded the privilege of driving the best cars money can buy. Tottenham, who admittedly splashed less cash than their Manchester rivals, broke into the Champions League with the exact amount of points which I predicted would clinch 4th place way back on the 10th March (but who’s counting eh?). However, I did suggest that Spurs would finish in 7th place – but that’s not important! What is important, unfortunately, is the small matter of Spurs’ transfer muscle. Consistently, Tottenham have been amongst the top 4 buyers in the Premier League (and still are, even with the inclusion of Man City’s fantasy football mockery), but have failed to convert gold into success. Martin Jol guided the Londoners to 5th place – but his highest ever points tally was just 65 (one above MON’s 64 for this year). On top of this, the sacking of the Dutch manager (which was ludicrous) brought about 2 successive midtable finishes before the constant injection of money began to bear any fruit. And since “Hazza’s” arrival on White Hart Lane in October 2008, the self-professed straight-talking people’s manager has had the luxury of spending over £70million on transfer signings (signings like club captain Robbie Keane to whom he could afford to ship north of the border for the year).

The great City revolution in Manchester has also demonstrated the power of money. Okay, City were unable to acquire some of the names on their audacious wish-list, but they have began to put themselves on the map and with an influx of quality players this season alone, costing around £125m, they have leapt from midtable obscurity to 3 points from Champions League Football.

Unfortunately, the message echoing from both Eastlands and The Lane seems to be, “Money talks…”

And where I would love to disagree with this disheartening, inhumane moral, how can I? O’Neill has had tremendous backing from our American owner and that is partly why we find ourselves looking down on the majority of the league each season. Although he didn’t inherit a goldmine like Mark Hughes, Harry Redknapp and Roberto Mancini did, MON was afforded the ability to record a net expenditure of almost £80m over his 4 years at the helm and he has put this to magnificent use. However, Villa’s record transfer signing still stands at a mere £12m, and with such an ineffectual sum being paid for our best players, can we really contend with the might of Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City?

The answer is simple: Not without the money.

As we were rescued from the depths of relegation in 2006, we forced our way into top half reckoning and ate up the points between ourselves and fourth spot. This year, I started dreaming. I was hoping that because we had too much on 5th place Everton and with the decline of Liverpool, we could snatch the final Champions League spot in similar fashion to most of our on-field victories: smash & grab. But as surely as our league position was improving with every penny spent, Spurs and City’s rash investments were paying rich dividends – at our cost. And now, if we don’t act financially, we must then be prepared to accept that we are bound to a fate of mid-table apathy.

Take Liverpool FC as a frightening example. 6 seasons ago, they were champions of Europe. Last season, they finished 4 points from eventual champions Manchester United. This year, however, they finished 4 points behind the sky-blue of Manchester City – a drastic slide of hand which can be put down to a number of factors, but one underlying problem will bind all these together: Money. Okay, so I’ve argued that Benitez could have done better in the transfer market and I still agree; but what I do sympathise with is the fact that Spurs and City, Chelsea and United have had almost a blank cheque book to work with; whereas Liverpool have recorded a loss of £96.1m in the transfer market over 6 years. While I still believe that this fee could have been used better to solidify an already world-class club, the fact is that the other 4 teams have had the security of making mistakes: big mistakes. Benitez, on the other hand, has clearly made bad signings – but he has been punished much more severely than a Spurs, City, United or Chelsea manager would have been.

Therefore, the worst thing for a sixth placed Aston Villa to do now would be to stand still. We didn’t move much this year from our previous league form and got lucky with the fall from grace of the Merseyside competitors. If there is to be a repeat of our hesitancy to really attack the transfer market this coming summer, then we shall be delighted to achieve a 7th place finish come next May. There has been no sign of Tottenham or Manchester City easing up when it comes to flexing their financial muscle, and you can bet your bottom dollar that Liverpool (possibly under new owners) will improve on their 63 points tally of this 09/10 season.

The man with the key

 So, as I am delighted with how well this year has gone, and I am very aware with where we have come from, I think it’s imperative that we understand that big bucks need to be invested in the first team if we are to push on from here. David Moyes, who is undoubtedly one of the greatest managers about has been at Everton for 8 years but you can’t help but think that he has taken them as far as he can. Unable to qualify for the Champions League group stages in 2005, Moyes’ squad missed the boat to bring back the glory days to Everton, yet they have still been performing superbly. Nevertheless, these excellent performances have all been in relative proportions and more importantly, have secured positions outside the top 4. Whilst Moyes will continue to make Everton a feared team; without financial backing, he has seen the likes of Spurs, City and Villa leave them trailing.

Mr Lerner (I love you by the way) now has two options:

1) Take a gamble and place your trust in O’Neill. Invest heavily in creating a squad worthy of Champions League football and believe that Aston Villa can be great again.

Or

2) Rest on your laurels. Appreciate that we have created a top half Premier League team with financial security and the capability to cause an upset to the “big” clubs on our day. And lose O’Neill and all our momentum for good.

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emBARRYsing

It still hurts

Isn’t karma a wonderful thing?

A full season has passed and it is only now that I can bring myself to talk about Gareth Barry as another team’s player.

A full season has passed and I still begrudge his decision to jump ship aboard the diamond crusted Man City short term express: a non-historic, undignified, dishonourable voyage, set to implode prematurely and have a damaging effect on the unsuccessful club in its long term history.

A full season has passed, but am I still pathetically bitter? You bet.

Because, as an Aston Villa fan, there generally isn’t much to cheer about. As an Aston Villa fan, its hard not to laugh when our most loyal servant, our prized possession, takes his stock and pays homage to the devil – only to be bit in the ass.

Gareth Barry wrote in his open letter to Villa fans:

I feel the club is in the best position it has been in during my time here, I think we have a group of very good young players, we have a fantastic chairman who is here for the good of the club and one of the best managers in the game.

And do you know what? I couldn’t agree more. For the first time in 12 years, Villa have looked like a challenging outfit. For the first time in 12 years, Villa have beaten United, travelled twice to Wembley and fought for Champions League football for 37 games. The club is undoubtedly in its best position since the age of Gareth Barry, supported by the exciting potential of our blooming crop of players and the productive O’Neill-Lerner relationship. But hang on… then why on earth is our former captain abandoning the club’s most thrilling, most realistic project, since his time, at the peak of its promises?

After changing my mind lots of times I came to the decision that the time was right for me and for the club to part company.”

I can understand why he would think the time was right for the club to let our number 6 go, because we clearly had a readymade (dare I say it: more prosperous) replacement in the outstanding James Milner at hand. However, I would have plenty of assured reservations if someone was to argue that anyone at the club agreed that the time was right to move on (of course it wasn’t: would I still be crying about it a year later if it was?). A 28 year old Barry, accompanied by the dynamic James Milner at the heart of our midfield, could easily have been worth 6 extra points for the Villains throughout the course of a 9 month season (6 points which would have kept us rubbing shoulders with Spurs). And when a player goes from international zero to hero under the guidance of a new club manager, it’s certainly difficult to understand (and forgive) how he would think the time is right to turn his back on the club he is indebted to.

I need a new challenge, I have a massive fear of going stale and falling into a comfort zone.”

Okay… maybe the Hastings-born player found the idea of a Champions League challenge with Aston Villa a tad too mundane. Maybe he was bored of playing at Wembley in claret and blue (he had done it 10 years earlier afterall). But on a serious note, he had clearly been underestimating the value of our current players. He was taking his place in our first XI for granted and rated himself comfortably higher than club captain and 08-09 player of the year, Petrov and 09-10 player of the year, James Milner. To say he was in a comfort zone at Villa, who would have, on merit, two more deserving players to start ahead of Barry in this current season, is to disrespect not only our best players, but to undermine our club and its aims.

I feel I am joining a club that will seriously challenge to win major honours, people might doubt that, but I am convinced with the plans the club has short term and long term, and the backing the manager will receive from the owners, that we will be a major force.”

***Idiot alert***

Yes, Gareth Barry was joining a club with riches unheard of – but he was moving to a midtable team who hadn’t acquired silverware in 33 years and who have and will always be crippled living in the shadow of their city rivals. On top of this, of the competitions (major honours) Man City entered this year, it was in fact Aston Villa who prevailed most likely to secure medals in qualifying for the final stages of both the League Cup and FA Cup and with almost identical league campaigns and an equal Europa League fate, is GB really better off in a sky blue shirt? What is more embarrassing for the England international is that the manager who convinced him to move, the manager he chose ahead of Martin O’Neill, the manager he trusted to ignore the attentions of title challengers Liverpool for, the manager he believed would receive the right backing from the club’s owners was sacked in December of that same year – a real case of humble pie for City’s number 18.

Also the World Cup has always been a major part of my thinking and I feel at Man City I will get the chance to play regularly in my best position and play a big part in a successful side.

I wonder if Barry put any thought at all into this letter of “apology”. To be frank, it’s more insulting to Villa fans than it is anything else. For one, it was Martin O’Neill who made Gareth the player he was – it was MON who converted him into a quality Centre Midfielder and it was under O’Neill that Barry finally established himself in the England set up (like a number of other players in the squad did). By claiming that the national team had a “major part” in his thinking to transfer aleigances goes a long way to losing any respect my once favourite player had from yours truly. It is also laughable that the current 29 year old attempted to excuse his decision to move as an opportunity to play regularly in his favourite position. I suppose over 40 games a year in the heart of midfield for Villa just wasn’t enough. And it does bring a beaming smile to my face when I see how the recent Italian system at City is doing nothing but spoiling Gareth Barry who is now instructed to hold the midfield along with Viera and De Jong and thus suffocating the England man’s creative ability. And just to ensure that egg is planted firmly on the face of Villa’s modern day Judas, I want to once again quote his desire to, “play a big part in a successful side.”

Of Man City’s league goals this year, Gazza B has set-up or scored just 12.5% of them. That means he is directly responsible for just an eigth of the team’s goals in a game which usually consists of only 6 front players (midfielders and forwards). In his final season for Villa however, he was attributed to almost fifth of the Midlands club’s scores. Of course it is harder for a CM to affect change in such a direct manner (well, it isn’t so hard for Milner…) and control and key passes are much more evident in Barry’s game than a final ball, but it is shockingly easier to recognise that Gareth Barry played a much bigger part for Aston Villa than he does for City. Over the years, there have been some suggestions that he was a ‘big fish in a small pond’, but in his leap to Manchester, Barry has certainly not landed in an ocean, a river or even a bigger pond: he has instead hopped into the next door neighbour’s puddle and found that he has served only to take a backseat in a less succesful ride.

Maybe Manchester City’s ridiculous spending spree could dividens sometime in the future. They have already spent over £200m on top class players in a bid to cheat their way into league contention, but having failed so dramatically, they have ended up as the laughing stock of the football world (this year, at least). Nevertheless, the worry for Gareth Barry is that with the extraordinary wealth of City’s owners, an influx of extravagant names is always going to be their aim and with the current team deemed worthy of just a Europa League position, the impatient Arabs should have another Summer shake up on the cards. Attempting to lure the likes of Kaka to Eastlands, Sheikh Mansour gives the impression of a man playing a computer game trying to create a superstar line-up – a line-up in which an ageing, unglamorous Gareth Barry could well find himself on the fringes of very soon.

Sheikh Mansour is trying to play Fantasy Football with unlimited funds

Time will tell if I am right or not, but those are my reasons.”

At the time, I knew that time would tell us if Gareth was right to move on – I just didn’t think that we would have our answer so soon. Having turned down a record 70k-a-week offer from Villa, Barry’s only reward for desrting O’Neill has been a couple of unnecessary thousands of pounds in his payslip at the end of each month. Barry’s form has decreased in direct correlation with his club’s aspirations and as undignified as I may sound, I can’t help but think that his fresh ankle injury, so close to the World Cup, is the price to pay for selling his soul. Now, we could actually see his Villa successor (Milner) take his place on the England team and surpass the 29 year old in both club and international football – and doing so playing for the team Barry deemed unworthy of his services.

Time will tell if I am right or not…” 12 months on, 1 season passed, and a Barry-less Aston Villa have not only matched the Citizens’ league form, but they have gone one better in challenging for major honours.

A full season has passed and Gareth Barry must be wondering “what if”… had he stayed.

A full season has passed, and another year on Barry’s biological clock has ticked with the Sky-Blues looking for fresh faces.

A full season has passed and James Milner has propelled himself as a household name, ready to oust his former leader from the national side.

A full season has passed and deep down inside, Gareth Barry must surely already regret his decision to leave Aston Villa.

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2009-10 Player Review

Momentous Season

And so another season draws to a close this weekend, and similar to the rest of the 21st century, Aston Villa’s final league game is largely an irrelevant affair. In May 2004, The Villains took on Manchester United in their 38th fixture in a bid to win the last remaining Uefa Cup spot in a match which would end the campaign in heartbreaking failure. We fell at the last hurdle, we came up short, and we faltered. And as surely as David O’Leary’s first year in charge concluded in a disappointing anticlimax, the 2009-10 season follows the same unsuccessful pattern as the boys “ran out of steam”, “looked jaded” and “over-performed”.

But in 2010, an “unsuccessful season” involves clinching that previously coveted Uefa Cup (now Europa League) position weeks ahead of the league’s finishing fixture, and not to mention a novel assault, a serious challenge, on the domestic cup competitions.

However, to be patronisingly pigeonholed as overachievers suggests that we fluked our league position, that it was a one off. Whereas, on the contrary, we are about to secure 6th place for the 3rd year in a row with a higher points tally each year in this ever increasing standard of the Premier League. We have sustained a realistic Champions League fight for 37 games. And we have in no way over-performed: Our position consistently reflects the talent of our team (a team which unfortunately is still slightly shy of deserving top 4 entry).

Some would question whether or not a trophyless season can be deemed a success. But as I’ve said before: from 16th place to genuine Champions League hopefuls; for 10 years we’ve waited to dream of cup glory but we’re finally beginning to wake up; and in actually bringing home the Peace Cup, we have every reason to label this magical season, a success story.

Sometimes, the beauty is in the attempt… but unfortunately, in the past 10 years, we have been unable to even celebrate an attempt.

So it is with restored pride that I want to recap on every player who contributed to our big push this year, and hopefully establish the actual cause of our relative success and failings.

I analyzed the players in relative proportions to each individual’s contribution, not over the scale of a full season where most players didn’t feature. Whatever players were allowed to give to the team this year, that’s what I judged them on.

 

1. Brad Friedel

League: 37 appearances

FA Cup: 3 appearances

LC: 1 appearance

What words can be deemed worthy of Brad Friedel’s input to our success? After being sold down the river by a perilous defence at Stamford Bridge, the resulting 7 conceded goals saw our Premier League’s best defensive record vaporise into hot air. But a closer look at what is still a magnificent ‘goals against’ tally and Brad’s 15 clean sheets (one off the leading 16) is testament that our number 1 has a direct and massive influence on our results.

Season Rating: 9/10

2. Luke Young

League: 14 (1) appearances

FA Cup: 3 appearances

LC: 1 appearance

I must say, I was shocked at his lack of involvement this year. A steadfast of the team last year, Young adopted a left sided role and still proved his merits. I expected big things from him this season but after a few average performances and a poorly timed short term injury, I think he was harshly frozen out of the side. I stubbornly believe that he could have offered so much more for us down the right wing this year, and I’d also like to keep him about next season (if not for a chance in the first XI, as a highly competent replacement).

Season Rating: 5/10

4. Steve Sidwell

League: 12 (13) appearances

FA Cup: 1 (3) appearances

LC: 0 (3)

A tough one… Done well at the start of the year (but how effective is “well” in centre midfield). ‘Steve Sidwell’ looks like a good name to have in the squad alright, but we rarely use him. Looking at his dynamic play, it’s such a pity that he can’t finish like Frank Lampard because he constantly gets himself in good positions and times his runs to perfection. But then again, wouldn’t it be nice if Heskey was more like Rooney… Sidwell suffers from a lack of awareness but would fit perfectly into a 5 man midfield. Probably our most natural box-to-box player, I think it’s definitely worth keeping the 27 year old around.

Season Rating: 6/10

 

5. Richard Dunne

League: 34 appearances, 3 goals

FA Cup: 4 appearances

LC: 5 appearances

Arise, King Richard. Bought for almost £20m cheaper than Joleon Lesscott, you have to wonder who some of these people are that are managing Premier League clubs today. Watching him pick up man of the match each week for the Republic of Ireland, I was slightly less enthused about Richard Dunne as a club footballer – until I seen him in the claret and blue. A serious, serious defender, Dickey Dunne is surprisingly light on his feet and an actual good ball player. HOWEVER, despite his obvious impact on the team and indeed his probably merited inclusion in the Premier League Team of the Year, Richard Dunne is suspect. At least on one occasion every game; the Irish man produces a heart-in-the-mouth moment, a wobbler. Indecision is the last thing you want to see in a centre back and when a player in such a tender position is liable to make mistakes, it is dangerous. Sometimes, we get away with it and Dunne prevails with yet another 10 out of 10 performance and a clean sheet to boast. On another day, clangers get chastised (like in the League Cup Final for instance – probably our biggest game of the year). Fortunate he may have been, less of Dunne’s blunders went unpunished at Villa than at City, and trying not to downplay the influence of Richard’s talent and experience I will refer to O’Neill’s comparison of our current number 5 with previous greats such as Martin Laursen and Paul McGrath.

Season Rating: 8/10

6. Stewart Downing

League: 22 (2) appearances, 2 goals

FA Cup: 6 appearances

LC: 4 appearances, 1 goal

For me, the surprise package of the year. Maybe most fans weren’t taken aback by the left footed World Cup hopeful, but I wasn’t aware that Downing was the player he is. A technical marvel at times, Stewart’s command of every pass he makes leaves little to be desired. Admittedly, I thought of Downing as a full back’s dream: Predictable, one sided, one footed – “just let me kick the ball into the box please”… I was wrong. In his assured, inventive attack, fleet-footed shots and quick-moving feet, Downing is a threat all over the pitch. Having missed out on pre-season and a chunk of the campaign, he had to be nursed back to full fitness and I believe that a fully-fit, sharp, 27 year old Downing in the season ahead will be a sight to behold (and I think he is capable of sharing the goal burden with some of our best). Obviously a fantastic set piece taker in the bargain, our imaginative number 6 has adapted to the discipline of the system and works back tirelessly for the cause.

Season Rating: 8/10

7. Ashley Young

League: 36 appearances, 5 goals

FA Cup: 6 appearances, 2 goals

LC: 5 appearances, 2 goals

What a signing! Ashley Young is without doubt, a dangerous, dangerous player. O’Neill has only used the number 7 on the bench 3 times in his 4 seasons here (2 of those after he completed his January signing in 2006 – and just one the following season in a League Cup match we were struggling in). If Young is fit (he always is), he plays. He is too valuable not to. The first name on every team sheet, Ashley has missed just 3 matches in as many seasons. He is unique in that he doesn’t take on the full back an awful lot, but at the same time, he can destroy them. Being so quick over 5 yards, you don’t know what he is going to do next and with his exquisite ability to cross the ball from deep, Young is becoming more of an accomplished winger each year. Criticized by some for not living up to his incredibly high standards of previous years, Young has been in the form of his life since February and has still directly contributed to 21% of Villa’s league goals this year (that’s over a fifth of our goals for someone who has been “out of form”). One of only two squad players to have scored in every competition, I put this down as another fine season in the development of our most treasured asset.

Season Rating: 8/10

8. James MilnerLeague: 35 appearances, 7 goals

FA Cup: 4 (1) appearances

LC: 6 appearances, 4 goals

Where did that season come from eh? Even before he was moved to the centre, Milner had shown plenty of signs of his maturity and that he was improving the ever-increasing quality of player he is. But then… we move him inside and the rest is history. No longer waiting to be brought into games, Jamesy has become the heartbeat of Aston Villa and his will to get forward (insured by his ability to cover back) drives the team forward with energy and exuberance. Directly liable for 37% of The Villains’ league goals this season, how can anyone begrudge Milner of a shot in the England first XI? Reminiscent of Gareth Barry in that he is the one player who can best cope in the heat of battle against the top clubs, James Milner is surely the success story of this season’s success story.

Season Rating: 10/10

* Just a thought: Why on earth does our number 9 jersey reside with Marlon Harewood?? An iconic number on any team, the goalscorer’s rig was recently graced by worthy warriors such as Savo Milosevic and Dean Saunders – but now is occupied by the “hit-man” who dawned the starting XI just once in his 3 seasons at Villa Park…

10. John Carew      

            League: 21 (11) appearances, 10 goals

            FA Cup: 3 (2) appearances, 6 goals

            LC: 1 (2) appearance

John Carew… Just the mention of his name puts a smile on my face. At 30 though, he unfortunately looks like he has lost half a yard of pace – but did this stop the lap-dancing guru from taking his chance after losing out to Emile Heskey? No way. Having performed consistently at the start of the year, he wasn’t setting the world alight but he was still big, bad John. Then after calls from yours truly at the beginning of March to have our superstar reinstated at the expense of the flailing Heskey, Carew showed us what we were missing with a hat-trick at Reading, and the Norweigian never looked back. JC (just noticing that these are the same initials as Jesus Christ… coincidence?) was absolutely deadly in our run in and demonstrated why he is our most experienced player. Maybe suspect to inconsistency, his talent is something which should overlap any doubts about our number 10. Should have been played more.

Season Rating: 8/10

      11. Gabriel Agbonlahor

            League: 34 (1) appearances, 13 goals

            FA Cup: 2 appearances, 1 goal

            LC: 6 appearances, 2 goals

I love Gabby… I really do! And it’s a genuine privilege to watch the future England star grow each season. Another trustworthy name to see on the team sheet every week (every season), Villa suffered a rapid dip in form in conjunction with Agbonlahor’s brief injury spell. As soon as he was missing – Villa were missing. We had no “outman”, we lacked pace and we missed his genuine goal scoring threat. He has turned himself into a real key man for his local club and although still reliable to fluff the odd one-on-one, has improved his goal record every year. As a difficult aerial threat and as strong as any other forward, the number 11 is quickly becoming an accomplished striker. And if he could hit all the penalties he won for us this year (in some real big games), he might’ve got some of the outside praise he deserved (but it would be ridiculous to expect a forward to be able to hit a penalty!). But almost 40% of our goals this year came from either an Agbonlahor assist, an Agbonlahor penalty won, or from an Agbonlahor finish. He’s an important player.

Season Rating: 9/10

      12. Marc Albrighton

            League: 0 (3) appearances

            FA Cup: 1 appearance

            LC: 0 (1) appearance

I know he’s still only 20, but I expected more from him this year: he didn’t do anything wrong, but he didn’t do much that got me excited either. I had heard so much about him and was promised so many great things and they may very well come to fruition, but I was inpatient and expected them this year. He does look like he’s got a bit of a first touch and that he wants to make something happen, and although he featured in just 3 league games, O’Neill introduced him at times when we needed a change (It wasn’t as if we were strolling to victory when he was subbed on) – a huge leap of faith from his manager and thus, he has my upmost confidence.

Season Rating: 4/10

      14. Nathan Delfouneso 

            League: 0 (8) appearances, 1 goals

            FA Cup: 2 (1) appearances, 2 goals

            LC: 0 (1) appearances

Coming along nicely. Just turned 19 but has that strut of self-assurance about him. Not to be confused with overconfidence, the England under 21 just has belief in his own talent that he can do a job for our first team – and it’s refreshing to see in at least one our strikers! He’s direct, with a bit of pace to add and has already been finding the goal. And I know MON isn’t keeping him on the books for no reason. Watch this space.

Season Rating: 6/10

      15. Cutis Davies

            League: 2 appearances, 1 goal

            FA Cup: 0 (1) appearances

The forgotten man. I was bitterly disappointed that Davies picked up such a damaging injury so early in the season – not only for Aston Villa’s sake, but because he would definitely have been a better World Cup candidate than Matthew Upson or Joleon Lesscot. Davies is our best defender and after a terrific 34 league games last year, I was really looking forward to watching the 25 year old mature into an international player (something which he can do this coming year). Looked integral in our early season fixtures and Europa League clashes, but suffered awful misfortune. But hey, a goal every 2 games for a centre back is certainly something to shout about.

Season Rating: 6/10

      16. Fabian Delph

            League: 4 (4) appearances

            FA Cup: 4 appearances, 1 goal

            LC: 1 (1) appearance

Excited about this signing. Got off on the wrong foot with a poor performance in our first league game (one of many poor performers that day), but has steadily picked up with some solid displays combined with some stirring marauds forward. I wasn’t too impressed by his petulance at being substituted one game but hopefully we’re just breeding an inexperienced winner.

Season Rating: 6/10

      18. Emile Heskey

            League: 16 (14) appearances, 3 goals

            FA Cup: 3 (1) appearances

            LC: 5 appearances, 2 goals

Heskey, Heskey, Heskey… (sighs). It would be too easy for me to sit here and slate him; to scrutinize his awful performance; to point out his one goal in 10 game ratio. It would be too simple to allow my hatred for his appalling input to our season to take over. I actually like Emile! I do. And I really wanted him to perform. But he has failed in epic proportions, in every department. Demonstrating a good touch at times, and the odd good pass has been little consolation to his non-existent contribution to our success. He needs a drastic improvement quickly, but at 31; the first bus out of Aston might be the best option.

Season Rating: 3/10

      19. Stylian Petrov

            League: 36 appearances

            FA Cup: 3 appearances, 1 goal

            LC: 6 appearances

I think he was the right choice for captain. He’s been in the team the longest out of the current squad and has built a relationship with the manager and his methods. Outstanding last year, but unfortunately failed to reproduce that and was somewhat living in the shadow of midfield partner, James Milner. However, as Aston Villa (few as they may have been) enjoyed spells of possession and spells of control over opposition, Petrov along with Milly stood toe-to-toe with any team in the country; and of course we’ll not forget his goal which dragged us from the trenches and into a replay with Chrystal Palace. Nevertheless, that was his only goal of the season and never really looked threatening throughout. Still a tireless worker, I just feel that the soon-to-be 31 year old may have his best years behind him.

Season Rating: 6/10

      20. Nigel Reo Coker

            League: 6 (4) appearances

            FA Cup: 1 appearance

            LC: 1 appearance

Almost 26, the former West Ham captain is used less and less as he approaches the pinnacle of his physical abilities. I also thought, in the absence of Gareth Barry, that the Croydon-born chap would be used much more this year, and I firmly believed when we first signed him that he would be more effective than he has been. Like Sidwell, fits much better in a 5 man midfield (he actually shines in there), but playing second string to Delph, you can’t help but fear for Reo Coker’s Villa career. Probably lost out more than he should have after alleged confrontation with the gaffer, but I’m sure he and generations of Villa fans will never forget the Peace Cup winning skipper. For that, he is a Villa legend.

Season Rating: 4/10

     22. Brad Guzan

            FA Cup: 3 appearances

            League Cup: 5 appearances

Like Delfouneso, Guzan is coming along nicely. Massively unfortunate having to play back up to one of the greatest Premier League goalkeepers ever and indeed, the most injury-free stopper, but Brad Jr has shone well for us in domestic knockouts, and is getting more games because of our extended runs. Solely accredited with our penalty shootout victory over Sunderland in the League Cup, at just 25, Guzan is fast being moulded in the likeness of his compatriot. Victim of a few nerves in our League Cup semi (the club’s biggest game in 10 years), the USA number 2 will for sure one day replace Friedel.

Season Rating: 7/10

      23. Habib Beye

            League: 5 (1) appearances

            FA Cup: 2 appearances

            LC: 1 appearance

Strange, strange signing. Apparently he was a good player in France football… but so too was Eric Djemba-Djemba. I don’t know what Beye was offering us or what he could provide to squad with (maybe it was for the sole sake of having more defenders) and he’s such an uninspiring player that I’ll not bother discussing it any further.

Season Rating: 3/10

      24. Carlos Cuellar

            League: 35 appearances, 2 goals

            FA Cup: 4 appearances, 1 goal

            LC: 6 appearances

Still his solid self, great defender. Right back? Nope. Played a few good games for us in the centre this year but got drawn the short straw to accommodate James Collins. Admittedly, performed steadily in some games on the wing and always gave his all and tried to get forward. But for me, he’s just too much of a natural centre back to be trying to attack the flank and marking a lightning quick winger. On the other hand, provided thankful safety defending set pieces and proved dangerous in the opposition box.

Season Rating: 6/10

      25. Stephen Warnock

            League: 29 appearances

            FA Cup: 6 appearances

            LC: 5 appearances, 1 goal

Great addition to the team. With Bouma’s injury and Shorey’s ineffectiveness, the Merseysider provided genuine class at left back. Assured at the back and a handful going forward, he has gave Capello a lot to think about ahead of his squad selection. Warnock’s actually faster than I presumed and is without doubt merited as a top 6 full back.

Season Rating: 8/10

      29. James Collins

League: 25 (1) appearances, 1 goal

FA Cup: 5 appearances, 1 goal

LC: 5 appearances

Another one of MON’s shrewd acquisitions, Collins admirably formed a formidable partnership with Dunner at the heart of our defence and it is no coincidence that we secured such a limited goals conceded margin with the Welsh man on board. A real lion heart warrior, it’s comforting to see such a committed player wearing the Villa badge with pride. Every game is a mission that wont be surrendered, and what he lacks in pace and rashness, he makes up in passion and determination.

Season Rating 8/10

      47. Ciaran Clark

            League: 1 appearance

Was called upon in the midst of a defensive crisis and slotted in competently against Fulham, producing a steady, solid performance at centre back and ensuring he finished his season with a 100% clean sheet record.

Season Rating: 6/10

Big game player

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