Monthly Archives: September 2010

Hero of the Month (August)

As The Villa prepare for their first piece of September action tonight, I take a look back at the club’s most outstanding member throughout the month of August.

Yes, Kevin MacDonald deserves his credit. He was thrown into the deep-end with just 5 days to prepare, he got the boys motivated, the club united – and despite a couple of bad results, he got us into the top 4; securing a 100% Villa Park league record with zero goals conceded along the way.

But with all the off-field uncertainty heavily circulating in the wake of O’Neill’s resignation (and that uncertainty is still rife with the FFF shenanigans), it’s refreshing to see that a lot of things on the field are falling into place nicely.

It would be fitting to award young Marc Albrighton with the coveted Hero of the Month accolade. After just 5 appearances (one start) last year, the 20 year old has already matched this in the first month of the new season (but has started 5 times) and chipped in impressively with 3 assists in the first two games. Getting stuck in and coming of age, he just misses out this month.

Winner

It was much, much too difficult to overlook Ashley Young however. Being used in a new role behind the front man, boy he is thriving. His anticipation and quick feet, not to mention his excellent first touch, make him such a danger that it’s hard to see how we can make room for both Agbonlahor and Carew. The freedom afforded to Ashley is extremely comforting as a Villa supporter and knowing that he can pop up on either wing or come through the centre without the restrictions of a flank position makes his new role a natural selection for him.

Ashley Young…

So far this season, Aston Villa have banged in 7 goals. Of these, our number 7 has played a major role in 5. I keep a tally of all our goals and when I credit someone with a ‘Key Goal Involvement’, they need to have a telling contribution to the goal and not simply a pass back to the man who assisted – a game changing input merits a Key Goal Involvement.

Young has provided two Key Goal Involvements in that without his input, the goals may very well not have taken place. On top of this, the 25 year old successfully completed 3 direct assists (more impressively, they were 3 balls which many others would have struggled to make). Furthermore, Ashley won a penalty against Newcastle which, had it been converted, would have changed the landscape of THAT St James’ Park memory (he also should have had a stonewall penalty against Rapid Wien).

Moreover, the transfer talk involving our prized asset was so unsettling that when Young committed to Villa with such assurance, it was not only a confidence boost to the club, but a real testament to the substance of the main man. And now we hear talk of a new contract on the horizon.

Not only this, but as the only Villa based player to win a spot in the national side, Ashley Young’s key role in 71.4% of our goals didn’t go unnoticed and it is with genuine ease that I award him the title of my meaningless Hero of the Month.

Congratulations, Ashley.

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Filed under 10/11 Season, Hero of the Month, Players, Uncategorized

Gerard Houllier – The SILVER Lining

Last night, I had a dream (excuse the M. L. King impersonation). Aston Villa, under the management of newly appointed Gerard Houllier, took to Wembley stadium to compete in the F.A Cup final – and were successful. So real was this dream that I, in a state of semi-conscious delusion, text a Liverpool fan, who had sneered at Villa’s new recruit, to say,    😉

(Not my wittiest text message).

But silverware aside, the “day out” ignored; with all the infested water that has gone under the crumbling bridge in recent times, the most pleasing thing about this “dream” was that we were, once again, a force. We were fighting. We were, once again, Aston Villa.

And after Houllier’s press conference at Villa Park today, I couldn’t help but think that one day soon this vision could become a reality – in the same style Liverpool’s fortunes were rejuvenated throughout his time in charge.

For 6 years, prior to Gerard’s reign, Liverpool, the most successful club in English football, had just one League Cup to their name. But after clinching the club’s first European trophy for 17 years, their first FA Cup in 9 years, along with a further 3 competitive trophies, Houllier served to reinstall the pride of Liverpool Football Club and what it is all about – winning.

I was looking to create a balanced argument with this piece. Yes, he has won silverware in England (a feat which has evaded us for 15 years), in fact he has been remarkably successful in every managerial role within his unblemished career – but can he cope with the Premier League? Can he cope in the transfer market?

One glance at his decision to reject the chance to sign loanee Nicolas Anelka in favour of splashing £10m on the erratic El Hadjii Diouf would suggest that we have just recruited an extremely risqué manager. Yes, Diouf is an extremely talented footballer but managed to flop extraordinarily at Liverpool. Now, he is a good player for Blackburn Rovers; Anelka is a world beater. And £14m for Cisse? Okay, he scores goals and Houllier never got a chance to use him in his Liverpool reign – but again, what an expensive mistake for someone who is now spending his best footballing years in Greece.

Throughout his stint on Merseyside, Houllier averaged 65 points in the league; whereas Villa achieved 64 last year. More worryingly, the 3 years preceding his tenure at Anfield (the first years of 38 games per season), Liverpool, without Houllier, were averaging 68 points each season and thus went downhill under the Frenchman. And with fewer Champions League spots available in the 90s, Liverpool weren’t rewarded for top 4 or top 3 finishes pre-Gerard. Maybe he had the benefit of these new places.

However, it would be unfair to leave this article as it is. Because after sharing over 3 months of his first season with Roy Evans, Houllier’s arrival only served to oversee a 7th place finish after an uninspiring 54 points were achieved. Crucially, this was the key factor in the decline in average points for the Reds. And after undergoing an overhaul of the club’s internal and external structure, its staff, personnel and facilities, this year wasn’t even wasted as Liverpool shot right back into the top 4 the following season with 67 points – before winning a top 3 Champions League position amidst their “treble” winning season.

Our new manager also led The Pool in their first title challenge for 12 years, securing 80 points. In fact, if we ignore his first season (which was shared with a joint manager, and which is recommended in a lot of research to abandon as it should simply be the season the manager is testing the water) in the Premier League, Houllier secured overall consistency with Liverpool’s past league form and matched an average of 68 points – but added silverware on top. Moreover, his ability to rally high points tallies (albeit in an inconsistent manner) brought about a 21st century Champions League legacy to Liverpool (3 qualifications) which eventually led to THAT final in 2005. Now, I’m not suggesting that he built the best team in Europe (far from it), but what cannot be denied is that 12 out of the 14 players who competed in the Istanbul victory over AC Milan were all members of the Houllier era. Benitez clearly did remarkably, remarkably well to turn them into Champions League winners, but they were still players who were proven to be a team capable of such a feat – a team built by the French man.

His former players seem to kneel at his feet, and coming highly recommended by one of the best players in the world and national captain Steven Gerrard, Houllier certainly has this writer’s full backing. Working at all levels of football (club and country), equipped with experience of every type of club, Houllier has adapted to create success wherever he goes – in the French lower divisions, with Lens, with PSG, with Liverpool, with Lyon. He has proved his worth – so much so that it has quashed an article which I wanted to remain neutral. And so much so that I believe those mistakes he has made in the past have had ample time to be learned from.

Today, he spoke of a “new era” in Aston Villa Football Club. He admitted that success cannot come overnight, that the Champions League positions are a stretch, that the January transfer window is a tough one. But he also said, “I am hungry…

And just like he overturned the apathy of Liverpool 10 years ago, just like his achievements elsewhere, Houllier can now very well be the remedy to awaken Aston Villa from its deep coma.

HOU’s With Me?

When he comes in, he knows what he wants and he knows how to get a winning team” (Steven Gerrard)

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CURB Your Enthusiasm

On the 11th August, regarding the replacement of Martin O’Neill, I wrote this about Alan Curbishley:

I’m a fan of Alan, however I know some will say that his consideration would be a question of ambition. Unquestionably a safe option, ‘Curbs’ is still to bring success to a Premier League side and I have a feeling that his appointment would be met with unenthused groans by hardcore Villains.

But I look at it differently.

After overseeing 2 promotions and top flight consolidation with Charlton Athletic, Curbishley remarkably (and famously) saved newly promoted West Ham’s season from certain relegation with just 5 months to work with – and later turning them into a top ten outfit the year after.

Although it might not get me jumping from my seat, I would support the acquisition of Curbs, the former Villain, and would remember that everyone deserves their chance once they’ve earned it.

If football was so elitist and managers could not climb available ladders of opportunity, we would not currently be treated by the work of David Moyes, the beauty of Wenger football – and dare I say it, we would have no Alex Ferguson.

Unfortunately, I was right. And what I predicted to be “unenthused groans” has spread like wildfire and prolonged to smear the pretty much unblemished reputation of Alan Curbishley.

So am I missing something?

Because the last time I checked, it was considered a decent achievement to take a team from modern day Championship obscurity to secure their status as a top flight club. It was also considered impossible to guide a team, bottom of the table at Christmas, to Premier League safety (a newly promoted team at that), let alone turn them into a top 10 side just one season later.

Curbishley has proven that he can uncover hidden gems within a low budget (God, wouldn’t that be nice right now). Charlton bought and sold Darren Bent (a player who bagged almost a goal in every two games for him) for a £14m profit. Curbs was also responsible for the emergence of England internationals such as Paul Konchesky, Lee Bowyer and Scott Parker, through the Charlton Academy (miniscule compared to that of Villa’s).

Maybe this will prove to be an unpopular post, but I can’t get my head around the over-criticism that Alan is receiving. Yes, he isn’t a big name, and Aston Villa are a big club. But I wonder where the Everton nay-sayers are right now who weren’t so convinced at the prospect of a relatively unproven Preston North End manager taking charge of their giant club. I wonder where the ‘Arsene Who?’ campaign has disintegrated to as the French man delivered unrivalled success at a “bigger” club.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to see Moyes get the job – even Sven. But I will not ignorantly fob off the idea of Alan Curbishley getting a chance at a club the size he deserves for some unfounded reason. Maybe it is a backwards step from O’Neill; maybe there are bigger names out there – but the reality is that we have to find the best candidate, the best interested candidate, available for the job now. And Alan should not be dismissed just because he hasn’t had the chance at a top club yet, just because he hasn’t been in the position to deliver cup success yet. He has had just two jobs to date, and he has been unquestionably successful in both.

Proven in Premier League combat, Curbishley can keep poor teams, poor clubs afloat in the top flight – on top of the assurance of top half experience which he possesses. His appointment to Villa Park would not be a “risk”. At worst, it would be another unsuccessful attempt at Champions League Qualification, and maybe a narrow displacement outside the top 6 (a feat which was always going to be a challenge this year anyway).

So should Curbs get the nod by Mr Lerner, I will welcome him and look forward to what he can bring to the table with a better team and improved resources.

The Charlton Athletic website dedicates a section to their former boss, headered:

Alan Curbishley had been the Charlton manager since 1991. During his time in charge the club has evolved from a league side on the brink of financial ruin, into an established Premiership side with European ambitions.’

I wonder what evolution he can bring to Aston Villa, already a Premiership side, already a club with more than just European ambitions.

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