Tag Archives: Football

Hero of the Month (September)

This is not a retraction. This is certainly not an apology. This is just a fair analysis of which Aston Villa member deserves to be accredited with the recognition of having performed the most heroics for the club this past month.

Yet again, young Albrighton has been sniffing about. The 20 year old never ceases to give 100% for his West-Midlands club and sits level with Ashley Young on top of our assists chart (having played one game less). I think it’s also important to remember that this season is the first time Marc was starting on an Aston Villa league line up; and with only 6 premiership games under his belt, it’s heartening that Albrighton is already contributing more than should be expected.

Ashley Young… last month’s hero didn’t let up this time around as the current stats show the number 7 on top of both our assists and goalscoring tallies. He will probably feel hard-done-by to miss out on such a prestigious accolade for a second successive month.

September proved to be a so-so time for an Aston Villa fan. With just one player chipping in with 5 minutes worth at Wembley, we followed a last minute heartbreak at Stoke up with an uninspiring deadlock at home to Bolton. Then, we found a remedy… temporarily at least.

"Where are you?"

I’ve probably been Emile’s biggest critic, consistently – and I am not about to go back on all I have criticized him for. But hey, credit where credit is due. Aston Villa competed 4 times last month. They won twice – the games where big Hess featured. After a sterling contribution to our League Cup victory, I joked that maybe we could forgive and give him yet another chance. In response, Dan from http://astonvillacentral.com/ correctly remarked, “One swallow doesn’t make a summer…”

But for me, two swallows make for a sunny September.

Having succumbed to Sam Alardyce’s cosmic football at Ewood Park, Gerard Houllier introduced his old guard 58 minutes into the cup tie. Lo-and-behold, one minute later, parity was restored as Heskey raced onto a Young through ball, bore down on goal and fired across the keeper with his left foot in rather unfamiliar fashion.

His ball from the right wing, to seal that game’s fate, 18 minutes later was delicious, perfect, Albrighton-esc. And after 30 minutes under his old Liverpool boss, the number 18 had turned the game around and we had a rejuvenated Emile Heskey.

People have said that his 120 minutes of decent football are down to the belief injected in him by Villa’s new French man. But O’Neill’s relentless selection of Heskey was hardly damaging to his confidence. However, at the risk of branding myself a knee-jerk reporter, I believe that there could be some form of substance, for Emile, to Houllier’s arrival.

Think of the best manager you’ve worked under. The man (or woman) who had you playing above yourself. The boss you could relate to, who could relate to you. The one you loved training with. I know, from my own experiences, that if my favourite manager arrived at the club or college where I was currently playing football, despite whatever relationship I have with the current manager and teammates, something would change. It wouldn’t be a conscious change, it wouldn’t be a physical one. But I’d be excited, buzzing, and I would probably once again automatically play above myself, just at the mere sight of my old gaffer. So I can sympathise with Emile’s new esteem.

Of course, as I said, he has only been involved in two games in September, 120 minutes. But when he wasn’t playing this month, we lost to Stoke, drew with Bolton and were down to Blackburn. When he did play, we overturned Rovers (emphatically) and beat Wolves – Houllier secured a 100% record.

The Villa banged in 7 goals in September. When The Mule played, they scored 5. His outstanding header at Mollineaux not only silenced the opposition critics, but it shut me up, and of course sent us on our way to another derby day victory. It meant that Heskey was two from two under the new French regime, and after his Key Goal Contribution to our first goal (his first touch and dangerous, direct run which drew defenders meant that his involvement in Downing’s goal couldn’t go unnoticed) that day, and following his beautiful assist at Ewood Park, Emile ensured that Villa were indebted to him for 4 of our 5 goals throughout his time on the pitch – yes, 80%.

It’s difficult for me to praise the lad so much, because he is still a third choice striker in my Villa team. Nonetheless, responsible for the vast majority of what was good about our September, it was too hard to overlook him this time; and for once, I take my hat off to him, and award September’s Hero of the Month to Emile Heskey.

Thanks for the memories, Emile.

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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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The Next Villa Manager

“Two of the traits we believe are of crucial importance are that candidates have experience of managing in the Premier League and a strategy for building on the existing strengths in our current squad.”

With the promise of the installation of a permanent manager before the next league game, Villa Chief Executive Paul Faulkner fuelled the fire of anticipation ahead of the interview selection process.

Of course, with this statement, the club have not categorically confirmed that they will appoint someone who has previously managed in the English Premier League, but they have given us some, if very miniscule, indication at least of the type of personnel they are looking to attract.

And with the next league fixture being held at the Britannia Stadium, MON’s successor surely has a tough short term task on his hands – but more importantly, he will arrive with the expectation of kickstarting a stalled vehicle and indeed building on the existing strengths in our current squad.

So as the race for the hot seat rises in temperature, I thought I’d take a look at the updated list of potential candidates burdened with the seemingly thankless job of awakening the sleeping giant.

Sven Goran Eriksson 7/2

Strangely, I think Sven’s personal life precedes him. Instantly, when people hear his name, they laugh or sigh and construe him as some sort of performing jester – in the wrong profession.

But as a football manager, I have to admit that the Swede has led an unblemished career and I would find it difficult to hold any objections to his appointment as next Villa manager.

Sven was fast-tracked into national acclaim after a superb one-season-wonder job with Degerfors as a young manager; and unbelievably, right up until his engagement with the English national team, Eriksson only failed to deliver silverware with just one club in those 23 years. His success as a club manager is indisputable. Even very recently, with Man Shitty, the 62 year old sex god mentored the Sky Blues’ best season for decades – dragging an underperforming club, devoid of a trophy in 30 years, into the Premier League top 10, winning two Manchester derbies (first time since 69-70) in the process before being bizarrely axed despite the infamous ‘Save Our Sven’ campaign.

I never understood why he wasn’t appreciated throughout his England tenure either. Imagine the shame of 3 consecutive tournament Quarter Finals (only Brazil matched this), or the embarrassment of being dumped out by Brazil (eventual champions), Portugal (the host country after a penalty shootout after that Urs Meier incident), and another penalty shootout defeat by Portugal in 2006 (with 10 men). In fact, England achieved their highest FIFA ranking of 4th in the world under the guidance of their lambasted manager – and after topping each of his qualifying groups, Eriksson was then succeeded by Steve McClaren who failed to even reach a major tournament.

Surprisingly, the only actual failure of Sven’s career came throughout his time at Mexico. Not bad for 33 years in football management eh? Yes, he had the benefit of a fantastically generous financial backing at Lazio, but after providing a return of 7 trophies in just 4 seasons, Eriksson proved to be sure-fire value for money.

Even his other apparent flops in the transfer market have proved a lot of people wrong. I’m probably Corluka’s biggest critic, but he is the one now starting for a Champions League outfit every week at Spurs. And I’ll put my hands up and admit that I hadn’t heard of Geovanni or Martin Petrov – but both turned out to be real gems. And of course, Elano “The Piledriver” won a place in a Brazilian first XI after being let loose by Eriksson. As a Premier League manager in the transfer market, I believe that Rolando Bianchi was Sven’s only dud (and an expensive mistake at that).

So his proven competencies within the field of management are indisputable and Sven would not only be a very safe option, but an exciting one at that. Having passed his only Premier League test to date, and achieving status as one of England’s best manager’s in a long, long while, Eriksson could be the perfect choice to take charge of a team full of Britons at Bodymoor Heath.

Kevin MacDonald 4/1

Tough one. Yes, he masterminded 9 conceded goals in 2 games and we foolishly failed to close out the game against Rapid Vienna, but Kevin currently has us in Champions League contention.

Of course, I’m speaking extremely prematurely and the Everton performance wasn’t heartening at all – but we won. Last season, we bowed out of Europe at the same stage, to the same team, and we leaked 7 goals at Stamford Bridge. The players’ leader, Petrov, has already backed the Scot to be given the permanent position and it would provide a simple and smooth transition from the Martin O’Neill era.

I like MacDonald’s calm and seemingly calculated approach before, during and after games, and after 15 years of service, 3 successive Reserve titles, a victory against top 8 rivals, and backing and response from the players, maybe Kevin deserves another stint to show us what he can do.

And hey, if it doesn’t work, it’s not as if that would deter Sven from throwing his hat back in the ring should the opportunity arise in the future.

Gerard Houllier 5/1

Again, another name which shouldn’t be taken lightly. At the age of just 38, he delivered the French league title to PSG before returning to Lyon to bring back-to-back doubles in his latest managerial stint.

On top of this, the former French coach not only overseen the regeneration of Liverpool’s training facilities, but he was responsible for bringing the club out of relative obscurity and into the 21st century in a proud tradition after reclaiming their first European trophy for 17 years and ensuring that, along with his 50% win ratio, he left a Champions League legacy (3 qualifications) which eventually grew habitual for the Reds.

However, only averaging 65 points throughout his time at Liverpool (one more than Villa’s season last year), it is hard to judge how well Houllier would do with a lesser outfit. But, taking a Liverpool team (who had won just a mere League Cup in the 6 year built up to his time in charge) to 2nd place with 80 points, Gerard proved that he knows how to acquire points in the Premier League.

I’d be more interested than excited to see the appointment of Houllier.

Alan Curbishley 8/1

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.

Ronald Koeman 10/1

Hard to argue with an overall managerial win percentage of almost 62% isn’t it (even if the majority of his career has been spent in Holland)?

Ronald is a proven winner and led an extremely limited Vitesse outfit to a momentous European spot with a severely restricted financial backing in his first job as manager.

Success at every club he has taken, Koeman even delivered the Copa del Rey for Valencia (their first in 9 years) in the midst of an otherwise poor season.

Unfamiliar with his strategic approach, I’m impressed with his acclaims to date and would view the capture of the young manager as an exciting step for our club.

Martin Jol 16/1

Why not?

Spurs treated him like dirt and after two consecutive top 5 finishes, the North London contingent were the only losers from his sacking after they wound up with Juande Ramos.

The Dutch man is still a relatively untravelled coach but his early years in the Netherlands saw him deliver a KNVB Cup in his first season as a football boss, before later winning 2 different Manager of the Year awards in 2 different seasons.

Spent big bucks on Darren Bent who let him down – and I am a big Bent critic, but boy he has proven that he will get goals and thus, has in some way justified Jol’s evaluation of him. I also wouldn’t just brandish Danny Murphy a write off. For £2m, Martin was investing in valuable experience for his squad and after leading Fulham to a Europa League Final, the Liverpudlian is still doing it.

What excites me most about Jol is not that he has followed on his Tottenham career with quick success at Hamburger and Ajax. No, it’s that he brought the likes of Dimitar Berbatov, Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale to the Premier League for under £17m. How much would those 3 cost today? (Berbatov already made the club over a £20m profit)

After Eriksson, the 54 year old Dutch man would certainly be my choice to fill the void left by O’Neill. However, I fear he could remain committed to Ajax – but will surely feel that he has some unfinished business with the Premier League.

Phil Brown 20/1

Nope.

Unfortunately, the name of David Moyes doesn’t even appear on the William Hill website, but by golly, wouldn’t that be nice. I thought he could be lured by the temptation of improved financial backing at our club (which appears to have, at least temporarily, evaporated), and the realisation that he has taken Everton as far as he could. But the jump to Aston Villa will probably prove an all-too-sidewards step at this stage for the Scottish man, who has built his own squad with The Toffees and is probably destined for greater things (when another infamous Scot retires).

For me, we are blessed with a nice choice of potential applicants, with a blending variety. We could afford to be conservative, play it safe, take a risk or go for gold – it’s up to the board now. But the future doesn’t seem as bleak as a lot of people might think and even some of the disapproved names have undoubted talent which Villains should open their minds to.

Either way, we can look forward to the optimism and hope of a new regime in the near future. And judging by the criteria, or hints, set by Paul Faulkner, the above names should be topping the list – and I am one fan who is happy to see some of those managers in the running.

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3-0: If It’s Good Enough For Messi, It’s Good Enough For Me

On the 14th August, at 3pm, Aston Villa were managerless. The boardroom were penniless and the team were pointless.

Hopeless? Not in a month of Sundays.

Because on the 14th August, at 4.50pm, the “club in decline”, the “inharmonious dressing room”, the “shipwrecked” mission ignored all the off-field uncertainty at Villa Park and produced a devastating display which had us believing that MacDonald was Shankly, that new signings were irrelevant and more importantly; a performance which delivered all 3 points.

Of course, the team was set up identically to O’Neill’s preseason campaign so in a way, we are indebted to the Ulster man. However, whatever our newly-beloved caretaker manager said in the dressing room on Saturday, whatever words he advised in his players’ ears during the week, and whichever style he adopted worked terrific wonders as The Villains ran rampant against their claret rivals and secured a minimum winning margin of 3 goals – a feat we could only replicate three times in all last year throughout the entire league crusade.

It’s the cliché of the weekend, but the team were free to express themselves and had a refreshing fearlessness which banished the old policy of over-respect for the opposition – instead, going straight for their jugular with merciless havoc. Again, I wouldn’t downplay our former manager’s involvement in this as Kevin MacDonald has had just 5 days to work with the team – but to be honest, I don’t care who was responsible for Villa’s very own brand of Total Football, I’m just delighted to have witnessed it.

When our 20 year old, mostly untested, winger Marc Albrighton produces two direct assists from each wing (as well as a key-goal-involvement for the other), when 3 midfielders grab all the goals from shots within 18 yards of the nets (when Stan crosses the halfway line for that matter), when Aston Villa and Ashley Young are praised by one of the best footballers ever as playing exciting football and having a blinder ( http://twitter.com/officialmessi ), respectively, the shackles have certainly come off haven’t they?

Maybe it was planned throughout the entire preseason period, maybe it wasn’t. But rarely in the past 4 years have we ever dominated possession against any team and broke opponents down with such ease and assurance. Last year, we were caught out. Teams were ready for our counterattacking prowess and set up to spoil a spoiling team. Our predictability was all too apparent in the bemusing 52 league goals recorded by the biggest club in the Midlands. But we were aided by a mean defence.

This year (so far), we are opening up. Yes, there is a chance that this could prove to be a two-edged-sword and the step away from the old, cautious approach might well prove costly at times – particularly in cup competitions. But last season was the absolute last time we could have continued with our expected humdrum brand of football and the change is very welcome – and necessary.

And now the groans of Villa Park, echoed from uninspiring past results against Wigan, West Ham, Wolves, Sunderland and Blackburn, have all but disintegrated in place of mouthwatering content for the pure attack-minded regeneration.

 Yes, the Hammers were meek opponents but 17 shots (12 on goal) and a hatful of spurned gilt-edged chances (mostly from Big John), speaks volumes for our domination and suggests that nothing would have deterred a hungry Aston Villa outfit from getting the job done on Saturday – no matter who stood in the way.

Manager Debate

After hearing Petrov proclaim his desire to have MacDonald appointed as fulltime manager, I must admit that it got me thinking. I would in no way base this judgement on one fine result but more in the consideration that he has the players playing for him, he has introduced fresh faces to the action and it would be a smooth and simple transition from the MON era. I wanted the big name to take charge and continue to uphold the attraction of the club – but then I realised that this is Aston Villa; and drought or no drought, this speaks for itself. Mr Lerner and his boardroom contingent now have a massive conundrum in their hands: appoint Sven or Jol (which I’m all for) and risk drastic change, jeopardise more days like Saturday this year; or keep the faith with MacDonald and endanger our top 6 status through the guidance of an untried football manager. And the kicker is that this decision must be made immediately before the close of the summer transfer window. But what I will say is that only positive (extremely positive) reports have emerged from the Villa camp regarding the temporary boss.

Thankfully, I have no say in such matters and can simply look forward to Thursday with renewed optimism. Whatever MacDonald does next, he will always be remembered as the man who lifted the blues of last Monday, and allowed us to hope – yet again. He will be associated with the beautiful reminder that managers come and go – but Aston Villa is for life.

And as a supporter of the club first, I can bask in the glory that Marc Albrighton tops the Premier League assists charts; that two further youth team products, Andreas Weimann and Barry Bannan, have been successfully brought through the ranks; that every time Ciaran Clark plays a league match, Villa keep a clean sheet; that Marlon Harewood has finally produced the goods (oh, wait…); and I can be exceptionally proud to say that I am a peer of the thousands of fans who bid the ever-professional James Milner an emotional and deserving potential farewell. I can be proud to say that I am an Aston Villa man (God, the start of the season is magnificent!).

And do you know what else? It’s been a long, long time since a 3-0 home result at Villa Park flattered the opponents. Long may it continue.

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The King is Dead, Long Live the King

As much as it pains me to say, it’s time to move on. Martin O’Neill steered the Villa ship with a pair of undeniably steady hands for 4 years, but he will now embark on pastures new and probably go on to prove his worth elsewhere. It doesn’t matter. Because like him or loathe him, rate him or dismiss him, miss him or rejoice, Martin O’Neill is gone for good – but Aston Villa still remains.

It is now the age of a new leader – a new commander who has been set the task of ending our soon-to-be 15 year drought; a new chief who will guide his warriors with the scent of blood; a new provider who will be asked to deliver the meat in order to end our prolonged starvation of success.

And as a fan, it is my duty to give our next permanent manager my full backing. As players, it is their responsible to give our incoming supremo their full co-operation. And as the club’s board of directors, they are obliged to place their complete trust in Aston Villa’s next boss.

We are not here to prejudge the next man in charge. We are not here hoping for a reason to grumble. I made no secret of my disappointment at the Board’s recent deceit. Widespread Villains made no secret of their split in loyalties over the MON-saga. But what’s done is done. I took a side, and I was unhappy – but my blood is claret and I will continue to support the club. However, I fear that, come Saturday, there may be a lot of red faces around Villa Park as 2 separate protests expose the disharmony at Aston Villa. I hope this isn’t the case. Yes, I hope that there are a lot like me who are sad to see the back of O’Neill – but more importantly, I hope that everyone is like me and are AVFC fans first and foremost, and that they willing to leave the events of Monday and simply get behind their team. We are all here with the ambition that we can restore the spirit of ’82. And with a united front, we could begin to do that. Step by step.

So firstly, it’s time to give the new man in charge a fair chance and let him shape his vision for Aston Villa. And after time (and a lot of scrutiny!), we will begin to understand his methods and patterns and I’m sure that I will be the first in line with a few questions!

Therefore, without further ado, I present to you Aston Villa’s next possible managers:

Sven Goran Eriksson 8/11

 

Strangely, I think Sven’s personal life precedes him. Instantly, when people hear his name, they laugh or sigh and construe him as some sort of performing jester – in the wrong profession.

But as a football manager, I have to admit that the Swede has led an unblemished career and I would find it difficult to hold any objections to his appointment as next Villa manager.

Sven was fast-tracked into national acclaim after a superb one-season-wonder job with Degerfors as a young manager; and unbelievably, right up until his engagement with the English national team, Eriksson only failed to deliver silverware with just one club in those 23 years. His success as a club manager is indisputable. Even very recently, with Man Shitty, the 62 year old sex god mentored the Sky Blues’ best season for decades – dragging an underperforming club, devoid of a trophy in 30 years, into the Premier League top 10, winning two Manchester derbies (first time since 69-70) in the process before being bizarrely axed despite the infamous ‘Save Our Sven’ campaign.

I never understood why he wasn’t appreciated throughout his England tenure either. Imagine the shame of 3 consecutive tournament Quarter Finals (only Brazil matched this), or the embarrassment of being dumped out by Brazil (eventual champions), Portugal (the host country after a penalty shootout after that Urs Meier incident), and another penalty shootout defeat by Portugal in 2006 (with 10 men). In fact, England achieved their highest FIFA ranking of 4th in the world under the guidance of their lambasted manager – and after topping each of his qualifying groups, Eriksson was then succeeded by Steve McClaren who failed to even reach a major tournament.

Surprisingly, the only actual failure of Sven’s career came throughout his time at Mexico. Not bad for 33 years in football management eh? Yes, he had the benefit of a fantastically generous financial backing at Lazio, but after providing a return of 7 trophies in just 4 seasons, Eriksson proved to be sure-fire value for money.

Even his other apparent flops in the transfer market have proved a lot of people wrong. I’m probably Corluka’s biggest critic, but he is the one now starting for a Champions League outfit every week at Spurs. And I’ll put my hands up and admit that I hadn’t heard of Geovanni or Martin Petrov – but both turned out to be real gems. And of course, Elano “The Piledriver” won a place in a Brazilian first XI after being let loose by Eriksson. As a Premier League manager in the transfer market, I believe that Rolando Bianchi was Sven’s only dud (and an expensive mistake at that).

As firm favourite for the vacant position at Villa Park, I had to analyse the former England manager a bit more rigorously, and do you know what? Like Ulrika Jonson, I like what I see.

 Bob Bradley 11/4

Maybe should be the bookies favourite considering his nationality, but I’m not sure if that would be a deciding factor as Randy looks to keep pushing the club forward.

Untested in European football, the American has had unarguable success with his national side – following up a remarkable Confederations campaign (beating Spain and bringing the most successful country ever to its knees in the final) with a very respectable World Cup performance.

I wouldn’t write off Lerner’s compatriot so ignorantly: he converted himself as a renowned MLS manager and I, for one, would love to see the arrival of his son Michael into the Villa squad. But for me, this is a much riskier move than the aforementioned manager would be, and I think the name of Sven Goran Eriksson would be much more attractive for the club than that of Bob Bradley.

I’d be very interested to see him get his deserved chance in Europe or the Premier League, but I’m not sure how comfortable I’d be if it were us who took that punt.

Martin Jol 7/1

 

Why not?

Spurs treated him like dirt and after two consecutive top 5 finishes, the North London contingent were the only losers from his sacking after they wound up with Juande Ramos.

The Dutch man is still a relatively untravelled coach but his early years in the Netherlands saw him deliver a KNVB Cup in his first season as a football boss, before later winning 2 different Manager of the Year awards in 2 different seasons.

Spent big bucks on Darren Bent who let him down – and I am a big Bent critic, but boy he has proven that he will get goals and thus, has in some way justified Jol’s evaluation of him. I also wouldn’t just brandish Danny Murphy a write off. For £2m, Martin was investing in valuable experience for his squad and after leading Fulham to a Europa League Final, the Liverpudlian is still doing it.

What excites me most about Jol is not that he has followed on his Tottenham career with quick success at Hamburger and Ajax. No, it’s that he brought the likes of Dimitar Berbatov, Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale to the Premier League for under £17m. How much would those 3 cost today? (Berbatov already made the club over a £20m profit)

After Eriksson, the 54 year old Dutch man would certainly be my choice to fill the void left by O’Neill.

Paul Lambert 8/1

After studying under our former manager for a number of years, the Scot would certainly prove a smooth transition. He’s doing a good job at Norwich, after that brilliant League Cup campaign with Wycombe in 06/07, but again he is still relatively unproven and much too risqué for my liking at this stage of his career.

Jurgen Klinsmann 8/1

Responsible for the regeneration of the German national team, Klinsmann led his country to a World Cup Semi Finals and I believe that his introduction of updated coaching techniques, playing style and attention to physical detail are pivotal to the onslaught success of Germany in the last 2 international tournaments.

Failed in his only club role to date, it would again be brave to appoint Jurgen but I don’t think I’d be unhappy to see him arrive either. However, constantly linked with every football post, I believe that his short odds are unfounded.

Alan Curbishley 10/1

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.

 Gareth Southgate 10/1

A Villa legend, surely.

But relegation and Alfonso Alves speak volumes for his current ability as a manager.

Scone’s Shortlist:

1)      Sven Goran Eriksson

2)      Martin Jol

3)      Alan Curbishley

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Thanks For The Memories, James – But Good Riddance

Time to move on

Last season’s best player wants to leave and our transfer dealings are restricted within the confines of a sell-to-buy policy. Grim? Maybe, but this is the situation and we have to get on with it.

Yes, James Milner was superb at times over the last 12 months; he scored 7 league goals from midfield and contributed to our cause with 12 assists. He showed glimpses of brilliance on the world stage in June and ultimately made the loss of our 12 year stalwart (who will remain nameless) a smooth, if not improved, transition. “Irreplaceable” you might say. However, I wouldn’t.

Of course, when I first heard Martin O’Neill’s admission that our number 8’s head was turned, I was gutted. It couldn’t be that, for a second year, my favourite footballer would sell his soul for the devil’s riches. Thankfully, however, I had already grieved this hurt and I soon realised that the loss of Milly wouldn’t compare to the aftermath of Man City’s first summer signing last year. And then it hit me: James Milner was just a rebound. All along, I had been using him to sooth the scar left by our former number 6 – he had his uses, don’t get me wrong; but now that he’s going, Villa will have no problem moving on, and do you know what? We’ll be okay.

Although it will be extremely difficult to find an established, and effective, central midfielder within our miniscule £12m transfer cap, the perceived “disastrous” sale of James Milner is now actually very “necessary”. Because, as our overly generous American owner has, for once, decided to tighten his purse strings, Villa would have been in big trouble this coming year – but for the gluttonous naivety of Manchester City. The uncontrollable spending which is destroying football as we know it over at Eastlands is, without doubt, making progression harder; but by exploiting the Citizens’ reckless attitude, the claret side of Birmingham is offered a lifeline which could continue to kickstart our climb to the top – at a time when Aston Villa should be stalled on a hill without the assurance of a handbrake.

For me, City can become that ally you have when playing Monopoly whose fortunes will never be surpassed, and who has no problem paying over the odds for your hot property. They will never be caught, but they can help carry you to the top with them.

As the club prepares to enter the transfer market with an empty bank account, it is an ironic saving grace that Man Shitty have declared an interest in our most valuable player. I’ve argued that we have to keep the likes of Milner at Trinity Road if we are to remain an attractive habitat; but should the Villains desperately hang on to the want-away England star for another season, the potential kitty from the sale of our fringe players will not be sufficient to even change, never mind improve, on last year. And let’s be honest: as much as we stepped on last year (in the cup runs and increased points tally), we were caught out.

Opposition sides were all too prepared for the approach of a Martin O’Neill team in its fourth season, and a lot of the times we were thwarted. Teams were willing to treat our deep-lying outfit with caution and often refused to over-commit – and thus, suffocating the potential of our counterattacking prowess in which Downing, Young, Gabby, Carew and, of course, Milner were pivotal. Failing to win 11 of our 19 games at Villa Park last year was testament to our inability to break teams down; and indeed to our vulnerability at coping with sides who were as equally prepared to hit teams on the break. On top of this, a meek total of 52 league goals banged in last term (the 8th most in the league), shows just how far we really are from Champions League football. Defensively we were water tight; but our inability to put weaker opponents to the sword ultimately created the failure to acquire that elusive 6 more points.

In conclusion, we have become much too predictable as an attacking force and the variation of talent which could be welcomed aboard for the same valuation as an overpriced James Milner is essential.

Stephen Ireland

Graceful

So, he didn’t have the best of seasons. But the 23 year old suffered the most from Manchester City’s ridiculous spending. Making room for more “household names”, the Sky Blues unfairly asked Stephen Ireland to ply his trade from wide areas (and I’m talking out-and-out winger positions), and of course from a deeper midfield role under the new defence-minded Italian regime.

But if we rewind to the 08/09 season, the Irish man was Mark Hughes’ main threat, cutting teams open with his creative instincts and death touch when allowed to roam through the centre and off the front man. It’s a cliché, I know, but his 9 goals and 9 assists that year were so efficiently devastating that it was, at times, reminiscent of a hot knife cutting through melting butter – at the tender age of 22.

And as a supporter of his native country: yes, I’ll admit, he has caused his fair share of trouble; but when Stephen lines out in a green shirt, the Republic then have at least one dimension to their boring, unimaginative play – I mean, boy is he crucial. Scoring 4, largely individual, goals in just 6 appearances playing in an already below-par team furthered hindered by the misguidance of Steve Staunton, Ireland banished any perception that he couldn’t play in a 4-4-2 formation. Starring in the centre for his country, Stephen didn’t shirk his defensive or tactical duties, and his 4 goals from this position were all four match-winners as an uninspired outfit took 12 Qualifying points, each through the minimum winning margin.

No other club on the planet would deem such a gem surplus to requirements – particularly if he was nurtured through their underage system. Fortunately for Villa, however, “Citeh” are a brainless club. Having already pawned off Daniel Sturridge, Mancini is doing his best to have Onouha and Richards frozen out; and valuing a raw James Milner almost £20m more than the effortless Stephen Ireland, any work completed within the Man City academy (as good as it has been) is deemed a pointless waste of time in the shambolic rigmarole that is the MCFC boardroom.

Not only would I actually prefer a Stephen Ireland to a James Milner, but to have that swap with an extra £20m thrown into the bargain would be daylight robbery – and exactly the sort of steal we need in today’s sell-to-buy climate. City are surely buying their way to the title; but last summer, we acquired PFA Team of the Year member Richard Dunne for £18m less than the clumsy Joleon Lescott; and this summer we could be obtaining the improved services of Stephen Ireland for £20m less than workhorse James Milner – therefore, as a Villa fan I say, “Long live the Sheikh”.

Opportunity

If the part exchange deal did take place involving either Ireland or Bellamy, we would be left with a more talented alternative – perfect for the necessary change the AVFC attack needs for the coming season. Moreover, the extra cash obtained will be used effectively to add extra dimensions to a thin squad.

I’m not saying that they are targets or that they are even interested, but the rumoured links with Aiden McGeady and Robbie Keane are heart-warming. Whilst I don’t think that McGeady is better than Young or Downing, I’ve witnessed his 2nd half introductions for the Republic of Ireland on numerous occasions and I’m convinced that his ability to lift the crowd and spark a game into life can be just the tonic our poor home win ratio needs.

Robbie Keane (or a similar player), in my opinion, will be a steal at £10m. Yes, he’s ageing, but he is good. Overflowing with flair, the Irish captain is the perfect man to get in between the customary positional lines of football and bring other players into the game. Feeding off target men for his entire international career, Keane is also one of the best forwards in the world at anticipating flick-ons and getting in behind the opposition defence.

The possibility of Aston Villa acquiring Ireland’s 3 most exciting players at the expense of the ever-willing, but limited talent of, James Milner is too good a chance to miss. Jimmy was great for two years, but was there ever a sense of emotional attachment with the wanderlust professional? He did his job, he did it well, but Milner was never Aston Villa.

Now, by replacing him, we can bring in critical firepower which will deal with the onset predictability of the club – without spending a single penny. And after overseeing 71 league goals (the 3rd most) in just his second year in charge, with a less able outfit, Martin O’Neill has the capability to get the Villains firing again – he just needs different ammunition to wear down the bullet proof vests some teams have adapted to wear against us.

Therefore, strangely, I’m hoping to see the back of James Milner sooner rather than later. Clearly, he didn’t appreciate the punt MON took on him as he looked for the exit doors at St. James’ Park. He doesn’t acknowledge the work undergone to turn him into an international standard player (quite similar to another particular Man City footballer). And he is so inpatient at the age of 24 that he couldn’t wait one more season to see if the Villa project comes together.

Not only don’t I want that type of personnel infecting the changing rooms at Bodymoor Heath, but I think that we can do a lot better than James Milner. So I say, “Thanks for the memories, James – but good riddance” because we don’t need you. What we do need is to cash his price tag and get to work bringing in the different types of ability which our team so badly needs. James Milner was crucial to an outfit who were capable of scoring just 52 league goals. Now, Aston Villa needs 3 or 4 variable elements who are crucial to an outfit who can once again score 70+ goals. But this time, we will be supported by a mean defence. And this time, we could go that one step further – without the services of one, James Milner.

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Filed under 10/11 Season, Players, Transfer Talk, Uncategorized

Winning Ugly? Hey, It’s Still Winning

Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing

In 1959, Vince Lombardi embarked on his first chief position, as Head Coach of the Green Bay Packers, with these uber-competitive words as his rallying cry in the first day of training camp. 9 years, 5 national championships, and the sport’s first two Super Bowls later, the Brooklyn man needed just one year to create a record breaking winning attitude at Washington before dying a Football martyr, a sporting pioneer, a winner.

People will disagree with this post (a LOT of people). Total Football enthusiasts will puke over my beliefs. Romanticists will wince at my writing. But I must admit, I take my hat off to the Dutch.

Bert van Marwijk took the reigns of his country after the Russians prematurely ended their Euro 2008 dreams with a 3 – 1 Quarter Final defeat. Not popular with the fans, the former Feyenoord manager had my respect from the off, admitting, “Total Football is a thing of the past.

Thou shall not pass

And he couldn’t be more right. Yes, we are still treated with the mouth-watering exhibitions of a devastating Barcelona outfit, the guile of the current European and World Cup champions, and even the potential of a fantastically fluid United attack; but in 21st century football, opposition sides are conditioned, organized and more astute, and to flood men forward with careless abandon, particularly with weaker individuals, would of course uphold the integrity of pure football, but undermine the necessity of common sense.

Despite the fact that the renowned Total Football of the 70’s took place over 30 years ago, the Dutch also never actually won anything but respect for their scintillating style. On top of that, the ’74 and ’78 World Cup finalists were blessed with generation talents such as the two Johans (Cruyff and Neeskens); Wim Jansen; Rob Rensenbrink; and Johnny Rep. Today, the Netherlands nation expected the same interchangeable elegancy from Liverpool workhorse Dirk Kuyt; Real Madrid reject Wesley Sneijder; and the injured Robin van Persie. Arjen Robben is no doubt a good player; but is he really of the same calibre as the ammunition Rinus Michels had at his disposal in 1974? Even if he is, is he really so good that he can single-handedly recreate the magic of 36 and 32 years ago?

A ridiculous argument would be to suggest that if your team is not good enough, you have to simply accept this and take your beatings. However, the beauty of sport is that every player, every team and every nation begins on a literal level playing field. Some individuals, some teams, are not as good as their opponents, they are not equipped with the same artillery sometimes, but they do not roll over. Instead, they can analyse ways to wear down their counterparts, and at times, they find their Achilles heel.

Violent

So what is wrong with Holland’s dirty tricks? Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way condoning the life threatening thuggery which caused Nigel de Jong’s studs to flail into the chest of Xabi Alonso. But the rules are there to be abided by and I’m certain the Dutch manager did not excuse this sure-fire sending off offence so early in a World Cup Final. The Man City player should have seen red, but this would have been for an act outside the plans of van Marwijk, outside the laws of the game. The Netherlands are certainly guilty of gamesmanship – but all this entails is the bending of the existing rules of Football, not the breaking of such laws. They set out to rough up their opponents, cynically (yet tactically) foul and disrupt attacks, and they are happy to accept their penalties of warnings and yellow cards – but boy, can they hit teams on the break.

Maybe it’s just me. Yes, it isn’t the spectacle everyone yearns for. But just like Jose Mourinho’s inferior Inter Milan outfit spoiling the life out of attacking flair, Holland would not have cared what any headline said if they were going home in the company of that iconic gold trophy. And truthfully, they probably warranted it. Spain played by far the better football, but apart from Fabregas’ breakthrough, they struggled to overcome the tenacity of the Dutch terriers in normal time. (Of course, with 10 men, cracks later became apparent in the Orange wall of defence). And as I’ve always argued; in sport; you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you take. And with the best chances of the 90 minutes (I counted 4 first-class opportunities), Holland should have stolen the game from the grasp of the best passers on the planet – and I would have been one man delighted to see it (not merely because my 12/1 pre tournament bet would have came up!).

I could say that they came up short, but they probably over-performed throughout the whole competition. And after winning 14 competitive World Cup fixtures on the trot (and drawing with Spain after full time), how can anyone begrudge the Dutch of the credit their effective system deserves? Had they taken on the Spanish or Brazilians man-for-man, had they done the same against weaker opponents (like previous years) for that matter, they would have been wiped out – simply because their players are not good enough. But like the enigma of ancient warfare tactics, sport provides the flexibility of the manager’s nous to become an advantage; it allows perceivably weaker outfits to damage their rivals in unexpected, sometimes unorthodox, fashion; and it allows the underdog to prevail, reminding us all that anything is possible.

Instead of bashing the Dutch for their admittedly disgusting spoiling tactics at times; why aren’t we celebrating the fact that they brought the greatest footballing nation to its knees for 116 minutes? Johan Cruyff criticised his country’s performance as “ugly, vulgar and anti-football…” and it probably was. But it was this anti-football approach which gave his compatriots a fighting chance. And I’ll tell you what, if Aston Villa decide to adopt a gung-ho attacking and respectful approach to the 2010-11 season, we can kiss any aspiration we have of breaking the top 4 mould goodbye – because on paper, we are simply not amongst the 4 best teams.

Sport defies logic

Fortunately though, the game is never won on paper and anything can happen on any given day. And I will not criticize The Netherlands for refusing to accept second best, but instead, making the most of what they had, ignoring the boundaries of logic and reason. And just like David beat Goliath (in all his size, all his armour, and all his artillery) with an impotent yet cunningly effective sling shot, I respect Bert van Marwijk’s modern day Holland for their spirit, their resilience, their unlikely success and more importantly, for their triumph in restoring faith in the giant-killing fairytale.

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