Tag Archives: Man City

The Rollercoaster Continues

And so, after 9 conceded goals in just 2 games, after European elimination, after failing to fill 8063 (almost 19%) seats, and lets be honest, after some dreadful, dreadful football, Aston Villa overturned their first big challenge of the season to climb proudly into the last remaining Champions League spot.

Football’s a funny old thing isn’t it?

Because as surely as this high will soon be quashed by a poor result elsewhere in the season, I’m going to once again allow myself to be blinded by the optimism and take a look at how positive things can sometimes be for an Aston Villa fan.

The Challengers

Yes, we are only 3 games into the season, but we are hanging onto the coattails of the Big Three better than anyone else in the league, and last year’s fourth place residents have already proven that they will be unable to cope with both the physical and mental demands of a midweek European match (even at such a premature stage). Tottenham have a good squad full of depth and talent – but the requirement of Champions League teams to peak twice in the one week, and not prioritise competitions, is a whole new experience for Spurs and their potential six more hangovers could prove detrimental in their domestic campaign.

Man City have a better squad full of deeper talent, but are fortunately blessed with an incompetent Premier League manager. After completely outplaying Liverpool, I rated the Sky Blues as a shoe-in for a Top 4 place – only for their overpaid personnel to demonstrate how they are suspect to neglect “lesser” league opponents this year off the back of more glamorous fixtures. And as long as Mancini concerns himself with not losing (rather than trying to win), the players at his disposal will remain restricted and limited and open to defeats by unexpected midtable challengers.

Liverpool are unconvincing as ever. Unlucky to be suffering the frustrations of a transition period, Hodgson could take time to gather momentum for the wounded Reds. But still blessed with Gerrard and Torres, Villa should hope that this progress takes longer than it should.

Obviously it is a massive ask to expect the mess that is Aston Villa to secure a Top 4 spot (particularly this season), but it is extremely heartening to realise that maybe the grass isn’t much greener on the other side after all.

Everton

Okay, we were abysmal at times today. The first half was largely pathetic and the exciting dominance we enjoyed against The Hammers just two weeks ago never seemed so far away. It was like MacDonald was reverting back to the conservative style of Martin O’Neill – except under this manager, we were unable to carve any chances unlike the MON days. We got men behind the ball, sure, and we limited the opposition effectively, but on the ball, the Villains were clueless. Indeed, but for a poor and completely unsuccessful Fellaini clearance, I might not ever have written this piece (The O’Neill team were always outplayed, but never lacked direction or danger). The final 20 minutes of the game: I’d rather not discuss. I never thought it was possible to become short of breath by sitting down – but boy, that was a stressful time.

Unlucky

However, I’ve said it before and I am delighted to say it again: In sport, you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you take.

Besides, whatever the caretaker boss said at half time had a temporary effect on the team who were finally standing toe-to-toe with Everton and should have even put them away within that half hour spell. Ashley Young and John Carew had Distin on toast, and when we began to take them on, the Blue backline were struggling to find answers. Phil Jagielka produced a first class, last ditch block from Ashley Young’s rebound after big, bad John’s parried shot meant Tim Howard could only look on in hope. Similarly, Marc Albrighton showed his inexperience by rushing a rebounded shot from the opposite side when he could have firstly taken a touch. Everton never came as close as we did – and after refusing to give in to the pressure, we got out of there alive.

Brad Friedel

Yes, yes, yes. A quality goalkeeper is probably the most underrated, and conversely one of the most important, items within a football team. Producing a terrific reflex save from a Seamus Coleman flick, the American prevented certain heartbreak in the 94th minute to get a single fingertip to a Louis Saha shot which, at first glance, didn’t look threatening – thankfully Brad wasn’t as lax as I and went down, outstretched, to construct the game’s best save. A real relieving influence for a pressurized defence, Friedel’s impact in these 3 points should not be downplayed.

Luke Young

A case of humble pie for yours truly. Criticized on this very blog after his escapades in Newcastle, the number 2 produced his best performance in a long time to remind me why I had called for his selection on a number of occasions last year. Marauding into the penalty area, Young latched onto an inch perfect through ball from his namesake and effortlessly bent the ball into the top corner with his left foot – before completing the rest of the game in a sound manner and confidently making himself available as an attacking option time and time again. Apologies, Luke.

James Collins

Man of the Match contender. The Welsh man lived up to every inch of his beast-like stereotype with a ruthless performance at the heart of our defence in a game where anything less would have been catastrophic. Standing tall and putting league-bully Marouane Fellaini in his place with a commanding role, this match was made for James Collins.

Richard Dunne

I was a bit critical of ‘Dickey’ in the early stages of the game – accusing him of dwelling in possession and being clumsy in the tackle. But in hindsight, our number 5 was simply tactically cynical and tried to help out the midfield with a bit of ball retention in a no-nonsense display which swept the lethargy of St James’ Park under the carpet.

Stephen Warnock

I don’t know a lot, but I know that Stephen Warnock is a much more useful left back than Kieran Gibbs is. Another comforting solid match for the former Liverpool man, Everton’s right side was completely inept until the late introduction of Coleman, and like Luke, Warnock proved an attacking asset at least within our 30 minute spell. The entire defence should be credited with this victory after securing another clean sheet – defying the laws of averages (if you throw enough mud at the wall, some of it will stick – Everton threw an abundance of mud at the wall today, and none of it stuck).

Marc Albrighton

Another tough game to get through for Marc, I think he just about tipped the scales and won me over throughout the 90 minutes. Early signs of naivety were apparent as Leighton Baines pushed forward, but the 20 year old got to grips and ended up recreating a number of thankful defensive clearances. He had a real bite going into the tackle as well which eliminated my early fears that he wasn’t physically ready just yet. At times, he ran out of steam and got overexcited when he could have held the ball up, but he was certainly our biggest threat from a wide area on Sunday.

Nigel Reo Coker

Take a bow, Nigel. An injury to Stephen Ireland in the warm up meant that a substitute was required, and in our hour of need, Reo Coker stepped up. Going through his usual shift of hard work and commitment, the number 20 was much better suited to this game than our new signing would have been – and I can’t recall one single instance where the lad lost possession. Even pulling the team out of the trenches with a few lung bursting, both solo and supportive, runs, the Londoner is, in my opinion, the unsung hero and another shout for MOTM – and could probably feel hard done by should he lose his place after this performance.

Stiliyan Petrov

Much too quiet today. The skipper failed to ever really impose himself on the game and produce any kind of magic you would hope from your creative centre midfielder. Of course, still worked hard and was maybe a victim of the referee’s harsh away bias, but we needed more from Stan today and we didn’t get it – and had to ride our luck as a result.

Stewart Downing

Probably the weakest of the team today, Stewart hit a couple of notable misplaced passes and didn’t seem too interested in affecting change in the match either defensively or offensively (excuse the Bob Bradley twang). I was angered to see that Agbonlahor was not replacing the left winger. I would have moved Ashley out and played two up top because Downing simply was not on-song today.

Ashley Young

Boy, is he thriving off playing behind the striker. Tireless off-the-ball work, combined with our best avenue of keeping possession, Young added to his delicious assist with 94 minutes of direction for a struggling outfit. If only we could have used his unflappably constant threat more.

John Carew

The big man came through for us today. Again, wasn’t really given a chance with desperate balls being hoofed forward to his isolated positions, but the Norwegian still managed to play a key role in the goal with a nod down for Ashley, and he led the line well enough in difficult conditions. Maybe taken off too early just when he had the clear beating of Distin, Carew was a perfect example of a “good” individual performance in a poor team display, lacking a little direction.

Gabriel Agbonlahor

Good to see him back. He showed glimpses of his use by holding up the ball and running into channels away from defenders. He was used as a bit of relief at times, but in truth, he was involved at a time where the game was being played in our box.

Although the team performance clearly wasn’t up to scratch, a number of individuals still demonstrated their value and showed that we are still a force if they can be moulded together (there was NO cohesion today and we still came away with the points).

Another clean sheet at Villa Park was the key to our 100% league record at home – a place where we failed to win 8 (42%) games last year.

Things were bleak just yesterday, and even throughout the game, alarm bells are clearly ringing. But just one glance at the Premier League table would suggest that we’re reaching any targets we are audacious enough to set in today’s environment, and it would confirm that once again, Aston Villa is overperforming.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under 10/11 Season, Uncategorized

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

2 Comments

Filed under 10/11 Season, Transfer Talk, Uncategorized

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.

4 Comments

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

England v USA

Frustrating

And so: after 240 days of anticipating build up; over 30 months of Capello’s callous expectation; and 44 years of dreaming; England’s most recent quest for world domination came crashing down to earth with an almighty thump upon the uneventful plains of Rustenburg.

Of course, it would be unfair to rule out the Royal Britannia after just 90 minutes of football, and but for another goalkeeping error, England would be sitting pretty with a 100% record; unfortunately though, for me, the national side have been much too uninspiring to be even considered as outside contenders to claim the planet’s most prestigious football competition.

The beauty of the group stages, however, is that each team has two more games to get things right and as per the nature of Group C, only a couple of meagre outfits stand in the way of England and the World Cup’s first knockout round.

So rather than waste an article moaning about another pitiable performance; instead of sliding blindly into the vicious circle that is the Three Lions rigmarole, I thought I’d have a proper look at the England-USA game and try to offer some constructive feedback (for anyone interested!).

Goalkeeping Problems

Firstly, I feel bad for Robert Green. He seems like a nice guy and a complete professional but sadly, football is a dog-eat-dog world where only the fittest will survive. It would be easy for England to pin responsibility for their draw on the shoulders of one man; but at the end of the day, he is their first choice goalkeeper and every team runs the risk of being as weak as their weakest player.

Maybe the manager chose the wrong man to stand between the posts. With 4 blunders, Rob Green made more errors leading to goals than any other player in the Premier League last season. But with “the more experienced” David James failing to ever line out in tournament finals for his country, and a 23 year old shot stopper yet to start an international match, as backup, the selection of the West Ham number one was not controversial by any stretch of the imagination. Instead, it just goes to show that England is not blessed with a great goalkeeper – a necessary tool for any team who have aspirations of winning a cup competition.

James Milner

Maybe he was sick; maybe he wasn’t involved, but as a Villa fan, I certainly was not going to let this one go without a say.

Not even 30 minutes on the clock and up went the fourth official’s board to signal the first substitute of the evening. Annoyingly, Milly would have been dreaming of playing for his country in the World Cup finals his whole life and would not have let his manager down. However, one yellow card later and the PFA Young Player of the Year is summoned to the dugout. Yes, he mistimed two tackles, but I have never witnessed a game where there is such concern over one of the wingers being booked. Playing inferior opposition, why was Fabio so obsessed with protecting the backline? Indeed, at the risk of sounding cliché, it is a testament to the Italian’s negative system that the left midfielder can’t prolong his game-time with a yellow card because it will interfere with his prioritised defensive duties. James Milner has an awful lot to contribute to any team; but unfortunately because of his admirable industry, Capello spoiled the Villa player’s game out of an unnecessary fear that Ashley Cole (one of the best left backs in the world) could not cope without backup.

(I also wondered why, in those first 30 minutes when the USA did show something going forward, were the yanks so determined to get down the right side past an almost immoveable resistance of Cole and Milner. Surely they would have had more joy getting at the likes of Lennon and Johnson on the other flank.)

Not to mention the ineffectual introduction of Shaun Wright Phillips. As I’ll prove later, the Man City man offered nothing for his country in their opening group game. In the second half, England played 17 of their final balls from wide areas – only 3 of these came from the left (none from SWP). I’d like to think that Aston Villa’s main man would have had a greater input than that had he been given the chance to ply his trade in a dominating second half.

Steven Gerrard

His inspiring performance tonight raises questions as to why he was ever considered to play out wide. He offers too much in the centre to be wasted on the wing and after completely outshining midfield partner, Lampard, if Gerrard is moved to accommodate Gareth Barry, there should be uproar amongst both the fans and the players to keep Stevie G as the team’s attacking heartbeat.

Emile Heskey

Beware!

There is a fickle sense that The Mule has won people over with his one, admittedly elegant, assist today. This is one report I found:

There will be plenty of fools criticising Heskey for thumping his chance just before the hour straight at Tim Howard. Ignore them. And if you are one of those fools, ignore yourself. The big man was terrific in every other way, winning everything in the air, strong when holding the ball up, an of course the exceptionally weighted pass for Gerrard’s opener. The idea that a striker is there only to score goals, and is a failure if he doesn’t, is outmoded. If Heskey contributed less elsewhere, he would not be worth his place in the side, but he was arguably England‘s best all round player.

Some will say ‘Defoe/Bent would’ve buried that’. Possibly. But would Defoe/Bent have played a similar pass for Gerrard, or made such an important contribution to the rest of the game? Absolutely, positively, certainly not.”

 

I am here to tell you to not be fooled by such sensationalism.

Heskey looked sharp at the beginning of the game. He got in front of his marker and flicked a perfectly weighted ball in front of his captain in an almost effortless manner – and surprisingly, I was delighted for him. Indeed, in the first 8 minutes, it was Heskey who delivered all of England’s final passes (4 of them) – but only one of which were successful and lead to a shot (the Gerrard goal). If only the game was played over 8 minutes.

Because for the remainder of his 72 on-field minutes, the Villa striker looked like he wanted to rest on his laurels and did his best to be substituted. Back to his old self, the man-mountain was being barged over and “hurt” with every ball that came his way in an attacking position (oh, and of course he was standing pointlessly offside a few times as well). With regards to him “winning everything in the air”, the England number 21 did flick a number of long balls aimlessly off the back of his head – which did not once result in Capello’s men advancing further upfield with possession.

And referring back to the above quote, I’m happy to dissociate myself from the said “fools”. Simply because I will not be criticising Heskey for his time-rich one-on-one miss; for the reason that when the ball was played through, not one inch of my anatomy reacted with any sort of stimulus out of complete assurance that there was no way Emile Heskey had the ability to finish off that move. Therefore, just like I wouldn’t judge Rooney on his aptitude to mark an opposing centre back whilst defending a corner; I won’t criticize Heskey for not being able to produce something that is not within his capabilities to produce (why should the striker be expected to finish that anyway?). Rather, I hold my reservations for Emile’s inability to affect change in the “rest of the game” where he still came up some way short (and if he is expected to lead the nation through the knockout rounds, then please excuse my lack of faith for the England cause).

(Just a note: To suggest that the substituted Heskey was also better than Glen Johnson and Steven Gerrard, in their World Cup opener, defies logic.)

I really don’t want to sound like a Villa basher because I am the complete opposite – I just don’t want English men and women sitting up on their seats for a player who I know (and I’ve seen tonight) is not worth opening one eye for.

First Half Analysis

What was most worrying, however, was the further evidence of England’s technical weaknesses. Having analysed every final ball Capello’s men made, I noticed a shockingly poor ratio of attacks turning to shots. What was more interesting was to find that the 5 times England did manage to create a shooting or scoring opportunity in the first half was when they cut inside and went through the centre either with a direct dribble or a cute through ball.

England’s Final Pass

Diagram Key below article

The two times the team did go long to Heskey, nothing came of it. With not even one successful cross; any final ball, which led to any sort of outcome for the English, had to be played on the deck through the centre.

This first half also comes to question Capello’s belief of having speedy wingers in the team. With Aaron Lennon playing the whole half and Wright Phillips a third of it, England didn’t try to utilise their pace and get to the by-line or in behind the defenders.

Second Half Analysis

After a quiet first half, Aaron Lennon was responsible for a lot of his team’s final passes in the final 45 minutes – however, 5 of these went astray with no outcome.

Mr Capello clearly set his team out to get down the sides of the US in this half (despite the central success of the first) and it resulted in a lot more final ball being delivered from open play. It did however also show up the deficiencies of Shaun Wright Phillips on the left as his only penultimate contribution to his team’s attack was to win a free nearer to the halfway line.

The diagram shows the tendency of the English to head for the right flank even though they still looked likely to cause damage through the centre. But with Glen Johnson getting heavily involved and Steven Gerrard clearly covering a lot of ground, balls were going into the American box as quickly as Heskey was falling to the ground.

Looking at both images, every time Wayne Rooney had a say in the final pass, it led to a goalscoring opportunity. This is probably an obvious observation considering the talent of the United player, but it is further proof of the technical importance required to unlock defences. The scouse man wasn’t used enough as the white shirts of England felt they were having enough joy bombarding the American left back.

Nevertheless, despite the volume of right sided attacks launched by Capello’s men, England failed to score in the second half (and their two greatest chances came from through balls to Heskey and SWP who both spurned great opportunities).

If England were to continue playing like they do, it would be advised to select the best crossers of the ball because not only was that mode of attack top-heavy, it was also very unsuccessful and obviously didn’t suit the players on the field. And I’m confident that SWP and Lennon are not the best crossers in the squad.

Alternatively, if they learned to keep the ball on the deck and go for the jugular of the opposing defence, they have shown they can turn a lot more of their attacks into goalscoring chances. But this will spawn out of an ability to hold possession and wear down the defence – and by not constantly looking for clear bits of harmless grass beside the touchline.

Spain are the tournament favourites and will score very few goals from deep crosses. England have shown they can get through the centre. Whether they will realise the importance of it in time, remains to be seen.

Key:

(2) = Glen Johnson

(3) = Ashley Cole

(4) = Steven Gerrard

(7) = Aaron Lennon

(8) = Frank Lampard

(9) = Peter Crouch

(10) = Wayne Rooney

(16) = James Milner

(17) = Shaun Wright Phillips

(21) = Emile Heskey

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized, World Cup

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.

4 Comments

Filed under Transfer Talk, Uncategorized

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Transfer Talk, Uncategorized

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.

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized, View of the Outside