Plenty of questions; waiting for answers…
The international break offered a bit of a respite this past ten days or so, and with the football being so meaningless there was much pleasure to be had finding out who the hell is playing for England these days. With the Premier League now being an overblown irrelevance, my ignorance is truly impressive, and I was eager to find out who Tarkowski and Trippier were. I was delighted to find they were both journeyman who had won themselves England caps after arriving in the Premier League with Burnley. Keeping up the tradition, Trippier had already been asset-stripped by Spurs and presumably Tarkowski will follow the same predictable money trail. Burnley, who literally play in Villa colours, and having survived promotion last season, now seem to be thriving, and it seems likely that they will suffer the same fate as Villa did, whenever they threatened to crash the Premier League’s plutocratic party. I have to confess that I was too busy catching up on innumerable highlights of interest to research every mystery guest, Southgate had on England’s multiplying subs-bench. That will come later, should Southgate defy the tradition of calling up players who are ultimately ditched for the tired and trusted bigger brands.
Seeing Villa OB Ashley Young put in a mature performance at left-back for England brought the memories back, and made the news that Gabby was leaving Villa seem rather poignant. Gabby’s place in the Villa record-books is assured and as time passes his faults will be forgotten and his best days fondly recalled and celebrated. But at 31 he is too young to retire and will surely find another club. Some fans will take a long time to forgive him his sabbatical but it was always my belief that his fall into depression was more a symptom of Villa’s decline than a cause. The goal he scored last season against SHA was the crowning glory of his comeback and confirmed every superstition that the football gods actually exist.
As for England, they looked about the same as we have come to expect. Good enough to get out of the group-stage, should Kane be fit, but about the same distance from the top teams as we’ve got used to. England manager Southgate and his friends in the press seem to be managing expectations well, and have got all sights well and truly set on some future vision of England glory. England’s barmy army seem to have concluded that getting bladdered and breaking the furniture is their best hope of a memorable tournament, which traditionally has been a more reliable indicator than the bookies’ odds. No surprises there then, and apart from Spain putting six past a Messi-less Argentina the results went very much as expected. The favourites are very much the usual suspects with Belgium listed as the promising outsiders.
The biggest worry for Villa, was James Chester who was playing in the China Cup. The fact he was taken off after 75 minutes, in the final had got me worried, but Bruce tells us he’s fit, along with everyone except Whelan, who was only back in training on Thursday. Jonathan Kodjia is also available after coming through 45 minutes in a behind-closed-doors game in midweek. Keinan Davis will no doubt be cock-a-hoop after scoring a late winner for the England U20s in Poland. With five games in two weeks, Villa will need all their available players, in what seems like an arrangement which will stretch the squad near to breaking point. It will be a real test of character, nerve and leadership.
While the break offered me some distraction, I was definitely in need of some kind of therapy after the trauma of seeing Villa lose at Bolton. Villa have a long trip to take to Hull this Saturday, followed by a home game with Reading at Villa Park on Tuesday night. It goes without saying that Villa can’t really afford to lose either. I am willing to believe that the loss at Bolton was mainly down to fatigue and the conditions, which were a bit last century, to say the least. Bolton, Hull and Reading are all adjacent to each other in the table and so it can be assumed that they are all of similar quality. Villa definitely need to be better, which should be achievable. Five games in thirteen days is a big ask, and we’re definitely asking.
Keep the faith!