I can’t wait for Saturday.
I genuinely can’t recall the last time I was this excited about going to a football match. It feels like a lifetime ago. Of course, it’s easy for the mind to play tricks on you and in the excitement of a new managerial appointment and the influx of fresh coaching talent into the club, it’s easy to forget recent highlights.
But in truth, have there been many? Sure, we’ve had the euphoria of spanking Wolves and Bristol City at B6 in the past 12 months, the tension and excitement of preparing for the playoff final, and… err… that’s it. But for none of these games have I been genuinely excited beforehand.
I fully expected Wolves to hammer us, and in my heart of hearts, I never really thought we would beat Fulham. In a one-off cup tie, anything can happen, and I was clinging on to that forlorn hope more than any realistic expectation of winning on performance and merit.
The last decade has well and truly sucked the life out of me in terms of enjoyment, hope and expectation. A relentless stream of misguided and downright nonsensical managerial appointments, together with the abysmal mismanagement at boardroom level, have left me cynical, despondent and (perhaps worst of all) ambivalent. ‘Meh’ would be the word most appropriate to my feelings.
But somehow, the arrivals of Dean Smith and John Terry (and Richard O’Kelly – although I know little about him, he seems integral to Dean’s set up) have rekindled a spark in me (and, it would seem from the forums, many others). A spark and a renewed hope (it’s the hope that kills you, isn’t it?!) I’ve not felt since perhaps the arrival of John Gregory.
It’s not that Dean Smith is “one of our own”, although that should buy him some time with the fans should things start to go south. I have no particular love for John Terry, aside from the professionalism and leadership he brought to us last season.
Something just feels right about this. Smith has served his apprenticeship and his coaching ability is there for all to see, consistently getting his teams punching above their weight and playing the sort of football we a crying out to experience once more at Villa.
People point to the fact that, at Brentford, he failed to achieve what Mark Warburton had done before him – getting them into the playoffs. But for me, that’s disingenuous and a little beside the point. Smith has kept them consistently competitive, in spite of the fact he invariably lost his best players when every transfer window came along.
The style of football Smith espouses – energetic, easy-on-the-eye, front-foot stuff, working hard and scoring goals – has delivered results far above what might be expected from (with all due respect to Brentford, and Walsall in fact) a small, slightly unfashionable clubs. What can he achieve now, with the resources at his disposal?
Despite the misgivings and reservations of some, I don’t buy into the idea he will struggle with the weight of expectation at Villa. He knows the club; he gets us. He will want success as much as any one of us, and his matchup with John Terry should prove to be a very shrewd bit of business by the club.
Say what you like about Terry (and I hated him for years in his Chelsea and England days), but seeing him close up, week in, week out, there can be no doubting his levels of professionalism and commitment. If he can maintain those qualities as he earns his coaching chops, then I think we will do very well out of the deal.
I’m realistic (bordering on pessimistic) and don’t think promotion (or even playoffs) is nailed on. The squad Smith has inherited is appallingly unbalanced and we all know the disgraceful defensive shortcomings with which he, JT and O’Kelly have been left.
But on the other hand, we have some outstanding midfield and forward players. We should have more than enough for most of the sides in the division on any given day. If Smith can get the team firing in the forward areas, working much harder and defending from the front, many of the issues we have seen this season will start to look a little less terminal.
There is plenty to look forward to in the coming months, and however things start off, I for one am grateful to the club and to Dean Smith for relighting my fire. Let’s hope the players, as they return from another interminable international break, share the same sense of optimism and hope, and take the opportunity to make up for lost time and really show the fans what they can do.
On Saturday, 40,000 of us will be there at B6 (and many thousands in spirit) at the start of another new dawn. The law of averages suggests we have to get things right eventually. Please let it be this time. Dean Smith deserves his chance and I back him to take it.
He has every right to expect the same as we do from this group of players. If the players can buy into his methods quickly, and we can keep in touch until January, then with a couple of well-judged additions during the window, we will most definitely be there or thereabouts.
Sorry, couldn’t help myself…