No expectations – No disappointments.
By Steve Wade
This kind of sums up my relationship with the Villa these days but I never really expected them to make such a bloody good job of it. Back in August (SFTW 70) I predicted that Villa would finish 14th and it is beginning to look a smidge optimistic but definitely only a smidge (a smidge by the way, is the moisture from a flea’s armpit). My prediction that Phillips would get eleven goals seems a bit daft now though, especially as it was paired with Angel getting a similar amount, and a bit of simple maths would perhaps have yielded a more accurate figure (his recent goals per game ratio times the number of games I expected him to play). Still, the blue-noses (the bloses) of my acquaintance got it even more wrong, when they gave money to Mr Ladbrokes, in a hubristic gesture, betting that they would finish higher
than the Villa and it would be the year they established their Premiership credentials once and for all.
And, there were whoops aplenty last Sunday lunchtime, accompanied by some free-form terpsichorean strutting, which was branded by all who witnessed it, as a new version of the doolally; also known amongst morris men, as scraping-the-barrel, or the dance of the desperate. But I kid you not, I was f***ing desperate and the relief was palpable. I felt like James Stewart at the end of Its A Wonderful Life. Unfortunately, for some, the whole experience was a bit like shagging a fat bird – no matter how good it is, you are not going to tell your mates, are you. I know I never did. Somehow, the aesthetics of the encounter, kind of got in the way of an enjoyable experience. So naturally, the cries of pleasure were generally muted. Private feelings, however, may have been different.
As Janis once put it – get it while you can.
Speaking personally, I was over one of the moons of Jupiter (the big one). The memories of recent calamities against Birmingham City and the knowledge that a loss would have been a disaster for Villa, made a three-one thrashing, all the more precious. Add in an extraordinarily brilliant goal from a youngster and I was left nothing short of misty-eyed (had me remembering Chico’s goal some years ago). The damage it did Blues, did a lot to soothe the hurts of recent years and I know that I would have taken a defeat very personally indeed. Inevitably, after feeling so desperate, my post-match reaction, left me feeling rather pathetic. Yes, it has come to this. But having one’s emotions held hostage like this, by a group of millionaire mercenaries, is not a happy thought and if some people resent their sensibility’s captivity, I more than understand.
Once the negative feeling is experienced, attributing blame seems the predictable next step. Football being such a multi-stranded and complicated affair, it is just a matter of taking your pick. I am certain you would need a fairly powerful computer to actually prove that one manager is worse than his peers, as establishing that two comparable managers, operate under better or worse circumstances, is nigh on impossible. Even having the power to crunch the numbers, the data is just not available – football is a secretive business. Do Curbishly or Allardice operate under better circumstances than O’Leary or Bruce? Would either look better at their jobs, if they were at Newcastle. Would Villa, Blues, Fulham, or Sunderland be a better test for Roeder than Newcastle? Would McClaren be up for the England job without Gibson’s money? Is Bruce a worse manager than O’Leary? I actually think that you can’t prove a thing. But you can look at the bigger picture.
And, how do we measure greatness? Who was the better manager? Atkinson & Little for winning a trophy; Gregory for getting to a final, or Graham Taylor for providing the means to finance the team-building of the three managers who followed him, by discovering Platt and Yorke? And, without Taylor’s legacy, how good would the other managers have been? As Villa’s trajectory heads downwards, it seems that the club is in need of another Taylor, or substantial investment – probably both.
Looking at both the Villa and the Blues, they seem to be suffering the same sort of problems, which are all symptoms of clubs trying to sustain a presence in the Premiership, purely with self-generated monies but is that really a viable strategy? I must say that I have some very strong doubts.
Portsmouth have just given up on it and it shows.
Bruce and O’Leary seem to have reached the same conclusion, that to survive and perhaps thrive in the Premiership, you need quality in your team. Having both reached that conclusion and having been handed a budget, there was only one way they could get the quality – buy older players discarded by other clubs and hope they avoid injury. In both cases this proved to be a false hope and both managers have struggled to field a full-strength side throughout the season. Villa have been without Laursen et al and Blues have been without Upson et al. The fact that the one quality player Villa bought for proper money, turned out to be the real difference between the two sides last week, seems to prove the point entirely. While Heskey and Sutton were about as mobile as the wooden-tops, at one end of the pitch, Baros was banging them in at the other, for Villa.
But no one was being kidded. The return of Milner and Barry was the tipping point and should these guys have not been available, Villa would have most likely reproduced a similar performance to the one against Albion and they would have lost. The margin between the two teams basically, was decided by which manager had the fewest injuries and of course, an inspired performance by young Cahill. But that margin, between a team in the bottom three, and Villa was far too slim to be acceptable.
Big things need to happen.
Doug must know that if the club is to stand as any sort of worthy monument to his life’s work, then he needs to make some huge changes in the summer. The reliance on injury-prone old pros, is just not a viable proposition these days and he or whoever succeeds him, needs to reduce the number of players who are thirty-plus and bring in some real quality, in key positions. He must accept that, as promising as the young players are, they will not reach their potential for another five years and his plans for development must reflect this. I think the natural sympathy that the fans have with home-grown youngsters, has passed its use-by date and he needs to develop a broader plan, or else see the fan-base continue to decline and the name Aston Villa become yet another hopeless Midland club in the Championship.
And while I am at it, world peace would be nice too.
No expectations – No disappointments!