Date: 30th September 2006 at 10:40am
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In my book, one of the greatest Villa managers of all time and rather better than his reputation with the fans allows.

By Steve Wade

So Villa remain unbeaten. And, give or take the odd eight-million pound Bulgarian (I wonder how many Levs that is?), its almost the same players who didn’t look that great last season, minus Milner and whoever (wots’is face – Erik) got shipped back to Leeds, which broke the heart of poor old David O’Leary and sent diplomatic relations down the tubes. It definitely would be interesting to see Milner in this present team but I am not sure who he would replace. David’s career at Villa can be summed-up in one word – Solano. Things went right when the Peruvian came and went prickly-pear-shaped when he left – David’s personality did the rest. Why couldn’t he be as nice as Niall Quinn, I was asking myself the other day but then remembered (just in time) that the big fellah’s charm didn’t make him a good manager and he had to draft in Roy Keane, who is sort of anti-nice with knobs on. Niceness does not seem to have much currency in football management and even Pearce has found nice to be not too productive. But you won’t find me feeling sorry for O’Leary because just like when Brian Little walked out, seeing him getting into his Jag, on the night he left (Brian that is), was not quite like seeing ‘real’ people lose their jobs and I’ve seen too many real tears, too many times, over the years. Sooner or later, David will be back in football to get under our skins all over again – he’s that sort of guy.

I never actually saw the advert myself but I heard about it – the one where Mourinho is giving his half-time talk and is logged on to Ebay, threatening his players with a quick purchase. The suggestion being that having money to replace any player in the squad, is quite good at motivating those ‘difficult’ personalities. I mean, look at Drogba since Shevchenko arrived, he’s playing out of his skin (bugger, I didn’t want to think about that). But yeah, I know O’Neill is the business and yes, I love the guy, but having a suitcase full of greenbacks ready for January, certainly must make a bit of a difference. So as multi-millionaires go, who have never done a proper job in their lives, I suppose David O’Leary might think himself unlucky. It really is the gravy-train of all gravy trains. And lets be honest, footballers always want jam on it.

What struck me about that Panorama programme the other week, about the bungs, was how those who it was alleged, did the naughties, were those who’s nepotism seemed the strongest. It was as if those who are involved in the game, are so aware what a cornucopia (horn of plenty too, wink wink) of easy money the game is, that they saw the fact that their sons lacked the requisite talent to suckle from the great teat, as something they were determined to remedy. Even the guy Bond who was sacked this week, had a father within the game. Isn’t Ferguson’s row with the BBC over a programme about his son? And as the ever-presence of Lawro, Hansen and Linekar et el show and now Shearer – once they are on that gravy train they never want to get off. And they often don’t. Shearer is off on a farewell tour of Australia as we speak. Remember that t-shirt: Nepotism rules okay – thanks Dad!

But back to the Villa.

The amazing thing is how quickly the good old convenient-memory syndrome has engulfed the fans. Suddenly sneery-snooted Davey is being described as never being any good (with plenty of I-said-so-at-the-time’s) and scour the archives for opinions to the contrary, all you like, but no one is going to admit they liked him. Did he really finish quite high in his second season? I’d hate it if it was true.

But I tell you, if you lack the ability to re-write history then you are not going to have much of a future as a football fan. It reminds me of that thing I read in Cosmopolitan years ago, which concluded that women tend to have a more optimistic view of a fellah’s naughty bits (size-wise), at the beginning of a relationship, than at the end. So ipse dixit, whether its girls and their fellahs or fans and their football clubs – the new prick is always going to be better than the last prick. In fact this theory might actually extend to chairman but I absolutely refuse to go there – I have my own convenient-memory syndrome, thank you very much, and very useful it is too.

Of course I couldn’t help but think of Turnip Taylor this week, as Crouch banged in his over-head kick for ‘Pool. It might have looked like a daddy-longlegs trying to disentangle itself from the net curtains but it certainly was a fantastic goal. It was a reminder that despite Graham being incorrigibly unfashionable, he can still spot a player. In my book, one of the greatest Villa managers of all time and rather better than his reputation with the fans allows.

I must say that this business of O’Leary finishing in the top half (if he really did and they are not making it up) does look like a worry because even under rather more favourable circumstances, Martin says it is unlikely we’ll do better this season. If that happens, I might be vulnerable to the accusation that, just because I love Martin, or Lionel as I call him (anagram and old favourite player LM), which is true, and I have often felt the desire to give him a hug (in a manly sort of way, of course) and I’ve heard several blokes admit the same, I and my fellow huggees are less critical of him than the very unhuggable O’Leary. Its all true of course but it is the sort of thing which often brings the charge of hypocrisy, which is a bit rough on your reputation. So I am just hoping for the sake of me and the rest that he does slightly better. The lesson seems to be, that if a manager is unhuggable, he better be bloody good. Did anyone ever see Ron Saunders get hugged? Can’t see it myself, not without a crash-helmet and a cricket-box, at least.

I just hope that Villa under O’Leary never won at Chelsea in recent years – that could make life really difficult.