Date: 6th March 2009 at 4:39pm
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Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.


Its been the sort of fortnight which might even have left Captain Haddock mute with grief and bemusement and so I excuse myself for being rendered speechless by the dimming of Villa’s erstwhile brilliant illumined season; the flame of which seemed to have gone out entirely, judging by the evidence of their dreary performance at the City of Manchester Stadium, on Wednesday night.

Happily, my only consolation and my route back to any appearance of sanity, owes more to the overreaction of others, rather than to my own ability to mint consolation out of outraged disappointment. So I thank everyone and all, who indulged us with their various imitations of Lear raging upon the Villa heath, and confronted with such obvious nuttiness and girly hysteria, I ceased my own wailing and retreated to the hovel of Villa realism and felt much better for it.

So thanks for that.

I really did want to throw the toys out of the pram myself but I was grateful, as things transpired, that it was others who were caught launching their Villa SuperTed into oblivion and I was left in comfortable
denial, that I was ever on the verge of kicking the stuffing out of my own little claret and blue critter.

But the worst thing, is the realisation, that when I am sticking my bottom lip out and whining ‘Its not fair’, as I contemplate what might have been, had Villa put seven points between themselves and Arsenal, I feel like such a big fecking Jessie.

Does it mean that when Villa become a really good team, I am going to be worse than this? Do Manchester United fans, spend their weeks crying over throw-ins they never got? Is the reward for success, the certainty of turning into a whining spoilt brat? It certainly looks that way. Are we all destined to turn into that Princess and the pea?

It looks odds-on, if I am anything to go by.

Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.

Unfortunately, it looks like neither the fans or players are quite ready for greatness just yet and it does seem a little bit much to ask the players to hold their nerve when the fans are obviously getting an attack of the collywobbles, now that the pressure is beginning to tell. Its getting to others too, as Liverpool lost and shock horror, Man United actually conceded a goal.

Arsenal won 3-1 at the Baggies and panic spread through the Villa ranks like whispers through a classroom full of schoolgirls.

Okay, so Arsenal are getting their best players back but there is something more deeply wrong with Arse than a few injuries. No one is predicting that they are about to turn into the invincibles of yore, any time soon. If Villa return to their top form, they can match Arsenal and even out-do them, so its entirely in Villa’s own hands. But someone needs to keep their nerve and I think that someone is me.

Villa’s problems seem to arise from their doubts about making the transition from good to great, and every time they have found themselves on the cusp of greatness, when questions were being asked about whether they have the credentials to warrant a place amongst the hallowed mega-clubs, their form has fallen back. Certainly, against Stoke, they looked like a team who thought being great meant playing differently from a team which is merely good, after they went two-nil up. True greatness is achieved by just persisting in being good, long enough for greatness to be thrust upon you. I am sure for those who find themselves wearing the crown of laurel leaves, greatness doesn’t feel any different at all, just business as usual.

Even so, greatness comes with its burdens and responsibilities. Expectations are increased and contributions are taken for granted. Being great means you never get a holiday – they only ever whip the willing horse. People don’t like you. Others get the forgiveness and are offered the excuses and the understanding. Greatness can be a bit scary and even though it may be beyond most of us, most of us draw back from fulfilling our true potential for reasons only we know ourselves. Its the sensible choice and the truly great always seem a little touched. And most of all, being great often means not being nice. Sir Alex Ferguson seems demonic at times and although he’s undoubtedly great, no one can accuse him of being nice.

Greatness can be a lonely place.

But players need not worry too much because they only have to watch Match of The Day, and see how greats like Hansen, Lawrensen and Shearer, still manage to look ordinary and still have to wear clothes bought for them by their mother-in-laws. Players nervous of the burdens of greatness, should be reassured that a return to ordinariness is still possible, even if you might have to dye your hair and wear clothes out of a catalogue.

Greatness has its rewards though and I am sure Martin O’Neill’s choice of Dubai as a suitable place for a morale-boosting break might have something to do with reminding the likes of Gabby, what players of Michael Owen and David Beckham’s greatness, consider to be modest holiday accommodation. Gabby’s been excellent for Villa and his contribution has increased massively but his goal-scoring seems to have taken a dip and many fans are left wondering whether his frustrating outing for England, against Spain, knocked his confidence slightly.

After a disappointing week, Villa find themselves looking like underdogs once again; a position they much prefer. The pundits now expect Arsenal to reassert themselves and for Villa to prove that they never did quite have the resources to complete the job. Its now up to Villa to prove the doubters wrong and to displace questions about their ability to qualify for the Champions League, with questions about whether they are good enough to survive the early stages.

I am still dreaming of the day, I can have a good sulk about Villa not scoring enough goals against Juventus, in the home leg.

From the evidence of this season, if not this last fortnight, I think that there are at least half a dozen players on the Villa books, who are capable of greatness, and I am still convinced Martin O’Neill is truly great. I was listening to a talk Martin was doing about Irishness, on YouTube (a series of three), the other day, which offers fascinating insights into his personality. There is a moment in one of the recordings, where Martin speaks to a young man in the audience and tells him he’ll be good enough to achieve what ever he wishes. In that moment, Martin sounded so sincere and certain, that I just knew that if he’d said that to me, when I was a young man, I would have been inspired.

The ability to inspire ordinary men to do extraordinary things, seems like the greatest thing of all.

Just how great is Martin O’Neill?


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