Date: 14th May 2010 at 6:10pm
Written by:

New game – reshuffle the pack.

New game – reshuffle the pack.

So it was all complete nonsense after all? The vile beasts of the media were wrong and their fictions about Martin O’Neill being about to request his bicycle-clips and his p45, turned out to be as false and fantastical as 95% of the stuff, sports journos scribble to earn their liars’ lucre.

No surprise there then.

I think most Villa fans will be rather glad that the rumours about Martin proved false and that the Lerner-O’Neill coalition is still intact, which keeps the dream and hope alive that the club can continue to make progress. There are still the small minority of churls who are still in denial about the realities of closing the money gap between the Villa and the Champions-League-enriched top four but we all have our cross to bear.

No one needs reminding that the ten points which separated Villa and Man United in 1993, have since been translated into millions and millions of pounds worth of Champions League income and history seems to have proved that Villa chose a poor time to be making a push for the big time, as the year they came the nearest, was a year when there was only one qualification place for the Champions League, and while clubs like Arsenal, who finished 10th that year, subsequently took their opportunities to get amongst the big money, Villa missed the boat and merely flirted with the rather less lucrative UEFA Cup, in the good years.

By the time Man United had enjoyed the cash injection of 3 out of 4 Champions League qualifications, only interrupted by sugar-daddy sponsored Blackburn, United were a world brand and a hugely rich club compared with Villa. By the time the Champions League qualification had been extended to include 3rd in 1998, Villa had sold Dwight Yorke and were seeking European qualification via the Intertoto Cup, while Arsenal enjoyed the duopoly of Champions League riches. When the time had arrived when the qualification places reached down as far as 4th, in 2003, Villa were seemingly stuck in mid-table and cut off from any sort Euro-dosh.

By the time Martin O’Neill arrived in 2006, Man United had only missed out on Champions League cash once. That is thirteen times whatever a Champions League wad happens to be, which I believe to be more than O’Neill has spent trying to narrow that gap. Man United pay out more in interest payments (£68.5m last year) than Villa spend on players. That is the reality we have to face up to.

Its no wonder some prefer cloud-cuckoo land because the sums boggle the mind.

We have just sacked a government because they thought they could build a Sweden-style country but without asking for Sweden-style taxes, and we all know how that ended. Despite our best wishes there is no way we can avoid the fact that success is hellishly expensive and that you only get what you pay for.

I believe that Martin O’Neill is one of a very few managers capable of narrowing that gap, and it is best to stick with him, until fantasy manager Ronario Managerio is actually proven to exist. In the meantime we can only accept the reality, cut our cloth to suit, and stay with the project.

Staying with the project is exactly what the Fulham fans did and it was magnificent to watch them, come within a whisker overturning the odds, even if the same old reality prevailed.

No one could doubt that they were magnificent in the final and every one of the players did themselves proud, once they had got over their nerves. Athletico Madrid began to look a bit cocky after they went in front with a classy finish from Forlan but Davies’s cracking volley changed all that and the mighty Fulham just got better and better as the game went on and confidence grew.

Positional discipline kept their shape and solid unfussy defending blunted the Athletico’s attack, as Fulham coped well with Forlan’s clever movement and Agüero’s wonderful speedy trickery.

But once Zamora had limped off it was always going to be difficult for Fulham to knit possession into penetration, and the Fulham fans and TV viewers alike, were left to hope that Dempsey had another great goal in his locker, like his wonder-chip against Juventus. As the game entered extra time and legs began to tire for both teams, it was just a matter of finding out who would get to exploit the extra space and the misplaced passes and win the game.

As the penalty shoot-out loomed, that player turned out to be Agüero, as he bamboozled Fulham down their left and put a perfectly-paced ball into the path of Forlan, who it seems, still had the leg-power to leave his marker and with a huge chunk of fortune genius usually earns, managed to sneak the ball into the net via a deft deflection off Hangeland. Athletico had paid £18m for Forlan and he ultimately had been the difference between the two sides.

It was all over and the Fulham tears began to flow and for some reason something seemed to have got into my eye.

Unfortunately such emotion was not in the acting range of the watching Hugh Grant, who was quaffing another free bier and Lily Allen was lovely but remained dry-eyed. There was a few blarty tarts but because they usually weep if they get a bad haircut or they find their shoes don’t quite match their outfit I was left unmoved, and it was left up to a young lad to translate disappointment into sincere feeling as his youthful tears flowed in torrents.

It was a beautiful moment and one he’ll not forget but he’ll not remember the pain, he’ll remember something else instead. Just as a whole generation of Villa fans can only remember the pride which followed after Vic Crowe’s side had been destroyed by two late goals from Martin Chivers (1971).

The singing and the sense of sharing something very special that day, which has been woven into our Villa identities. The boys of that generation are now the misty-eyed old men, who will swap their rueful
looks when they remember and talk of Vic Crowe and Brian Godfrey, who alas are now departed.

But the lad from Fulham will at least have one large consolation when he realises that Mr Al-Fayed was so pleased with the club’s cup run, that he actually sold his shop to free up plenty of cash so he can transform Fulham from underdogs to overdogs.

You can buy quite a team for £1.5bn

Its really all about evolution but money definitely can help.

See instructional video below:

Keep the faith.