A case of, never mind the quality – feel the width.
Saturday – the night of the grim countenance.
To use an American expression; being handed our asses by Everton was a chastening experience on Saturday. But, even though it brought the Villanous denial to an end, which had sustained the fans through the summer, it wasn’t exactly a shock for anyone who had taken the trouble to have a look at Villa’s squad of players recently.
A case of, never mind the quality – feel the width.
After all, this was the same Everton side who were unlucky to lose against Liverpool in the FA Cup semi-final, in April, which had matched Villa’s very own high tide, back in the days, when we were a decent outfit, not so long ago. Everton at their best represent Villa’s highest aspiration, or should do.
Villa can take consolation that Everton were so complacent in the second-half, that they might have made the score respectable, if it wasn’t for half the width of a post. But no one can deny that it was such a resounding thrashing from Everton that it might have prompted a scouse Bjørge Lillelien to recite a list of famous Brummies and tell us, our boys took a hell of a beating.
If it had been six-nil at half-time no one could have called Villa unlucky.
We were all hoping that Villa would disprove the efficient-market hypothesis that market prices reflect reality, but the manner of this defeat confirmed it. Sideshow Bob proved to be the main man by bossing the midfield and the Villa players just looked on in despairing derangement, as Everton effortlessly recycled the ball at will.
We had to stop pretending. Even evidence-based denial has a time limit, and evidence there had been none..
But there was no panic, the fans just looked at each other, with that expression which says, here we go again. There might be a few fans who still think that if they keep sucking up to Randy Lerner, he might change his mind, but most of us know better. When you’ve see the workshop of the world dismantled before your eyes, and the local economy reduced to the same level as Slovenia, seeing your football club downgraded is something you learn to live with.
So Villa are where they are, with a large squad of players of roughly equal quality, which the market predicts would be less out of place in the Championship. If that’s what Randy wants, that’s what Randy gets.
For those of us who stopped believing that Randy Lerner is the nicest boy in the school, some time ago, the critique of him in The Daily Express on Monday, sure as hell felt like vindication.
Sadly, although some Villa fans still retain their enthusiasm for forgiving Randy, it is rather more difficult for most of us to learn to love players, whose best is not quite good enough, but we’ll certainly try.
And, we definitely got a bit of help on Tuesday when Villa proved that there is not much wrong with their organisation and spirit, when they put away Tranmere with a straight-forward 3-0 win. Such games are the sort which can reveal any underlying systemic problems but with Stephen Ireland showing the sort of form which recalled his best days at Man City, and Fabian Delph reminding us why we all thought we had bought ourselves a gem, back in 2009, things started to look a little less desperate.
Even if one swallow doesn’t make a bukkake queen, things began to look a little better, even if not what you’d call great.
So, Villa look organised and spirits seem to be quite positive, which just leaves the question hanging, as to whether the players are good enough for the Premiership. The undiscovered and overlooked diamonds, like Peter Beardsley and David Platt are very rare, and it has to be noted that the only players Villa made money from, or found a market for them at all, were those they paid higher fees for. Young (£10m), Milner (£12m) and Downing (£10m), were the players which made the biggest contribution and yielded a profit. It was the players bought for sub-five-million fees, which we got stuck with.
Look at Spurs, they made their big profits from players which cost over ten million and which yielded the big money – Berbatov cost £10.5m and was sold for £30m, and Modric cost £16.5 and is said to have cost Real Madrid £33m. It was no coincidence that the real difference for Everton so far this season has been Fellaini, who they paid £15m for. I am sure they would want well over twenty million, if they sold.
£10m looks like the threshold for a player of solid Premiership quality, and it is obvious that Villa are lacking in that sort of player. Even Liverpool and Spurs have eleven or twelve. Mid-table teams might be expected to have one, and players in the bottom half, none at all.
But for those determined to prove that the efficient-market hypothesis is more weak than strong, they only have to look at Newcastle, who find themselves with five players worth £10m+, all of which didn’t cost a fee in the upper range. Papiss Cissé for instance, had a well-established record as a goal-scorer in France and Germany, where his numbers look impressive. Yet, despite Cissé scoring better than a goal every other game in the Bundesliga, he was only valued at £8m. His 13 goals in 16 games for Newcastle have since convinced the market that he is worth twice that now. Newcastle also took a gamble on Demba Ba’s fitness after doubts were raised when his transfer to West Ham broke down.
What Newcastle seem to prove is that the biggest factor which determines the value of players in the Premiership, is whether they are known to be able to function in the English top division. This would explain why British players often seem overpriced. Once a player has proven that they can perform in the Premiership, their value goes up, which is what has happened at Newcastle and Swansea.
So it would seem that while the Premiership and its media promoters have such an inflated idea of just how tough our Premier League is compared with other elite divisions around the world, then it seems likely that the price of players who play outside our top-flight will be distorted downwards.
If true, and the hype inflates the price of players and wages of those with Premiership experience, then Villa’s plan to go shopping outside the Premiership would seem totally viable, given good judgement and even luck. But even so, it cannot be denied that it is a gamble and often it takes time for players to prove that they are good enough for the Premiership.
By selling on so many experienced players, Villa have burnt their bridges. No matter that Villa’s strategy is tenable. To the fans it seems like yet another jam tomorrow plan. A plan which comes with substantial risk.
Although It seems likely that Paul Lambert will coolly look at the Premiership and rightly conclude that there are at least three substantially less well-equipped clubs, than Villa, for surviving the perils of the top flight, the fans will look at the squad, look at the table, listen to the rumours, read the disparaging dispatches, deal with the humiliation, and generally feel cheated.
We might reasonably expect Villa to get better later but that doesn’t help when your team is travelling to Newcastle on Sunday.
Time is tight.
Keep the faith!