Thoughts and issues regarding the past and present of a great football club by "The Chronicler".

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Can Youth Get Its Fling?

Aston Villa. As John Gregory famously and proudly said, there’s a symmetry in those two 5-letter words. The club’s name once stood as the finest, the Rolls-Royce (another two words of 5 letters!) of what was best in football. Aston Villa was once the most famous football club in the world and until 1982 it stood a good chance of re-claiming that status as it’s lead as the nation’s biggest winner of domestic trophies had only just been overtaken by Liverpool. And Villa had just become only the fourth English club to win the European Cup.

The restoration of Aston Villa to anything near top status will today require a club owner with a combination of sound business skills, a real affinity with football and a substantial amount of money. And, probably, his acceptance that he’s not going to make personal profit out of his investment. Running a football club today is not like the situation in Fred Rinder’s day, but it does require leadership of the kind that Rinder possessed. Restoration of the club cannot be expected to take place overnight, and the FFR situation rather points (in my opinion) to the need for Villa to re-build mainly from grass roots. The club does have a good infrastructure for youth development, though it requires a greater throughput of Premier League talent. We have had too many players come through who promised much in their early years but then fell away.

We’ve not done badly in the last 15 years or so in producing Barry, Hendrie, Vassell, Davis, Ridgewell, Craig Gardner, Cahill, Clark, Bannan, Albrighton, Baker and Gabby (apart from two, all were still Premier League players last season, and most have been ‘capped’), but there have been too many examples of youngsters falling away. I distinctly recall bright prospect Luke Moore having a purple patch in season 2005-06 by scoring 5 goals in 3 matches, then being rested and then managing to lose his way under Martin O’Neill. Well, as Cahill was also ‘let go’ by O’Neill perhaps we can identify where the problem of youth progression lay in those days.

But building from youth was the way that the club, under Rinder, re-built itself after 1900 when Villa’s old stars retired. And when a young player didn’t come through to fill a particular spot, then the club went out and bought the needed player. And there was always a careful blend of young and experienced players. It was a commonsense approach that worked. And it can work again. Someone has to develop new players as future stars, so why not Aston Villa?

So, in watching Jack Grealish we can wonder! we can wonder whether this phenomenon will break through and establish a new trend – a trend of Villa youth truly succeeding in the Premier League rather than being ‘nearlies’. Will he, Samir Carruthers and Gary Gardner be afforded the opportunity to strut their stuff?

I would say that all three of these young players (and others?) are ready to embark on the Premier League stage, but with one proviso. And that is that the club invests in a capable and experienced midfielder (or two) who can help to bring on these three, in the old Villa tradition.

In fact it was heart-warming for me to read in Billy Walker’s autobiography (Soccer In The Blood) his eagerness to give credit to old players and great stalwarts like Frank Barson and Clem Stephenson (who later led Huddersfield to three championships) for his on-the-field training as a young player. What a better way to learn your trade – from the masters. And Billy, in turn, brought on the young Eric Houghton. In fact, that was the way that Villa always used to go about things in that the older players coached the youngsters. This fact was told by Howard ‘Prince of Full-backs’ Spencer. There was no need for specialist team managers and coaches, they said. And, since Villa succeeded without them, they probably had a point.

But that was then. Football is now a humungous operation that almost undoubtedly does require a team manager and coaching staff. But I say that tradition has proved that on the field a player or two is needed to lead the youngsters as well. But will Villa’s manager play ball? And who should he get to play the part?