Villa took the field at Villa Park on February, 27th 1999 with an all-English born team (and substitutes). The match, against Coventry City, was in a season when the club had been top of the league for much of the period until the December, but bizarrely lost this one 1-4 to Coventry. Villa thus lost any chance of getting back on top of the league that season. Coventry’s chief architect that day – the Dutchman Boateng – later signed for Villa!
The Villa team: Oakes; Watson, Southgate, Scimeca, Wright; Taylor, Merson, Grayson, Hendrie; Dublin, Joachim. Subs: Barry, Draper, Collymore.
How times have changed! We are now faced with the likelihood of a near all-foreign team, possibly in the shape of:
Guzan; Ilori, Richards(E), Lescott(E), Amavi; Sanchez, Gana, Westwood(E); Traore, Grealish(E)/Gil; Sinclair(E)/Gestede.
We may be playing with only four English players on the field at one time; maybe less.
This is in total contrast to the picture above (in 1999) and even more recently, under Martin O’Neill (2006-2010). Even Paul Lambert did not seem too keen about overseas acquisitions, but did get one or two good ‘uns from there, particularly in Benteke.
Now I’m not going to say that this is a shameful condition. It is what it is – a reflection on the fact that we just do not have enough players coming through the Villa youth ranks or elsewhere in Britain that are hungry enough. Indeed, the Villa youth that promised much have over the last 15 years in the most part have shown a tendency to think “I’m in the first team, I’ve arrived and there’s nothing more to do”. But we did let go Steven Davis and Gary Cahill, players that have proved they did possess the hunger. Craig Gardner as well – he stayed at it. In today’s squad, I have liked both Clark and Baker, but they each have their own foibles.
But what has impressed me about Tim Sherwood in his acquisitions is that he has gone for British (English) quality in the c-b positions and not (unlike Wenger and others) given up on British players in positions that (for me at least) will be best served by British players in our league. That, I think, has been Wenger’s ‘Achilles Heel’ – since Arsenal lost their English rod of iron in the centre of defence they have not been quite the same.
The big sadness for me is that no longer do we seem able to find the brave, solid British centre-forward of the ilk of Hitchens, Gray or Withe. It’s been over 30 years since Withe graced the Villa number 9 shirt: let us hope that Sinclair, his successor in the number 9 shirt (but thought to have been a scoring winger!), can at least keep scoring.
Anyhow, I’m reasonably happy with Mr. Sherwood’s work to-date. In my view he has shipped in just about enough players of reasonable quality to bring about more capability and a better balance in the team, and his main tactic is to keep on the front foot. His predecessor seemed more able to trip over his feet, so at least Tim seems to know which foot is which!