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

Friday, 29 April 2016

Facing A Hornet’s Nest

Well, Villa buzz down to play the Hornets this week having already lost to them at Villa Park.

We probably do not have any great expectation of anything by way of a win any more this season, so this is probably just going to be another fixture to grind out. However, Black has said that a reason why he’s not been playing so many youngsters is because of the poisonous atmosphere at Villa Park. But as this is an away match, I would have thought he’d be wise to throw caution to the wind on this occasion and bring ’em (the youth) on.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained, and if a youth-based team did happen to win (even draw!) then surely they’d also be worth playing against Newcastle in the last home match. If they’re not tried now then it will be an opportunity lost, in my view.

Meanwhile, the new series of Fans’ Consultation Group Meetings have begun, and in my view an air of more sincerity. Certainly, to get a positive response from the Club to my letter was something of a surprise to me after all the difficulties I’ve had with them this past six years, and a welcome surprise at that.

There has been talk of the club “imploding”, but the feeling for me is that such a situation will (just) be averted. But how the club has managed to sink back to virtually the same situation as in 1967 and then 1968 is beyond me. I thought General Krulak had the reputation of being a winner and backing winners, but the performance of his friend the owner over recent times must have shocked even he.

The effect is that next season the Baggies will be the only club representing the West Midlands in the Premier League, and their fans will be ecstatic about that, particularly if they do better than they have done this season. At least they helped Leicester one step more towards the League Title by nabbing a draw at Spurs on Monday.

The Foxes, the Potters and the Baggies now carry the pride of the entire Midlands. Who would have thought it five years ago?

Thursday, 21 April 2016

The Future CAN Be Bright!

So, the Queen’s 90th birthday is passing and there's been some kind of hint that she also quietly follows the (er) exploits of Aston Villa FC. Happy Birthday, Ma’am, but in which case can you spare an ailing club some of your Maunday Money?!

What am I saying? This is Aston Villa (right?) and according to Lescott the weight is now off the players’ shoulders. The pride is back apparently, and now – yes, only now – the players seem relaxed enough that they will be able to thrill the crowd as they’ve never done before – this season at least. Well, cor blow a shisha pipe!

Ahem. Let’s get back to the basement issue.

There are four games left and there’s now no excuse at all not to ‘blood’ the youngsters some more. The future starts now, so let’s do what is necessary (now) to meet the heavy challenge the club will face next season. After all, at least half of the main names in the current Villa first-team squad will surely not be around next season, so why play them again?

I suppose the danger of that policy would be that some positions may not have adequate cover – like at right-back.

Well, the remaining games are effectively practice matches anyway, so let’s just have players selected who (1) can play and (2) have the interests of the club at heart. I would see Clark as being the captain of a side that would include Lyden, Traore, Grealish, Gil, Gestede and Green, and next season would be augmented by the return of Baker and Gardner, both players who should serve us well in the Championship in my view. In addition, Hepburn-Murphy and (perhaps) Kozak. Will Amavi be still around, I wonder?

Surely, all we need on top of those would be two or three more experienced (and quality!) players to guide the youngsters.

Proud History, Bright Future? Could be, given time: er, non-Lerner time.

Monday, 11 April 2016

The Thread By Which We Hang Will Soon Break

What a year for the underdog! With Leicester in the footballing ascendancy we now have the previously unknown Danny Willett as the Masters’ champion at his first attempt. I now look forward to Durham winning the County Cricket championship and Laura Robson becoming the Ladies Champion at Wimbledon!

For the old European Champions Aston Villa, however, it’s all over bar the shouting now. Maybe it’s time to sit down in my favourite chair and just take a swig of sarsaparilla (some might choose something stronger!) – and reflect: there’s not much else to do now.

There’s something about the fan that wants to cling on to some vague hope, but after the Liverpool debacle I knew in reality that the season had been sealed and that we might just as well shut up shop and finish playing. In fact that’s just what the team has been doing these past eight games.

But what else to reflect on now, especially in the light that we’ve already dissected, masticated and unloaded our views on about every event since 2010.

Well, to rub salt into the wound it appears that Leicester are already guaranteed Champions League football next season, and the thought immediately comes to mind “Just how, then, did O’Neill find it so difficult to find a side that could finish above sixth when presented with the cash he had available?” Leicester – by comparison – are a pauper’s team, and as discussed in the last leader, Villa helped them to fill a vacant slot; and he at a pauper’s price.

All the talk about “needing money” and “the game has all changed since Man City got rich” is mostly, therefore, hogwash, as Leicester have demonstrated. It can be said that even though Lerner pulled in the financial reins in 2011, more could have been achieved based mainly on a simple ethic: the will to win. That and the added ingredient of being able to sniff out players of value, such as the unlikely Vardy; and Mahrez and Albrighton. Plus the revelation from a Villa fan about the quality of their sports science department.

No, I am not saying that Villa would necessarily have won a Championship League place with the application of those simple ingredients, but Leicester’s achievement has made it abundantly clear that Villa did not need to be marooned in the bottom places for the last five years. West Ham and Stoke have also made their presence felt: just what has been going on at Villa Park since 2010?

We are all convinced, I think, about the past mismanagement at our club, but with the revelation that success can be achieved without so much cash as people inferred, Lerner’s faulty actions lie solely but importantly with his CEO appointments, Faulkner and Fox, and the damage that they seem to have perpetrated: mainly by Fox, who seems to have missed the point by a mile. “Pay people more money and you will get results”, seems to have been his primary style as demonstrated in those deeply questioned contracts to Lambert and Gabby. However his now clearly strange management methods and appointments went far beyond those matters.

Whatever the problems were at the club in 1987 (the last relegation) there was still an identifiable link between the youth set up and the senior squad. Players of the ilk of Walters and Dorigo and then Daley, Birch and Olney found their niche with comfort, but in the very recent past the supply of effective youngsters has mostly dried up, though perhaps we are seeing the awakening of a new dawn in that respect. In addition, Graham Taylor (in 1987-90) had the ability that Leicester have shown in being able to pick up highly-capable bargains: McInally, Platt, McGrath and Yorke and the return of Cowans were a great credit to Taylor. It’s interesting that when Taylor took over for a second spell in charge that he acquired the young and gangly Peter Crouch and declared, “He’ll play for England”. Well, he did, but not before he was ruthlessly and cheaply discarded by Taylor’s replacement and yet went on to play well for Liverpool and Spurs, with Southampton making a hefty profit on him in-between Villa and his later clubs.

Yes, mismanagement at Villa has been going on for a long time. It’s such a tragedy that the club’s flag got lowered so much before the penny dropped and the lion’s claws were made to re-grow. But with the club stating it is no longer “Prepared”, what’s to happen now?

Monday, 4 April 2016

Villa’s Position: Isn’t The Reason Academic?

Would you believe it: Leicester City seem about to grasp the top tier title for the first time in their history. And their once footballing mentors Aston Villa seem about to let go of their grasp on a Premier League place for the first time since the Premier League was instituted. What a remarkable Premiership season when so much has unexpectedly materialised.

Having acquired virtually a brand new squad, Villa were not bonding overly well in the first four games, but their playing record gave no real hint as to what was to come on the 13th day of September having won one, drawn one and lost two matches in the opening sequence. On that ominous 13th day of the month, Villa were matched against Leicester, who themselves were trying to find a level of form that would convince their fans that they would be safe this season after the previous year’s flirtation with relegation.

The Villa fan’s biggest memory from that day will either be the occasion of our Jack’s first-ever league goal, when he went over and threw himself into the arms of his team manager in celebration, or the last few minutes of the game when an average-sized Leicester substitute, desparate to make a name for himself, launched himself into a collision with the strapping Brad Guzan and got laid out for his pains. More importantly for Leicester, however, he (Dyer) had also made contact with the ball to score their winner, having come back from 0-2 down.

The effect of that result has been for all to witness. It propelled Leicester on a run of success that puts them where they are now, and have been for some time, but it also propelled Villa into the first of their two sequences of seven straight league defeats. The Villa manager was gone before the ending of that first sequence. His replacement was also gone before the end of the second sequence.

But surely a Villa fan’s overwhelming topic of conversation when comparing the two teams’ respective records this season must be about one player: Mark Albrighton. There he is, a cast-off from Villa, and arguably the catalyst for the Foxes remarkable recovery last season, making such an impact and seemingly about to collect a major medal. There has been great talk about Vardy and his mammoth goalscoring achievements, but he has needed supporting players to provide the chances, and Albrighton has been one of those two or three major supporting players. Vardy and Albrighton are also the whippet-like players that have provided the remarkable forward drive that distinguishes the Foxes.

The inevitable question is, in a season when the Villa’s team has looked so painfully short of spirit and ability, just how could they have let Albrighton go? It’s strange that everyone talks of the great loss to Villa when Benteke, Delph and even Cleverley moved on during the summer, but in my view Mark Albrighton is another – the d’Artagnan of the Musketeers if you like – whose loss has had such a negative affect on Villa’s status. He was Villa’s winger who carried on Young, Downing and Milner’s ability to whip in dangerous goalmouth centres, a talent that has been so sorely missed at Villa Park these last couple of seasons. Indeed, if Albrighton had been used properly we might not have seen Darren Bent moved on at such a financial loss to the club.

Albrighton is one of a string of players from Villa’s Academy that have moved on to make an impact elsewhere. Players that may never be ‘great’, but whose drive and alert skills have so often made a difference to their team, whoever they have been playing for. I am referring to the likes of Ridgewell, Cahill, Steve Davis, Craig Gardner and (of course) Albrighton. And there may well be others I have missed. In my opinion Ciaran Clark is another who could be on the cusp of leaving but who, if properly managed, could be a more valuable player; his loyalty and determination has never been short.

So, what has the Academy been there for, then? What has been the purpose of going out to purchase players from lower divisions and overseas whose skills and attitude are often inferior? Let alone signings of the ilk of N’Zogbia, Hutton, Richards and Lescott. Reader, does it not seem to you that common sense has largely evaporated from Villa Park in the last fifteen years or so? I suppose if you have a coaching badge that must mean you know more than the regular fan. Doesn’t it?

It would be interesting to hear the opinion of the lad born ‘twixt Birmingham and Leicester, would it not?

Yes, though the owner (in my view) must carry the can for what has transpired these last few years, at a lower level it would seem there have been questionable player decisions made that (also) have had huge and damaging consequences.