Not Fit To Wear The Villa Shirt?
As Aston Villa rises like a phoenix from the embers of the old regime, the ambitions of fans have shot through the roof and perhaps we need to reassess how we look at our players.
Boss Martin O'Neill is still only starting to rebuild the squad, and the board are only starting to rebuild the club, since the takeover last summer. While that seems like an age away now, perhaps too many of us are still thinking in the same way we did before the Randylution.
In the past we've had to make do with players who, quite frankly, were not worthy of the Aston Villa jersey. We should not have to put up with that any more. If a player isn't good enough, they should be shipped-out as soon as possible. That might seem callous, but if we are going to challenge at the top of the table again, we have to act in that way.
Perhaps legendary manager Jock Stein spoke the perfect words about what players should be a clubs. He famously said: 'The Celtic jersey does not shrink to fit inferior players.' Swap Celtic for Aston Villa (as Stiliyan Petrov did, but more on him later) and the words are as appropriate now as they ever have been.
Additionally, it is not a bad thing for players to realise they have to be 'good enough' to stay in the team. In the past, with a small squad and a tactically-backward manager, a player could quite easily coast through a run of games and still be guaranteed to start. Now we have a decent regime at the club, that can never be allowed to happen again.
We all want Villa to be challenging for a place in the big-four as soon as possible, and that surely means there will be heartache for some players. If we are to improve dramatically, it seems likely that new players will come in, only to be replaced by new players within six months or a year.
One example would be Stiliyan Petrov. When he was bought from Celtic in the summer, he was bought in a hurry - thanks to the takeover and the transfer window system football now employs. Martin O'Neill understandably turned to someone he had worked with, and someone who was immediately available. It could have worked out brilliantly, but in general it did not.
Over the years I have watched Petrov develop while playing for Celtic. Some who criticise the quality of Celtic and the SPL may suggest that the Bulgarian star was like a rose who grew out of a pot of dirt, and outshone everyone around him. That wouldn't really be fair, but he was certainly an impressive player.
Since moving to Villa Park - apart from a few exceptions - Petrov has looked woeful. Perhaps we expected too much, but at the moment Stan does not look like a player who can guide us into the top-four. Or even the top-six...
So should he be sold? No, not yet. Players often need a season to settle down, especially if they have been at a club for a long time. However, that doesn't mean Petrov should be given an open cheque to stink-up Villa Park and collect his wages every week. If he doesn't show signs of his Celtic form by January, Martin O'Neill will have to give serious consideration to placing him on the transfer market.
To be fair, the same can be said even of players who are performing well - playing well is not enough to help Villa shoot up the league. If we signed a striker better than John Carew, I wouldn't shed a tear at benching the big Norwegian as needs must, and our need is to play with Europe's premier clubs, in Europe's premier club competition as soon as possible.
Because let's be clear - if we are serious about reclaiming our rightful place among the giants of the game, we will have to put feelings of loyalty towards players to one side. We are Aston Villa, and never again do us fans want to have to mentally shrink our famous jerseys around players who don't improve our club.