Key to the door... the team of the last 21 years
Twenty one years ago today, Aston Villa beat Everton 2-0 with goals from Tony Daley and David Platt. A fairly inconsequential game in the big scheme of things, but for your writer it was massive; it was my first time to Villa Park.
One year ago today, I wrote a very long article for this site talking about the 20 year anniversary of my first game. As this season is my 20th as a season ticket holder it is another landmark, and as it is a slow news week I thought I would attempt to cobble some words together into something that is almost interesting to mark the anniversary yet again.
Having thought about what to do in order to mark the occasion, I have decided to name my best team of the last 21 years. In perhaps a thought to the modern day team, I have opted for a 4-3-3/4-5-1 formation.
GK: Mark Bosnich. He has ruined his own legacy by having less-than-successful spells with Chelsea and Manchester United, which followed a wonderful spell with us that ended badly. But make no mistake about it - his kicking aside! - Bosnich was world class. A fantastic shot stopper, commanding in the area and hardly ever making a mistake, I was never once concerned with him in goal.
RB: Olof Mellberg. This was a difficult one. Mark Delaney was arguably the best natural right-back, and Earl Barrett was a fantastic defender that wasn`t great on the ball and is unlucky to miss out. But Mellberg was a very capable full-back, a great servant and deserves to be in this team - however he missed out on a central defensive position so has ended up here. Aside from Dolly`s last season he was superb for us, he had a great beard and hated the Blues. What a guy!
CB: Martin Laursen. A lionheart. Now for me, Laursen has become a bit of a myth in as much as he is slightly over-rated in some quarters - for one thing, talk of him being as good as his central defensive partner in this team is ludicrous; can you imagine Laursen playing fantastically well in central midfield, especially in a World Cup? - but make no bones about it, Martin Laursen was an awesome defender. His desire to win the ball at both ends of the pitch meant that you could not help but love the man, and Aston Villa ALWAYS looked a better team with Laursen in it. Just like Mellberg, he will be remembered as a legend for years to come, and deservedly so.
CB: Paul McGrath. What can I say that hasn`t already been said? No-one reading this will remember seeing Billy Walker play and so can`t really comment on how good he was for us. But post-war, McGrath has to be the best player we had, let alone in the 21 years I`ve been attending Villa Park. An amazingly good defender, this is a man who played against Maradona at his peak twice and marked him out of the game twice. He was not just a great defender, he was a great midfielder and may have spent more time there if it was not for his knees. The man is not just the best we had, but he is one of the best anyone has ever had.
LB: Steve Staunton. If Bouma had played last season and played as well as he had the season before he would have come very close. Alan Wright also deserves a mention. But Staunton was a very good payer for us.
CM: Kevin Richardson. He has the holding role. Some people may want Ian Taylor in this midfield, and some people may want Gareth Barry. But let`s put this into perspective; Kevin Richardson, in central midfield no less, won the league with Everton, won the league with Arsenal and finished runners-up with us to a very good Man Yoo side. You don`t do that in your career in the most crucial position in the team without being a very, very good player. For me he was very much underrated, and still is.
CM: Gordon Cowans. The second name on the team-sheet after McGrath, Cowans was a class act. He had three spells at Villa, and I was lucky enough to witness two of them. He was absolute quality, with one of the best left foots ever. That said, he was far more two-footed than he was ever given credit for and I tell you what, for a weedy little thing this man could get a tackle in. I`ll never forget when we were going for the league in 92-93, and we went to Blackburn towards the end of the season; Cowans DESTROYED us. It wasn`t long before he was back at Villa for his third and final spell as a player, and now he is one of the coaches responsible for our conveyor belt of talented youngsters. The word 'legend` is one of the most over used words in the English language, but it is absolutely apt when talking about this man.
CM: David Platt. For long service this again could go to Ian Taylor or Gareth Barry. But anyone that saw Cowans and Platt play together will know why I have gone for this combination. If you are too young to remember Platt, a modern day comparison could be the good runs Steve Sidwell makes. Only, you know when Platt got there, he scored. Like, nearly every time! Plus he made a lot more of them! The fact that Platt said his ambition in football was to 'make a run that Gordon Cowans didn`t see` speaks absolute volumes for Cowans, but it also describes the brilliant partnership that they had.
AM/ST: Paul Merson. This team is basically a 4-3-1, with the other two players pretty much doing what they like! One of them is Merse. I have an issue with him, in as much as he is SO overrated by some of the younger fans. For example, I nearly got in a fight (!) in the late 90`s once because I got called a 'negative fan` just because I mocked the suggestion that Merse should be in the England team ahead of Paul Scholes! Ridiculous! That said, there is no doubt that he had lots of quality and in all honesty we still haven`t replaced him - look at our home record last season. Many of the matches in John Gregory`s 'win` column can be attributed to Merse pulling something out of the bag when teams came to Villa Park defending deep, and there is definitely a place for him in this team.
AM/ST: Dwight Yorke. I did a lot of thinking (well, a couple of minutes!) about what to do here. But I decided to put Yorke here rather than having him as the central striker, and I think the potential idea of Yorke and Merson having the freedom to do roam the pitch, with Platt running beyond them is wonderful! Whatever I think of him as a man now, there is no doubting that, along with McGrath and Cowans he is easily in the three finest players I have seen at Villa. He was a great striker, a great midfielder and could have got into any team of that era - as the fact that he replaced Cantona at Man Yoo proves.
CF: Dean Saunders. Another player that is probably a bit underrated. His work ethic was amazing and would go brilliantly with the Platt/Merson/Yorke combination. He could score every type of goal, and although he didn`t have the natural ability of a Collymore or an Atkinson, his hard work and goal-scoring abilities give him the nod.
Subs (As we now have seven, I am having seven too!):
Nigel Spink. If he was playing today he would be the England goalkeeper, no question.
Gareth Southgate. No, he`s not the most popular amongst Villa fans. But if you could put his brain and calmness into some of the defenders we have had since he left, they would have been much better defenders. He was a proper leader and organiser, and again, someone that was underrated in my opinion.
Earl Barrett. Unlucky, Mark Delaney. But Barrett was a superb defender. He could also cover left back, and I don`t have a proper left-back sub. How very MON of me ;o)
Gareth Barry. Someone else that can cover left-back for me! His versatility gets him in as much as anything else. But there is no doubt that over his time at Villa, he was more often than not one of our better players over the course of a season.
Ian Taylor. Maybe this is a heart over head decision. But that said Taylor WAS a darn good player who got stuck in well and would get on the end of things - the latter meaning that he would consequently not be a bad back-up for Platty.
Dalian Atkinson. He is here on talent alone, really. Well that is not strictly true - if it was, him and Stan Collymore would be in the team, let alone the bench. But in 92-93, he was so good before his injury that every time he got the ball there was a buzz around the stadium. I am sure if he had stayed fit, we would have won the league.
Dion Dublin. I nearly went for Alan McInally here as, much like Atkinson getting injured in 92-93, I think if he had stayed for one more season then we would have won the league in 89-90. But Dublin was around for longer and offers a bit of an alternative to what else is in this team.
Honourable mentions: Peter Schmeichel and Brad Friedel both fit into the, "I wish we`d had him when he was younger" category… So do Ronny Johnsen, Cyrille Regis and Andy Townsend… Probably David Ginola too… If Mark Draper had managed to maintain his form of 95-96 then he would have probably come closer to being involved… Ray Houghton, Garry Parker and Shaun Teale all come very close… That 92-93 team was just fantastic… I think Luc Nilis would have got in there had he not suffered that terrible injury… Stan Collymore had all the attributes you could want but blew it big-time… Benito Carbone could probably have made it into my thoughts had he signed permanently… It would be wrong not to at least mention Tony Daley… Mark Delaney and Alan Wright have both already been mentioned, but why not do it again…!
I nearly made a team of stinkers too (Djemba-Djemba, Stas, Undsworth etc) but I decided to celebrate rather than commiserate!
So, 21 years have been and gone. I look at the current squad and I don`t think many of them would have got into Big Ron`s team of 92-93. But over the course of 21 years, I think we are in a good position comparable to much of that time. I just hope the next 21 years brings more silverware than two League Cups, but with the way football has gone… Oh well, no negative thoughts.
21 years gone, here is to the next 25…
*Raises a glass*
UP THE VILLA!