Club in Transition: The Ever-Changing Face of AVFC
Since the dawn of the Premier League in 1992-93 we`ve seen promotions, relegations, administrations, allegations and for most clubs, frustrations.
We`ve gone from David Seaman to David de Gea, from Gary Pallister to Gary Cahill, from Stuart Ripley to Stewart Downing and from Andy Cole to Andy Carroll.
Clubs have risen and fallen spectacularly. The demise of Wimbledon. Financial ruin at Portsmouth and Leeds. Astronomical developments at Chelsea and Manchester City.
Allow me to use a metaphor. It`s fair to say that in a Premier League classroom full of teacher`s pets , unruly children and no-hopers, Aston Villa has always been one of the pupils that the teacher recognises with potential and has rewarded with a couple of gold stars to bring up the performance. Regrettably, thanks to several substitute teachers over the years, Villa has always had a tendency to become easily distracted and pre-occupied with keeping up with the bigger boys as opposed to building on its own knowledge and experience in previous classes. Even lessons taken in Europe and overseas have failed to impress over the long-term. The education received has been faultless but the learning process has been very much a stop-start experience, particularly frustrating for the millions who want this bright claret and blue prospect to start hitting the higher groups of the class on a regular basis.
For as long as has been recently scripted, Aston Villa has been "a club in transition". Since the start of the Premier League we`ve seen Ron Atkinson, Brian Little, John Gregory, David O`Leary, Martin O`Neill, Kevin MacDonald (albeit briefly), Gerard Houllier, Gary McAllister (also briefly) and now Alex McLeish at the helm. Taking the 2 interim men out of the equation, that`s 7 managers in the last 20 years and only 3 of them won silverware in that time (John Gregory`s team lofted the Intertoto Cup high and proud back in 2001 and maybe technically doesn`t count, but every little helps). The closest we`ve ever been to winning the title was back when we finished runners-up to Manchester United at the start of the Premier League. John Gregory took us to the top of the table for 5 minutes several years ago and we haven`t seen it since. Also notable is the fact that Blackburn, thanks to Jack Walker`s millions, won the title in 1995. Since then they have also been relegated and face a struggle this season not to be relegated once more. Has so much changed in the last 20 years?
Actually, it has. The power of the media has a major influence on how fans see the game, agents take their cut and turn players into money-hungry slaves with no loyalty, diving is as common in the penalty box as it is in the Olympic swimming pool and running Premier League clubs is now the hobby of corporate businessmen, Arabian princes and oil tycoons. Villa have sampled a taste of this power via Doug`s dimes and Randy`s riches but time has proven that it hasn`t been enough to sustain us for the long-term. We crushed our previous transfer record of £3.5million for Savo Milosevic to lash out an almighty £7million for Stanley Victor Collymore in 1997 - say no more. We paid £6m for Bosko Balaban. We`ve paid £9.5million for the much-loved Juan Pablo Angel, who started to come good after his first couple of seasons but never delivered on the 20+ goals a season we were led to believe would come. Fast forward to recent times and we paid nearly £6m for Nicky Shorey and around £10m for Curtis Davies to sit on the bench, as well as £24m for Darren Bent to get us out of trouble.
It`s fair to say that despite the many years of us being a "club in transition" the main issues we have are that we have wasted large amounts of money on players who haven`t improved the team, we`ve had instability due to several managerial changes and we haven`t fully utilised our great academy system until recently - thanks to injuries. These days it`s expensive to buy British, what with players like Gareth Barry, James Milner, Ashley Young, Stewart Downing and Gary Cahill taking such giant strides in their careers. Then again, these are players who (with the exception of one servant who got us £12m after being with the club since he was a teenager) have now got as much loyalty as mercenaries. However, who`s to say that Gary Cahill wouldn`t still be here now as captain if things had been different?
As time has gone on we`ve done the top teams in the Premier League a great service with our ability to pick a single star player and let him shine in our team. Now the media is finally recognising the quality we have in our academy and the way they are uniting on the pitch for the Villa cause. Sadly, it appears to be about 20 years too late. It would be amazing to see our young lions showing the character and resolve to improve our league position before the end of the year, maybe even win a cup next season and eventually emulate Fergie`s Fledglings at Manchester United, which seems to be the plan going forward.
A club in transition is one of instability, uncertainty and unpredictability. Hopefully soon our club will once more have a name, face and football that everyone recognises.