Something For The Weekend (117)
By Steve Wade
O'Neill's Long Night's Journey Into Day continued last week with a very decent draw at Wigan and it was a measure of the progress of Villa's shiny crop of young talent, that the central two of Cahill and Ridgewell, are increasingly taken for granted, as they put in yet another very competent performance, leaving the spotlight on Isaiah Osbourne who, just like Ridgewell et al, last year, found himself on a learning curve of vertiginous steepness, and like his mates, might have taken comfort from Harrer's account of the conquest of the Eiger, as bedtime reading, before slipping into a dream-filled sleep of England caps and future Ferraris.
It is some measure of Wigan and their fine down-to-earth manager that a draw at the JJB is considered a decent result these days but just as much a measure of Villa's rather meagre resources, especially as both Petrov and the redoubtable McCann were both missing, from Villa's engine-room. At the end of the season when the awards are being handed out Jewel will get nothing but a nod of respect from his peers and perhaps, but not entirely guaranteed, the gratitude of the Wigan fans. Having sold quite a few of his better players from last year's remarkable campaign during the close-season, I expected them to struggle but the fact that they haven't seems like proof that the big-faced Scouser, has an eye for a player and the ability to inspire them to remarkable levels of performance, a talent the Villa fans are quickly learning to appreciate, a little nearer to home. As has been revealed at Charlton, these clubs seem to be entirely dependent on the sheer will of one man, in providing power to their anti-gravity trousers. Caps need to be doffed more often than they are - these men are the real heroes of the Premiership.
How do I love you - let me count the ways.
There is more than one way of loving a club and many a way of loving your team, which extend beyond the shallow boastfulness of your foppish glory-hunter - while the former runs deep, the latter is vain and superficial. Seeing the kids come through and establishing themselves as mature consistent professionals, is one of the greatest joys of being a supporter and there is a tremendous romantic frisson to be had by seeing a player like Gareth Barry gradually becoming as important to the first team as he was for the youth-side, ten years ago - which seems an age away. Those romantics whose fanship strays towards the wistful and melancholic, will be forever grateful that the last chairman's economy-measures, gave so many of these kids their main chance. Just as debt has shaped Man City's youth policy and has unearthed the likes of Wright-Phillips and Micah Richards, the Villa have given the sort of opportunities to kids, totally lacking in the mega clubs. It is significant that if you examine the present England squad and see where the players started, it seems that clubs mostly reliant on their academies for their players, have supplied a goodly portion of them. It seems significant that Manchester United are actually running out of these players, which seems to demonstrate a shift in emphasis from the home-grown, towards the ready-made import. Gary Neville is one of the last ugly reminders, but is loved by the fans in a way Veron never was. Will more money destroy the opportunities for British youth, at the likes of Villa and West Ham? Can Villa maintain that balance, which seems totally absent from the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and increasingly Man United? Do we really care enough to sacrifice the likelihood of league and European success, for the benefit of the self-important shitheads at the FA? Even Sir Trevor is pissed off.
It seems an indictment of mega-clubs that they do so little for the development of the national game and the FA's decision to abort the school of excellence, as they pour their funds into the folly that is the new Wembley, reveals them as vainglorious numb-skulls of the first water. But I might add that perhaps, as the national game, and the new engines of patriotic pride, the billions which are going to be poured without measure, into the bottomless pit of the Olympics, might have been more wisely spent on the grassroots of the three major sports, which concern the nation the most - Football, Cricket and Rugby - and perhaps even a few bob to try and break down the class barriers in Tennis. I can't help but think that it rather illustrates the shortcomings of the latest version of capitalism, that the only way a rundown district of one of the richest cities in the world, can get inward investment, is to cream off the contributions the poor have made to the Lottery. We all know the country is divided, financially, culturally and socially and spending billions to prove we organise events about as well as we win medals, hardly seems value for money.
Things are hardly better north of the border and perhaps we see our own football future writ large there - Celtic had only two native Scots on the field when they took on Manchester United - a nation not the force they used to be in the international game. But Scotsmen or not it was a brilliant result and added plenty to my week, as wee Gordon Strachan worked a flanker by telling the world they were going to attack and then defending for eighty-nine minutes - scoring on the one occasion they had the ball. It was classic Forest from the glory years - remember the final against Hamburg.
Celtic didn't have a player you might really fancy but their huge crowd ensured they got the right balance of decisions, while being tactically astute enough to let United keep the ball but without them making that many chances. Nakamura's goal was an absolute cracker and the Hoops sneaked through to the knock-out stage by some statistical quirk, which had Strachan thinking he was on Candid Camera, until it was officially confirmed. The only thing which spoilt it was Ferguson's stoicism and so I had to make do with seeing that face which Ronaldo pulls when he's lost. But the thing which sent me to bed with a smile on my face and a chuckle on my lips, was that when Strachan was interviewed, they sent a cameraman who was seven feet tall, which meant that wee Gordon was made to look three-foot-six and the nearest thing you'll ever see on television to a living and breathing Diddy Man.
But I bet he had a large drink - I know I did.