Something For The Weekend (182)
Odio Manchester United!
I don't speak Italian but I know exactly what they are getting at. The Villa headlines last weekend were excruciating to read and I found the BBC's use of the word 'crushed' particularly smarting. The TV evidence was less painful and the statistics for the game even less so but it seemed that on the back of two defeats, Villa weren't in the best form to face a detailed examination of their credentials by the champions elect.
Once Ronaldo's speculative backheel had found its way through a sea of Villa legs and into the back of the Villa net, he must have known it was going to be his day. Once Villa had missed their chance to score through Maloney, it was destined to be a struggle to nothing. Only the memory of Liverpool's loss the week before, a side with more reason to consider themselves peers of United than Villa, prevented my season's bubble from going entirely flat.
A few days later, Man United trounced Roma in Rome to put Villa's defeat into perspective.
Troppo Man United!
Odio Man United!
Luckily the O'Neill critics have found themselves a little bit short of perfect football-managing paragons, to beat-up the Villa manager with. Luckily, the paragons they had used to taunt me, earlier in the season, like Sven and Strachan have enough troubles of their own, to be of much use in a game of hindsight. Even Capello's failure to transform England was enough to exclude their fantastical Italian candidates from their shrinking arsenal.
Phew, but it was close.
It all goes to show how just one bad result can change perceptions very quickly. No, not the Man United result, there were no real expectations there, not even the loss at Portsmouth, a side seemingly built to trump Villa when they meet. It was that Sunderland result which sent Sisyphus racing down the mountain again. Old Trafford was just too much too soon.
To some, Villa's fading form has transformed Martin O'Neill from bespectacled football sage to Milhouse Van Houten. But to quote Jack Nicholson as the Joker, 'You wouldn't hit a man with glasses, would you?'.
For me he will always be the sage but a sage who likes to take his time. While the likes of Sven have spent heavily for a rather similar points return, pound for pound Martin has done better. I am always reminded of that famous story of when ICI decided to build identical chemical plants in this country and Japan. The Japanese were the slowest to start as they meticulously planned every detail of the plant but were the first to get their plant running properly, as the Brits struggled to put right the faults they had built into their plant in their haste. With O'Neill's more streamlined squad he should be able to move on to the next stage with fewer problems.
That is what lies at the very core of my hopes for Villa and O'Neill.
But should Villa lose against Bolton and Jimbo Jones and Kearney Zzyzwicz decide to have a go at Milhouse, then there will be very little anyone can do to rebut the accusations. A defeat by Bolton will be a shock we won't shake off in a hurry but what ever the result, it will not have the moaners singing the praises of our manager, and it won't make me any less of long-term optimist.
Even a decent win will only postpone the moaning until next time.
For those who dream of a team of Villa Galacticos, any team Martin O'Neill is likely to build will never be enough. For the realists, the chances of Villa, even with their improved resources, closing the gap between themselves and Man United, looks a long way off. A sad admission which both Liverpool and Roma might even have had to make, recently.
The other question of the week, was: Does Ronaldo dishonour his profession by taking the piss. Isn't there a moment when the matador must pay homage to the bull?
I think so.
I kind of think that there is an unspoken understanding between the big physical defenders and the ball-players, that neither will cross a certain line. The big fellah won't remove your knee-cap unnecessarily and the showman will not insult the dignity of his physical superiors by taking the piss. Surely this contract has to be honoured on both sides.
Taking the piss is not something you think of when you think of the samurai.
It's certainly not something I associate with the gentlemen of the game whether it was Pele or Stanley Matthews. Even when Zidane was at his wonderful best, he never looked like he was mocking his opponent. It seems obvious that Ronaldo was advised not to do it in the Premiership and his showboating in Rome, was a return to his natural instincts.
These are the sort of bitter pills you have to swallow when handing Ronaldo the accolades.
When Henry went to Spain the beauty of his game was always going to be missed. His aplomb and savoir-faire have never been replaced and is glaringly missing from our game. Like some Jazz musician hanging out at the Hot Club du France, Henry set standards of cool panache, never likely to be matched by the talented Ronaldo. Manchester United's star has the niggly, slightly sly, mien, of some Mexican bandit from a John Ford Western.
He's brilliant but hard to like.
There can't be much doubt that he will scoop most of the best-player awards in the Premiership and should his talents take United all the way to the Champions League final, there might be even greater annoyances to endure than him landing the PFA and Sports-writers Player of The Year awards.
Indeed there looks likely to be little to smile about come the end of the season and my prediction that Birmingham City would be relegated, looks a hopeless bet right now, and they seem to have more than enough to beat the drop, what with the Zarate kid and all.
Sometimes, all you can do is smile through gritted-teeth.