Something For The Weekend (187)
They say that a paper-cut can smart a bit and I have even known a few of the more delicate types amongst us to go seek medical assistance, as the result of one, but I never knew, one to burst a bubble before. But, sure enough, Villa's crash from the heights of scoring-for-fun, indomitability, to Wigan-fodder, seemed to arise entirely from a brief encounter, with Rafa's offer of a game of swappies, with Martin O'Neill.
I've always loved that old Jewish saying, about no good deed going unpunished, but I might have to modify it to, no act of faith goes unpunished, as I was more or less certain Villa would beat Bruce's boys and while the doubters were choking on their words, Villa's fifth-place finish would be a formality. So, to say I was rather gutted come last Saturday night, was a bit of an understatement.
It was an ugly rotten thing for Liverpool to do and the implication that Barry is so keen to move, that Villa might as well cut their losses and take their pick, from Rafa's reject bin, gave a message no one could ignore. For the team and the fans it was like being told that the American-designed bridge, currently under construction, was to be robbed of its keystone and the whole scheme was to go back to the drawing-board. The implications were so devastating, I was left wondering why Magic Mart, made the decision to go public with it, before such a crucial game.
My cynical view would be that he must prepare the ground, in case Barry decides to go, and make it clear that he didn't accept it willingly. Losing such a key player can turn into one huge nail in a manager's coffin, and as we all know, when these things happen, as they too often do for Villa, then good PR is essential. Making it quite clear whose decision it is and what are the circumstances, is the only option, when anticipating the fans' reaction to the loss of their star midfield player.
It seems obvious that should Barry decide to go, it will have very little to do with money or even Villa's ambition and more to do with his desire to play in the Champions League and maybe win a medal or two. But I have little doubt that mischief-makers will use his departure to question the whole Villa set-up and try and undermine the hope and optimism, which has transformed the Villa experience over the last two years. There are plenty of reasons to doubt, the possibility of Villa bridging the gap between themselves and the top-four but to lay blame for that possible impossibility, would be a piece of vile wanton vandalism.
The predictions coming down the wire, are that with two English clubs in the final of the Champions League, that the Italians and others, looking on jealously, will now change the rules to allow foreign ownership of their clubs, and the present advantage of the Premiership will disappear, as Russian billionaires (there are a hundred or so) will snap up the top European sides, and the bidding-war will start for the very best, players, which will completely exclude anyone but the mega-elite.
You start to realise the scale of the problem when you realise that Manchester United actually owe more money than Randy Lerner has in his piggy-bank. Man United currently owe £666m (devils in the red), and have just made a loss of £58m, in the current financial year. The way it is going, it looks like a club with any ambitions will probably have to service debts, close to a billion quid, and only Oligarchs need apply.
As I write, Kevin Keegan is in the headmaster's office getting six of the best for blabbing the uncomfortable truth, that he now sees it as impossible for him to bridge the gap between Newcastle and the big guns. He said he would need £150m to gain entry into that exclusive club and even those who believe in miracles, are unlikely to doubt him. And Newcastle is no small club, by any stretch of the imagination, although their trophy room is more museum than a reminder of recent successes. And I don't need reminding that their owner is richer than Villa's - almost twice as rich.
My only plea to Gareth Barry, is that if you really need to go, don't go to Liverpool. You'll look rubbish with a perm and every time you play away, you'll get burgled. Rafa is on his way out, the owners have fallen out. If you have to go, and there is a choice, go to Arsenal. It is the place to perfect your passing-game and enjoy the advantages of being right under the media's nose. Closer to family too, I suspect. But better still, stop at Villa and become the legend of legends, you were always destined to be.
To my fellow Villa fans, I say, enjoy the huge amount of progress the club has already made, acknowledge the huge gulf the club has yet to bridge and accept that participation in the Champions League is now the only measure of a big club. And also accept, that, Liverpool's disrespect in this instance, is a confirmation, that at least from within the industry itself, the perception of Villa as a middle-weight club, desperate to cash in their best players, for profit, still persists.
This closed-season offers Villa the chance to prove, once and for all, whether that is an accurate perception, or one which should be confined to the past, for ever.
In the meantime, we can only keep the faith.