Something For The Weekend (196)
There will only ever be one Villa Sid, but I warmly welcome Steve Sidwell to the club, this week.
When it comes to footballers, I hold one or two prejudices, and just as I tend to think geniuses are all left-handed, I think that having red hair gives you a distinct advantage as a footballer. What with the irrepressible Alan Ball, the battling Gordon Strachan, and a certain nutter of Leeds fame, not to mention the legendary super Tommy Johnson, there seems plenty of good examples. And, didn't the talents of the great Carlos Valderrama, depend entirely on his orange hair? I can't help but notice either, that quite a sizable minority of Premiership managers, have a hint of red too, even if these days, the red seems to have left their hair and migrated to their faces, as the years march on.
Of course, there have been a few disappointments along the way, like Brendan Ormsby, who never quite fulfilled the promise, one or two brilliant performances in a Villa shirt, had suggested, before he took off to Leeds, when the aforementioned Leeds nutter, signed him, as one of the red-headed league.
The only glaring flaw with my theory, is that if it really was true, Scotland would have won the World Cup, a few times more than they have. But I set aside my doubts and have total confidence that Sidwell is going to be a fantastic addition to O'Neill's team and add the sort of high-energy box to box dynamism, not seen since David Platt, or the high-mileage pitch-coverage capacity, not seen since Des Bremner and Frank Carrodus, donned our favourite shirt. He has one other outstanding qualification, as a Villa player - he made his debut for Chelsea when they beat Birmingham City 3-2. If he can pass the ball, as well, I expect him to be knocking on the England door before very long.
Since he was allocated a place in the Premiership team of the season, after his outstanding contribution to Reading's successful first season in the top flight, Steve has been kicking his heels in the Chelsea reserves, and no doubt enjoying stacking substantial amounts of roubles in his shed, in a process known in football parlance as 'securing his future'. Hopefully, having improved his wad to his own satisfaction, he is ready to prove what a great player he is, in a Villa shirt.
Bearing in mind Gareth Barry's departure and adding and subtracting, his strengths and weaknesses from the aggregate of the team, it seems like Villa might, as they stand, have a slight deficit in the passing department, and so its hard to predict an overall improvement in O'Neill's resources just yet. However, looking at Salifou's wonder-pass (complete with back-spin) which he produced in the friendly against his old club FC Wil, he certainly gave the impression, that he has more ability than we have yet seen, in claret and blue. But what has been remarkable over the years, is how many times, a big player like Gareth Barry departs, and another player has emerged to more than fill his shirt. I'm thinking of when superb Sid replaced Alex Cropley, who many thought irreplaceable when he was crocked by you know who. And when the fabulous Keith Leonard was forced to retire, who should turn up but that nutty (as a Dundee cake) swashbuckling genius, Andrew Mullen Gray.
But despite my hopes and optimism, I still think Villa need to sign a few more players, if they are to out-strip the likes of Tottenham, Portsmouth, Everton and Man City, and they are desperate for at least one goalkeeper. As things stand, I don't see sitting Shaun Maloney on Zat Knight's shoulders, as a very viable solution, should Stuart Taylor get a knock, even if they disguise them in one of Crouch's old shirts. But I hear that Martin is working on it and has more things in the air right now, than a guy spinning plates at the circus.
Talking of a circus, I see Cristiano Ronaldo has joined the ranks of the clowns, as he told the world he was a slave, while throwing a custard-pie in his own face and tipping a bucket of water down his trousers. Obviously he has taken a leaf out the Little Boy's Book Of Tricks, To Get Your Own Way (possibly borrowed from Gareth Barry) and is determined to make himself so unpopular, that the collective projectile-vomiting of the United fans will land him in the Santiago Bernabéu, some time soon. Most fans will agree - this is right out ordure.
It was always a huge mystery to me why Figo left Barcelona for Real Madrid. I, like the Man United fans right now, could not quite understand the attraction of that club to a guy from Portugal. I understand that there is a certain antagonism between the Spanish and Portuguese, with the Spanish seeing their fellow Iberians as unsophisticated country bumpkins. But these things are impossible to understand for people outside the culture and the shadow of Real Madrid must be far greater than we Brits can ever understand. Certainly, for me, the name of Real Madrid has magical connotations, left over from my childhood, which refuse to go away, even though I have a rather cynical view of the club these days. For a Portuguese boy on some tiny, distant Atlantic Island, the allure must be incredible. It would be
like some Irish lad from Bantry Bay dreaming of Manchester United. So, just as with Gareth Barry, the understanding of motives, comes rather quicker than the forgiveness.
Sympathy for United is as hard to find, as love for Ronaldo.
With a fit Ronaldo, Manchester United would certainly have started as favourites to retain their title for the coming season, as Chelsea's new 'special one' has yet to come to grips with the rigours of the Premiership, and Arsenal look like selling their best striker. Without Ronaldo and his contribution to United's goal-tally, things start to look more interesting than they have for a few years. Even if United get £50m for Ronaldo, there just aren't players of that calibre available for love or money and every week they delay the deal, will make finding a replacement more difficult. The United fans will be well aware of all this and you can't help wondering - that at last they might understand how other fans feel.
But I doubt it.