Something For The Weekend (139)
If its true, that joy is the only real measure of success, then Villa were crowned champions last Saturday. The sun was only out-shone by the performance on the pitch. Goodwill and sentimental tears flowed in equal measure and the visiting manager was gracious enough to say that any team would have struggled to beat Villa on such a special day. It was the sort of occasion to batter the most resolute cynic into submission. A day on which the miserable struggle of the last few years was finally buried beneath an inundation of goodwill, happy memories and the realisation of what supporting your club is really all about. It was one of those days when a sentimentalist like myself, could not help but think, that it demonstrated what can be achieved when the whole club pulls together. It proved a worthy tribute to the class of '82; an honour which seemed rather overdue and possibly not guaranteed under the previous regime.
The free scarf was a lovely gesture and was revealed as such a brilliant idea that Man City instantly copied it. The gesture was obviously Randy Lerner's but the idea arose, I believe, from the list of suggestions presented to the new owners, called 'Villa Forward' and which represented the positive side of a campaign which was reported as only negative by those who clung to the old status quo. I think it can be convincingly argued that Saturday's day to be remembered and possibly cherished by a huge number of Villa fans, would not have been possible without the input of those who have now faded into the background, will quickly be forgotten and who will get little credit when the history is finally written. If the campaign set out to achieve anything, it surely was to make such a fine day possible. A full house, a party atmosphere, a sense of rebirth and renewal.
There will be few better Villa occasions than Saturday and even when Villa finally lift their next piece of silverware, the thoughts of many will return to May 5th 2007, as some kind of watershed in the history of the club. VE day celebrations at Villa Park.
Cue: Villa's silver-surfers carrying the Cup across the pitch, play Eddie Calvert's Oh Mein Papa, let go the river of salt. Try and chant 'Villa' through the tears and snot. Marvellous!
I don't suppose there is an Horatio Alger award for a good deed done by the son of a previous winner but ask any Villa fan and he might just say that young Randy deserves one.
But Randy is welcome to his awards and the chorus of goodwill that reached a crescendo on Saturday. It really is quite unbelievable that the morale of the Villa fans could be so substantially improved but, I for one, find the level of expectations rather daunting - scary in fact. It certainly takes a lot more courage than I will ever possess to create such high hopes and confidently expect to fulfil them, or more likely, live with the knowledge that it might actually be impossible. But hey, the General has been shot twice and so he's used to it. The next twelve months promise to be one of the most exciting, or scary, in the history of the club. I don't expect there will be much need to fasten the seatbelts but I do expect a tangible improvement. I don't expect Ronaldinho to arrive any time soon (only £85m) but I do expect more class and less dread, as the side dish to next season's hoped-for feast.
Yes, a bit more class, if you please.
As we all found out when Solano came and went. As O'Leary found when his best players were too often injured. As O'Neill has found as Laursen and Berger have returned to fitness. You can't beat class. In the Premiership, at every level in fact, physical endeavour is taken as a given but it is class which is the holy grail. What was wrong with England in the Summer? Lack of class. What was wrong with Villa when they couldn't win? Lack of class. Why is Berbatov my Premiership player of the year? Total class, on and off the pitch (although I might revise this view should he go to United).
Villa don't need that many players but a bit of extra class could make a big difference.
I took the dangerous step of taking a look at my predictions for the season (made back in August) and found I was mostly wrong and in some cases shockingly so. Villa were supposed to finish eighth and Arsenal were supposed to win the Premiership. I even had West Ham carrying on the form that took them to the Cup Final - blinded by my admiration of Reo-Coker perhaps. But I was right about one thing - Mourinho's decision to go entirely against his instincts and sign Ballack and Shevchenko looked as bad then, as it looks now. It all goes to show that if you express enough opinions, you are bound to get some of them right. Question: Did Shevchenko cost Abramovich, more than his divorce?
Villa's season didn't quite live up to expectations but just as with his predecessor the failure in percentage terms, is very little - depending on the final table, possibly, as low as three points short. Typically, the uneven distribution of form, sometimes made it look worse than it was. The graph of points-gained over the season (see link below) shows that only at one period (March) and then only momentarily, did the team do worse than last season. If O'Neill can improve by the same amount next term, the plan will look to be working. But it is the angle of the graph which counts (the steeper the better). What is interesting is how consistent the angles of the two graphs are (comparing the two seasons) and it seems that (as with Wigan) one little dip in form can make things almost impossible to recover from, if you only return to average performance. Survival is really about consistency. O'Neill made one accurate prediction, during that early good run: 'We will need these points later'.http://stats.premierleague.com/panel_d/overall/club_performance_graph.jsp?club=2&season=2006
It certainly hasn't been a great season. But it has to be said that Villa should take full credit (even Daddy Doug) for the fact that the change over to new owners and new management went so smoothly. Not many clubs, including Villa in the past, have made that transition painlessly and glitch-free. For many clubs, such changes precipitate disaster or at least a slump and it is within this context that the season must be judged. Charlton and West Ham, have shown that even just changing your manager is a strategy not free from risk. Villa, changing the whole lot from top to bottom, so seamlessly, verges on the miraculous.
Gareth Barry has had another outstanding year, and possibly his best season yet, even though he still needs to practice his penalties. Agbonlahor has been thrilling to watch and very satisfying to see take his game up another level. Luke Moore had some rotten luck and lost most of the season through his shoulder injury, which has definitely held him back but his early-season form was outstanding. Carew's arrival has made a tremendous difference to the way Villa play and even if he looks unlikely to break the magic twenty-goals barrier, he looks like he'll create a lot for those playing around him. Even with the players they already have, Villa could look forward to a decent season next year but only if they can keep some key players fit, which is inconceivable given their history.
Should they add a bit of quality, I expect to be singing, tidings of comfort and joy, by Christmas, with some conviction.By Steve Wade