Something For The Weekend (148)
There's been a lot of players who have fulfilled the role of midfield hod-carrier - some we loved, some we liked and some we never take to.
Gavin never won me over and I suspect it had nothing to do with his effectiveness, as he did a robust job on numerous occasions and it probably has more to do with his style. Of course its not quite possible to be very stylish, in the manner of Ronaldinho et al, if you are just fetching, carrying, kicking and being kicked, or just giving it simple. Certain names stand out in recent Villa history, when it comes to fulfilling that role, whom I remember with both affection and admiration. Ian Taylor of course, but his status as Villa born and bred might add something extra, not revealed in his tendency to cover every inch of the pitch and then pop-up and score a crucial goal, after a lung-bursting charge up the field. No, Ian is too advantaged to be set along side bread and butter midfielders and compared fairly. My favourite amongst the countless who have come and gone in recent decades, would probably be Kevin Richardson.
I just thought Kevin was great and I still do. He was no bigger than a two-penny fart - was what you might call wiry - but when it came to playing in that area of the pitch, where the next ball is possibly going to be the hospital-ball, he was fearless and tenacious. With two championship medals and an FA cup-winner's medal to add to those, he was one of those pros which a good team needs - a fact Big Ron recognised when he bought him. And, although only having a short shelf-life, I think that midfield, in a team which went on to win at Wembley and chased United all the way for that first Premiership title, was one of the best seen at Villa since the Cowans, Mortimer, Bremner trio of yore. I just thought Kevin had a bit of class, whether you saw him on the pitch or on the street, the guy had got it. Seeing him in my local Chinese take-away waiting for his order, with the rest of the punters, just belied his status as a multi-medal-winning football star. Every time I saw him, I always was left muttering - 'What a guy'. If I had to sum him up, I would probably use the word 'dignified', which I recall he was, even when getting sent-off, for Coventry, when he returned to Villa Park in a different coloured shirt (Tommy Johnson stitched
him up that day).
Andy Townsend was a similar sort of player, where bags of personality supplemented his professionalism and physical endeavour (even the odd spectacular goal). Starting at Weymouth he had worked himself up the levels, until he arguably had his best time at Villa and as he said on the Wembley pitch with is medal in his hand, 'The nearly-man no more'. Andy was never quite as good as I hoped he would be and the fact that he wasn't the player who would make Villa champions, probably proves that not only is it not possible to assess a player from television highlights but that the dynamics of a team change from one year to the next. Andy won just about everyone over, especially those who met him, because he was such a lovely bloke. And as we found with the Doog, over time, that is what matters.
Gavin McCann, despite his many sterling qualities, which included the bravery to play when injured, always struck me as a rather dour introvert, who had never quite bonded with his team-mates. He is no doubt a model professional but continuing to live in Lancashire seemed hardly a demonstration of commitment to his move to Villa. When he played well, Villa looked a decent side but this seemed to have become more not than often, as he got older. No doubt he is entirely different from my perceptions but that is all the punters can ever go on. So, unless Villa's midfield is so dire, come the new season, that we are left demanding Gavin's return, he departs without leaving much disappointment. Footballers are very much like the Cheshire Cat - they fade and disappear and all that is left, is what we remember of their personalities and not much more.
I even took the fact that O'Neill decided to let him go, as based on the notion that he would rather not have him hanging about, if he wasn't his first choice. As things stand, there certainly doesn't seem to be enough resources to make him seem entirely surplus to requirements but it seems that if even Davis can be let go (or rather, not persuaded to stop), that the manager thinks it is essential to rid his arc of all players with even half a reason to be unhappy, if he is to take Villa's ship to higher ground. This is certainly a novelty in recent years when it comes to squad management and it will take some big getting used to. History seems to suggest that it might be the most difficult but yet the wisest choice to take, as how many managers (Brian Little say) have bought or kept troubled or troublesome players, under the delusion that they could manage them, only for it to cost them their jobs, when they failed to do so.
Could this be the real difference between the good managers and the exceptional? The big difference of course, is that while previous managers might have found themselves with a problem personality in their squads they were failing to cope with, they always found that they had been painted into a corner and the chairman was the one holding both the brush and the tin of paint, when the brown stuff hit the fan. We are told things are different this time round and only time will tell if that is true.
At the moment it is a case of Gavin who? But how he is remembered in six months time, will be a perfect measure of how the team is doing.