Something For The Weekend (239)
If there is one good thing about players leaving at their peak, its that you never have to see them decline and lament how good they used to be.
There's only one thing worse than seeing them go, and that's seeing them come back. That's why all Villa fans of a certain age, think that there were two strikers called Andy Gray - Andy the 1st and Andy the 2nd. Only true Greats and true legends, like Sid Cowans, manage to come back and look just as good, the second time around.
Arise your Royal Sidneyness.
There were a few cries of 'caramba!' this week but no one could really be surprised when Gareth Barry traded in his status as putative Villa legend for twenty-five million smackeroos.
It seems likely that the club had known for a little while and went through the process of due diligence, required by the fans, to prove that they had tried to keep him. Thus the PR emerging from the Lerner bunker about the club's willingness to run down his contract, if need be, while making clear that a quick decision from the lad, about where and when, would be appreciated.
Of course, the fans will still be hurting, especially the youngsters, who perhaps have not experienced the ugly reality of estrangement, with a worshipped-one, before. For scrotes, crones and wrinklies, it's something they have come to expect and we have the scars and calluses to prove it.
Players know that they are only ever half a dozen bad performances away from being booed from the pitch and shown the door, so they have to keep a level head about these things. The fans' affection and adoration is never unconditional: we know it and the players know it too. But we do like to pretend.
Virtue might be its own reward but it's still a pity you can't spend it.
Even so, even when you are an old cynic like myself, there is always a sense of loss and betrayal, when you have kicked every ball with a player, for the best part of a decade. Its hard not to feel a total idiot, when you think about those nervous nights, seeing your player turn out for England, when you have prayed that he would not cock-up, when you have counted every good thing and every bad. Its even worse, when you remember wishing an England rival for the shirt under a bus, so that your boy would get another cap. But even the most doting parent, knows that one day Junior is going to leave home.
But sometimes a fan can identify with a particular player, rather too strongly and it can get a bit like this:
Most fans could have done without the Barry baloney about wanting Champions League football. We all know that people move jobs for all sorts of reasons to do with life-style, and it doesn't take much imagination to envisage Gareth and his Missus attending an England colleague's do at Alderley Edge, and concluding that it would be very nice.
Gareth's itchy feet coincided too closely with his first outstanding England performance, for the influence of England's inner-circle to be entirely discounted. Only the rare and fine examples such as Steve Bull, can wear an England shirt and still only want to walk his whippets in Tipton.
Even so, its hard to make a case that Barry hasn't earned his upward mobility and that after a decade of sterling dedicated work at Villa, he deserves his shot at mega-bucks and fantasy football. Even if his reputation as football paragon is blown to pieces.
He certainly looks like the perfect player for City and presumably is meant to offer some discipline in the centre of the park, when the superstars go off doing their samba. The only question remains is whether he will overcome the present culture at Man City, or the culture will overcome him. With no other reason to be there except the dosh and the promise of jam tomorrow, its hard to imagine that a full return on their investment, is really possible. But Barry combined with Ireland looks like a tasty midfield pair.
At least the Man City fans will not have to endure all that sickening badge-kissing, which is the bane of all sincerity, and the players will be able to kiss their wallets and we'll all know they really mean it.
But while Man City have their problems - some of them enviable, some of them not - Villa have a few problems of their own, which go beyond the rather onerous task of replacing a world-class defender and a world-class midfielder.
Sustaining the Villa dream in the face of some glaring and discouraging evidence that its not actually possible for a team outside the top four to win anything, remains the overwhelming challenge for Villa. Gladly, apart from a few old men who still dream of Ipswich or Nottingham Forest, of yore, most fans understand the reality and remain on board. Gladly most of the Villa fans realise that there is no quick fix, and no magic formula, which can render the obvious gulf as nothing.
The only thing clubs like Villa can do, is gradually build themselves up, hang in there and await their big chance. Although, there is much talk of the advantages of the big clubs having massive eye-watering levels of debt, it also makes them very vulnerable. One can only imagine what would be the consequences to these clubs if they were cut off from the Champions League teat and were required to service their debts while getting £20m less income. Liverpool's reported loss of £42m, suddenly turns into £62m and they are immediately worse off than Everton and Villa.
If the new rich kids on the block, can get amongst the top four, the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal could be fatally holed below the waterline and their advantage would turn into a disadvantage. But for this to happen, clubs like Villa need to stick to long-term strategy and not bet the farm on short-term Pyrrhic victories.
So I say stick with the plan Stan and keep on keepin' on.
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