Something For The Weekend (243)
It certainly was a long time coming but Villa, at last, seem to have signed their promised twenty-five-million-pound player this week, as Middlesbrough star Stewart Downing put pen to paper and swapped relegated red and white for glorious claret and blue.
It has to be assumed, that if the Middlesbrough and England wizard of the wing had had the benefit of two fully functioning legs, that he would have cost twice as much and some credit must go to Villa, for pointing out that with only one leg available right now, a 50% discount was only fair.
Certainly, most Villa fans are hoping that at some time in the future, the other leg will be brought back into commission and they can enjoy 100% of the talent, viewed in the light of a 50% discount. Doubters are saying that, as it was generally understood that no one should even contemplate buying a second-hand car off Doug Ellis, then it seems Gareth Southgate learnt a thing or two from the old maestro, during his time at Villa.
There is little doubt that Downing is a fine talent and I seem to remember that he played exceptionally well, in at least one of his England appearances and for Middlesbrough the quality of his crosses is beyond dispute. Presuming that the holes left in his instep by Petrov's studs eventually heal, he will be a tremendous asset to Villa. The only dispute is about whether it will be before Christmas or the early new year, when the fans get to see his crosses pinging into the back of the net off John Carew's napper.
My guess would be that despite rumours to the contrary, Stewart is not meant to displace Ashley Young on the left flank and it looks more likely that he is a direct replacement for Gareth Barry in left midfield. Even the most amateurish tacticians, such as myself, were aware that Villa's strength down the left, came from the combined contribution of Barry and Young. The departure of Villa's captain not only robbed them of a very fine player but it was also in danger of completely unbalancing the team. Finding a left-sided player of sufficient quality was always going to be an urgent priority and it looks like it was so important to O'Neill that he was willing to live with the slight risk of signing an injured player.
But despite my admiration of Downing's qualities, I still think that even taking into account all the recent policies concerning inclusion, that football is best played by eleven bipeds. It may be rather politically incorrect to say so but I don't think there is even room on the substitutes bench for anything other than the normally endowed and although Downing's arrival at Villa Park, might prove to be positive move, I am going to take a lot of persuading that the one-legged have a future in the game.
Not unless, at some time in the future, Villa are thinking of participating in the Long John Silver Cup, that is.
No. Villa need to start signing bipeds soon and of top quality, no matter how attractive the discounts might seem for the less well endowed in the leg department.
But let's not kid ourselves, the price of entree into the football elite has just got dearer, and certainly it can't be doubted that Man City's tsunami of cash has drowned the hopes of many, as the top of the table begins to look crowded with clubs with resources which dwarf those who don't happen to own their own personal oil-well.
It seems certain that City should be seriously considering whether to change the club's theme tune, as the poignant lament of Blue Moon begins to sound comically ironic, when they have the best part of £100m worth of forwards on the pitch. Roll Out The Oil Barrel would seem more appropriate, these days.
Club songs are essential when it comes to building an appealing brand, and any set of fans who might have sung a dirge, which includes the line, 'Tho' you're tired and weary ' for as long as can be remembered, might be assumed to have very low expectations.
The trouble is that Villa's less than visible ambition in the transfer market, has had me humming 'Yesterday Once More', and not 'Happy Days Are Here Again', as we enter the last four weeks before the balloons go up.
But signings or no signings, my biggest concern is whether they continue the form which turned the tail-end of last season into such an anti-climax, or have found their spark again. If that spark is still missing, it seems unlikely that any signing will make much of a difference.
But, there again, if I get the flu bad, I'll have something more important to complain about.
Sing it Freddie: