Something For The Weekend (281)
Despite all my best efforts to convince myself otherwise I have finally had to admit that the season turned out well in the end. I am generally content with Villa's definite improvement, and even if an item of silverware would have transformed the merely excellent into a state of wonderfulness, they proved themselves incredibly resilient, until a couple of mistakes and some ill-luck ended what was one of the best Villa parties for years.
The deus ex machina required for a Villa victory in the Carling Cup didn't arrive but a certain Rooney off the bench did. Similar fortune in the FA Cup put Villa up against a rampant Chelsea and just as their hopes of a top-four place vanished at Man City, the games were really decided by single individual errors, one a referee's and one a Villan's.
Most impressive of all was Villa's sustained presence in the season's competitions, while negotiating a congested fixture list caused by the worst winter since Rod Stewart was lamenting his Mandolin Wind.
Although the general prejudice was that Villa's visible improvement was down to some serious open-wallet surgery on Randy Lerner's personal wealth, close examination of Villa's fellow-contenders, showed that they had spent rather more and had squads as deep as an oil-sheik's pockets, or as wide as Alan Gilzean's parting.
So in the bang-per-buck department, Villa did very well and should they manage to beat Blackburn this Sunday they will finish with an impressive new improved points tally and more importantly above Liverpool, and even above Man City should West Ham not roll over Beethoven. This would move them up a position from last year and substantiate the claim that where the Acorns are planted a mighty oak may soon be seen.
When I start considering which players have provided me with the most joy and pride, I find I am stuck between James Milner and Richard Dunne. But just as last season Ashley Young's deft wing-play became the iconic memory of Villa's playing style, helped considerably by his 'genius' winner at Everton, this season I would have to pick Richard Dunne because his grim visage and 'thou shall not pass' commitment seems to be iconic of Villa's tenacity and resolution over the long season of 2009-10.
Besides, and I hope James Milner will understand, I owe the big fellah a huge apology for under-estimating him - I had no idea he was that good. And for one who all too often laments the habit of certain central-defenders to make forlorn efforts at showing us they can play a bit, I just love Richard's no-nonsense style.
I was also totally impressed that Ireland's painful exit from the World Cup, didn't seem to affect him at all. All these attributes add up to everything you ever want from a hero. Art plus true grit and stoicism.
No doubt the only accolade James Milner would consider worth having to round off his splendid season, is a place in Capello's World Cup squad, and should he stay fit, and what with the injury to Gareth Barry (ankle), then that looks more and more certain.
I have no truck with those who criticise Martin O'Neill because when a manager's signings win the PFA Young Player of The Year two years on the trot, and he buys two central-defenders who do the business from day one, it seems impossible to make a single valid criticism of his ability to spot and to sign players. Such is the problem for determined critics that they are left to criticise the players he didn't buy rather than the ones he did.
But there's no denying a fan's right to moan.
When handing out the accolades to managers, I would have no difficulty in putting the trophy in the hands of Roy Hodgson for getting to a European final and proving that such things are still possible for
clubs of ordinary means. Some would say that happy Harry deserves some kind of recognition for his top-four finish and no one could argue with that but he's had far more resources to work with than his
colleague down at the cottage of content.
There is just no denying old Bagpuss is a superb manager but I am sure a manager of the year award would come quite close to consoling Roy Hodgson for his reputation-damaging disappointment at Blackburn. But I bet he'll always regret paying £7.5m for Kevin Davies (1998), no matter how many awards he gets. Any award will ensure he sheds the reputation of the football profit, who is not recognised in his own land.
So please, give Roy something.
But many will see this season as possibly the year when Liverpool not only didn't win anything, they also suffered the devastating blow of being deprived of the sustenance of Champions League cash, while shipping millions in interest payments on their debts. This has opened up a new chapter in Premiership history and may indicate a decline, as the highly leveraged take-overs and increased tax-burdens on players, begin to suck the life-blood out of some massive clubs. Even Man United have struggled to stay in the high stakes game, and even if they win the Premiership on Sunday, they have looked weaker this season, and what success they have enjoyed has mostly relied upon fortune (spit!) and the passion their manager has instilled, rather than the sheer quality, we usually associate with the club. Surely Scholes and Giggs, can't keep playing for ever?
The choppy financial waters and rather liberal regulation from the FA, seem to be have endangered the world's most popular football league, and the power centre seems to have shifted back to Spain. Liverpool are the first of the Sky Four to have lost their station in the squadron and Arsenal are showing symptoms of doing the same.
It certainly looks like the opportunities which have helped Spurs break into the territory of the mega-clubs will continue next season. And certainly, with clubs like Liverpool paying £55m in debt payments alone, their problems are not going to get any less.
The question Villa need to ask themselves, is whether they are going to try and take advantage of those opportunities or just consolidate and enjoy the safety of calmer waters?
There is only one person can make that decision.
We definitely need someone to watch over us and make our dreams come true.
Keep the faith!
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