Something For The Weekend (368)
Cliff-hangers and nail-biters!
It may be freezing and the team might look about as convincing as a Harry Redknapp tax-return but no one can claim that it is not exciting watching Villa these days. And, judging by the Arsenal and the QPR game, they even keep us guessing whether they are going to blow it in the first half or the second.
So no one can tell us that Villa are a boring team.
What with the fact that Villa's defenders have been almost as dangerous to the Villa goal as the opponents' forwards recently, high-drama can be expected at both ends of the pitch, where the main protagonists are all Villans. Villa might not be much of a team these days but they are definitely better than they were earlier in the season, when for instance, at Spurs, even neutral observers were booing Villa's manager for being so negative and for being so obviously satisfied with only losing two-nil.
Villa's ancient old farts haven't had this much fun, since Dick Barton - Special Agent was on the radio in their youth.
Unfortunately, there was no such suspense attached to Villa's likely activities during the transfer window. Despite the papers doing their absolute best to ignite a little bit of hope in Villa hearts, no one, not on happy-pills, thought for a moment that Villa were going to splash the cash, especially as Villa are struggling to make the payments to Shamrock Rovers after their last splurge.
Instead of spending Villa chose to come to some kind of agreement with Habib Beye, which was presumably financially agreeable to the player, while Villa enjoyed the satisfaction of doing a bit more housekeeping with the squad, by freeing up another locker in the dressing-room.
Its impossible to work out how he actually managed it in just nine games for Villa, but for some reason Habib Beye contrived to be blamed for every failing of the O'Neill era, and appeared on every list, I ever heard, of accusations directed at Villa's ex-manager. Somehow, the guy managed to single-handedly have bankrupted Villa Randy Lerner and was the single reason Villa never qualified for the Champions League. I am not sure how they managed it but certain fans believed that Villa are a massive club, but which for some reason were brought low by paying the wages of a single player.
Beye would probably not make the list of the worst Premiership signings ever, and would probably be miles behind the likes of Juan Sebastián Verón, Fernando Torres and Andy Carroll, but he became the ideal scapegoat for the last two years of Villa disillusion and misery. There is the assumption that the money he cost in wages, would be available now, if it hadn't been spent then, but this just seems like wishful thinking, and reluctance to accept that there was a change of plan.
I think it would be premature to assume that the clear out is over.
With the fans seemingly willing to sell every player who has ever had a bad game, it would seem that Villa's director of football would find little resistance to any suggested sale. Villa fans were queuing up, not so long ago, to suggest that Darren Bent should be sold, even though his record for Villa, of more than a goal every other game (18 in 35?) puts him in the very top bracket as far as strikers are concerned.
But there is no disagreeing with the Villa fans.
The moaning about Darren Bent takes me back to 1966 when Villa fans decided Tony Hateley wasn't good enough to wear a Villa shirt, even though he had scored 68 goals in 127 games for the club.
As a mere sprog at the time and listening to the Villa experts on the terraces, I just assumed that he was a lousy player. Hearing the Villa fans' disgust and constant moaning about the fact that Hateley's ball-control wasn't what it might have been, the club sold him for £100 000 (a huge sum at the time) and Villa were relegated.
Goal-scoring responsibilities fell on the shoulders of 21 year-old Brummie, Lew Chatterley, who was a midfielder. Villa had to wait another ten years until Andy Gray arrived before they had a top-notch striker again.
So we must be careful of what we ask for.
The Villa fans are right sometimes though; just look at the lousy job Martin O'Neill is doing at Sunderland. He has spent millions and obviously lacks inspiration or man-management skills. Sunderland might not have such a fine manager as Villa but at least they don't lose too much sleep worrying about whether Real Madrid are going to come a-knocking in the summer.
Its a very worrying time for Villa fans because what with Mancini, not doing too well at City and Villas-Boas struggling at Chelsea, there may be some top clubs in the hunt for a manager come the end of the season. If McLeish is to finish the job he has started at Villa, he needs at least another season.
There are still a few O'Neill signings he has yet to get rid of, but he seems to have turned the corner, with the likes of Ireland showing some form and Charles N'Zogbia having opened his account, so we should begin to see the real McLeish style begin to emerge very soon.
Villa's squad makes some interesting reading, with half the players 22 years old or younger and several, even lacking a Wiki entry. So it wouldn't take a sharp-eyed moaning brummie to notice that Villa, hardly have enough experienced players to make up a full team and a bench full of subs. Eight members of the squad have less than 30 Villa appearances between them, with wages to match no doubt.
As we all know, the Villa badge does make the boast that the club is prepared, and unless we are to be accused of cynicism and churlishness, we must assume that Villa have the best possible squad which the income of the club can allow and that the club are not actually taking the piss.
Although that conclusion is very tempting.
Keep the faith!