Something For The Weekend (377)
Like all Villa fans it came as a big shock to hear the news of Stan's diagnosis of leukaemia last Friday. It was a horrible reminder of all the nasty realities, watching football is supposed to distract us from. The fact that it happened to a guy known to be a model professional, seemed to make it worse, somehow. It seems that even paragons get sick, apparently.
Stan is one of those awesome guys who always seem to do the right thing, and solid seems to be a word invented to describe his career at Villa. He could look fantastic in a Celtic shirt and his achievements in Scotland are very impressive, with his eight trophies and a runners-up medal in the UEFA Cup.
His Celtic Player Of The Year Award, seems to prove how key he was for the Hoops' revival under Martin O'Neill. He was never quite so spectacular for Villa but very often, he was Villa's most creative and dominant force in midfield during the years when Villa established their monopoly on sixth-place.
His contribution in helping the likes of Barry and Milner establish their reputations in Villa's midfield, should not be underestimated. He leaves many happy memories.
Like all such players, he was typically taken for granted by the fans.
But no matter what he achieved on the football pitch, he showed his real mettle by moving from his comfort-zone in Bulgaria, while not being able to speak English, to Glasgow, at the age of nineteen. Culture shock ain't in it. The story of him trying to learn English by selling burgers to Glaswegians from his mate's van, has a touch of hilarity about it. Within a year he was winning Scotland's Young Player Of The Year award.
How do you spell Braveheart in Cyrillic?
Stan's reputation for having amazing strength of character and an equable temperament, were obviously well-earned and cannot be doubted. He'll obviously need every ounce of that determination to get through the long struggle, which the treatment of leukaemia entails. No doubt he'll be in touch with Geoff Thomas who survived the disease and get all the support he needs. Geoff will probably tell him how awful the chemo is, but remind him that doing the Tour de France was worse.
Good luck Stan!
I am sure many of the Villa players were in shock too, but I certainly think it was right for Villa to play their game against Chelsea. I tend to think it is better to normalise these things and start the process of getting used to the idea as soon as possible. Stan has a long and arduous job in front of him and he doesn't need too much emotional distraction, its tough enough already.
Obviously, the loss of what Captain Petrov brought to the team creates further problem's for Villa's injury-depleted squad, and Villa's performance against Chelsea has to be judged on that basis.
Considering the players available and the sheer youth of the team, Villa were pretty decent against Chelsea, and while Villa's performance against Arsenal left me in total dismay, Villa were actually pretty good against the newly-revived Chelski. If it wasn't for the fact that John Terry seems to have been granted immunity, when it comes to fouling Gabby, there is a good chance that Villa would have got themselves a very welcome point out of the game.
So bearing in mind the difference in resources available to the two teams, Villa did very well, and showed a pleasing amount of spirit, despite being totally out-gunned by a team which proved good enough to reach the semi-finals of the Champions League, later in the week.
Its not until you actually start looking at the numbers, that you quite realise the extent of the inequality, or indeed the extent of Villa's current problems.
Some ancient and grizzled Villa sage told me I was being unfair last week, when I used the value of Villa's squad to quantify my expectations. He pointed out that it doesn't matter how many good players you have on the books, if you can't get them onto the pitch, and I had to admit that he had a point.
So I decided to compare the value of the Premiership's starting-eleven's, last weekend, using Transfermarkt and it was a revelation.
Put it this way, if the Premiership was a boxing tournament, the competition would not be allowed to go ahead, and in fact would probably not even qualify as a contest, as it is basically some big guys beating the crap out of some little guys and making out they have achieved something. So in reality this phoney contest is just Paul Newman against George Kennedy in the film Cool Hand Luke. The little guy lands the odd punch but ultimately he's just going to get a pounding. The sole function of the football media is to obscure this ugly truth.
When you come to compare the value of the starting-elevens for last weekend, the picture is clear and the fog of media hype is blown away by the magnitude of the differences. The first thing which shocks is the realisation that every team in the top-five has a single player who is worth more than several whole teams at the bottom. According to Transfermarkt, Wayne Rooney (£57m) is worth more than the entire team which started for twelve of the clubs in last weekend's fixtures.
If you create a table of the value of last weekend's starting-elevens it is remarkably similar to the league table, with only a very few teams defying the prediction of their team's value, or under-performing. There are a few teams like Wolves and QPR who are under-performing but the only team which could be said to be defying the value of their team is Norwich. Swansea are not doing that remarkably well and neither are Everton or Newcastle. Newcastle are only two places higher than their team's value, 6th rather than 8th, and Everton are exactly where they should be in 7th. Liverpool should only be 6th (£112m) instead of their present 8th.
Villa's starting-eleven against Chelsea's £186m put them fifth from the bottom, with a starting-eleven of around £36m, and they are actually sixth from bottom in the table. Bolton (£27m) and Wigan (£34m) are below Villa in the value of their last starting-eleven and they are both below Villa in the Premiership along with Blackburn (£38m).
To put the relative weakness of Villa's last starting-eleven into perspective, West Ham, the best resourced club in the Championship, fielded a team worth £33m last weekend.
What it seems to prove is that the myth of the magic manager has no real basis, and that a good manager can only raise a team a couple of places above that which would be considered par for the value of the team he fields.
Paul Lambert is the exception which proves the rule, his team should be bottom (£28m) rather than 12th and only time will tell by what margin he can defy the financial predictor.
If the evidence suggests that the value of a club's starting-eleven is the real predictor when it comes to outcome, then it provides a clear message to Villa fans, that they would be much better off praying that Villa's high value injured players become available, than wasting their time trying get rid of the manager.
There certainly seems to be some correlation between the value of the eleven a club is able to start a game with and the likelihood of success. So Villa desperately need some of their better players to be available for the games with Stoke, Sunderland, Bolton and the Baggies.
When clubs like Liverpool, Man United and Spurs, field teams valued at £112m, £180m and £165m, respectively, the chances of a team valued at less than £40m beating them would seem very slim, no matter how good the manager might or might not be.
The Premiership is supposed to be contest but the mismatches suggest otherwise. You can be as brave as Tommy Burns but you are still going to take a beating.
Keep the faith!