Something For The Weekend (406)
On Saturday the plucky young pupils of Villa's college of fine footie took on the visitors from Staffordshire; a side very much of the old school, where hacking and scrimmage are still the main features of their game plan, and who alas, show their affinity with the potteries' tradition, with the pragmatism rather more associated with Armitage Shanks, than the elegance of Wedgwood or Spode. Bearing this in mind, it was no surprise that a smaller crowd than expected filled the Aston Villa Grounds, to witness Villa's bright-eyed young men take on the grim battlers of Stoke City.
No doubt fortified by the odd pre-match tincture or two, the pink-faced votaries of Villa's passing-game greeted their young heroes with verve, as the dipping winter sun illuminated the chromatic sensation which is the claret and blue shirt; defying the chilling wintry breeze, which whipped their collective chorus into wispy billows of vanishing white smoke.
Just as the punditry had predicted, Stoke City established their scrimmage line on the edge of their penalty area and were not too ambitious when it came to threatening Villa's goal, which left the hosts free to delight the crowd with their triangulation, as the ball went from Villa toe to Villa toe, in complete defiance of Stoke's trademark bruising tactics.
Alas, although Villa's gentlemen enjoyed a majority of the possession of the leather and they manoeuvred it around the pitch with some invention and precision, they were unable to break through Stoke's wall of red and white stripes, and despite a few nearly-moments the ball never quite made it between the sticks.
So the points were shared and Stoke's manager, the pragmatic Pulis, complimented Villa's burgeoning prowess by declaring himself satisfied with the outcome. And, although obviously hungry for the transforming powers of a win, the Villa faithful dispersed into the sharp winter evening, glad to get a point and happy that their fine young gentlemen had emerged undaunted from the physical demands of a challenge with Stoke's big-boned bruisers, and had shown their mettle.
Such physical encounters with teams like Stoke are all part of a young gentleman's football education, and from this resolute display, I think that Villa's class of 2012, deserved to be given a pass.
Mere satisfaction was to turn to total bliss for the Villa faithful, when Paul Lambert took his young charges to meet Norwich in the League Cup and thus made it a game between the teams that Paul built.
It was a night reserved strictly for the bravest of Villans, as a long drive, a two to three hour exposure to a raw Norfolk night, against a team doing rather well under the stewardship of ex-Heathen Hughton, promised a very tough battle for Villa's young gentlemen, and so only the heroic, the madly optimistic and the masochistic, were expected to make the trip, into the wilds of East Anglia, where the churches outnumber the Christians and the locals, they say, still point at aircraft.
Villa's mad optimists were rewarded handsomely for their self-sacrifice and they were treated to a sensational game between two teams of very similar strengths and were fortunate enough to get a superb result from a game that might have gone either way but for a vintage performance from Villa's veteran guardian between the sticks, who magnificently resisted the fusillade from the Norwich forwards.
Perhaps encouraged by their ability to hit the Villa target, if not penetrate it, Norwich tended to lose their shape and a combination of Villa's excellent link-up play, clever movement and precise finishing, took Villa into the semi-final of the League Cup, and optimism was restored.
It was a very fine night for all Villans and all the talk turned to Wembley. All reminders that we had been here before, after the magnificent Man City rout, were ignored for a few days at least.
But dreams of Wembley or not, it's back to reality this weekend, as Villa travel to Anfield and take on a Liverpool side which has problems of its own, but which are more associated with their failure to make a dent on the top-four, rather than, as at Villa, trying to keep out of the bottom three. So Red scouse have to be considered favourites for this one.
And should Norwich fail to rebound from their midweek defeat and not take all the points off Wigan, or should Villa concede more goals than Wigan, in defeat, Paul Lambert's team will find themselves back in the danger-zone once again by Saturday evening.
For Villa fans looking for something more solid to base their optimism on, other than the next match or their dream signing come January, they would probably be better off looking long-term, and start thinking about Villa's grand plan, which according to a certain rival web-site, is based upon the plan which has brought Borussia Dortmund so much success, in defiance of their financial clout. As all Villa fans don't need reminding, Paul Lambert spent a year of his career at Dortmund, so it doesn't seem too far-fetched to assume that he was strongly influenced by that experience.
Here is what Kieron O'Connor wrote about Dortmund over at http://swissramble.blogspot.co.uk, the only place to go for an education in football finance:
' Dortmund have learned from their past mistakes (and excesses) and adopted a far more sustainable business model in the past few years. They now employ a solid financial strategy, based around the over-riding principle of 'achieving maximum sporting success without taking on more debts.' The focus is primarily on youth, as explained by managing director Thomas Tre▀, 'We learned that you have to invest in your youth, to develop your own stars, adding to your team with young players of potential.'
This investment in relatively cheap, promising young players, rather than the expensive finished article, has been assisted by the foundation in 2011 of the BVB Academy, a modern training centre to develop players between the ages of 19 and 23. Dortmund's youth academy has been a veritable production line for the first team, turning out talent like Mario G÷tze, Marcel Schmelzer and Kevin Gro▀kreutz, while other youngsters like Mats Hummels and Sven Bender have been further developed at Dortmund.'
Substitute the name Villa for Dortmund; compare the situations of the two clubs; compare the way the teams play, and substitute the names of a few of Villa youngsters and the comparison looks completely tenable.
So for those fans who need a long-term vision to inspire them, and in the absence of much reassurance from the club, they need look no further than Dortmund, when they are looking for an alternative model, than the same old, same old, solutions which dominate the imaginations of the Premiership's cheque-book-wielders.
The club might not be saying much these days but the fans certainly have high hopes;
Keep the faith!