Then and Now At Villa (13)
After the frankly many terrible displays during the 2011-2013 period and their continuation into 2013-14, manager Paul Lambert finally conceded that the team lacked quality in midfield. Specifically that Villa were missing a 'number 10' of the Cowans/Merson mould, so we can say that it's been a very long time indeed since we had a 'general' that could ping a few balls about to good effect, and to make us believe that football is not just about huff and puff.
The 1990s saw a trickle of fine players come and go but in the midfield area (after Cowans and Platt had departed) there was no further playmaker of great note until the veteran Paul Merson arrived in late 1998, despite the earlier contribution of Richardson then Townsend and then Draper.
And since Paul Merson left in the early 2000s, there has been no-one able to replace him in that particular role of his, as an inspirational playmaker. With the absence of high midfield quality ince 2003, Villa's style has depended considerably more on speed and effort. During O'Neill's time in office, the presence of Barry, Young, Petrov and Milner had glossed over the need for a specific inspirational player. Indeed, they have become harder to come by, and a young one would cost a fortune.
So, in the arrival of Joe Cole we have a possibility that causes me to equate with the arrival of Peter Broadbent in the Autumn of 1966. Like Broadbent, Joe Cole is a player that has probably seen his best days and has suffered injury, and though he was never a 'general' in the sense that Woosnam, Broadbent Cowans or Merson were, my mind does boggle to think that Cole may just have that matured skill of being able to 'sit and ping' searching balls to his Benteke-led strike-force, exploiting their strengths and pace. It's quite a thought; I pray that's what transpires. Former midfielder Paul Lambert may have had that vision when he signed Cole.
But the cynic in me will of course say 'Well, what if Cole gets injured for some time. We're then back to square one, aren't we?'. And that cynic may well have a point. And, also, 'where is the player that will help stem the opponents' ability to break through?'
We have a potentially interesting season coming up. Let's hope the cynic will be shown just how wrong he is. As another Lambert (Wellington's divisional commander, General Lambert) said to my 40th of Foot ancestor at Waterloo: 'Go for it young man; go and ping those balls of yours and send 'em scurrying back to whence they came!'
Up the Villa!
For more history and stats , why not visit John's history site: www.lerwill-life.org.uk/astonvilla/. Further, why not enjoy an in-depth read of Villa's history? Click here for more info.