I feel compelled to write something regarding a football club which I have supported, albeit mainly from a distance, since I was a boy. The last disgraceful episode in the history of Aston Villa Fc was the 3-0 defeat at Doncaster in the league cup. I can take nothing away from Doncaster, who played like lions on the night. They were full of running and pressurised us from the word go. However the point here is that a team of Aston Villa's obvious size, standing and sometimes glorious past should have been far too much for even the bravest of lower division teams. This was not a one off; sadly it was indicative of the general malaise which seems to have set in at the club over the last two years.
Here is a good example. Our £9million pound club record signing, Juan Pablo Angel strolled round the park (when he did actually move) looking like he did not want to be there. For the most part he loped towards the opposition penalty area when we got forward and then stood around waiting for something to happen. I am no expert in the art of striking, but from many hours watching some of the best strikers in the world even I can tell that a good striker will make something happen, not wait for it to fall into his lap. The fact that he has only managed to score this season against lowly Wickham Wanderers, in an earlier round of the cup, I think says it all.
Liam Ridgewell had a nightmare against Doncaster, giving away a penalty and being lucky not to concede another only a few minutes earlier, however, the fact that he was so noticeably bad at least confirmed some effort on his part. Thomas Sorenson played well throughout and the 3-0 score line will look badly on his record, but was mainly down to shambolic defending. Gareth Barry also had a good game, frequently getting down the left on Doncaster’s wide pitch. However whenever he did so the moves were broken up by the fact that no one was making the runs into the centre for him and our static strikers were being easily marked by defenders they should have been running rings round.
Perhaps the only other player I cannot fault for effort was Milan Barros, who unfortunately looked like he did not relish the cold and his touch on the ball was often well short of what we know he is capable of. I think the game perhaps turned on the penalty claim which TV replays show was an abject penalty when Milan Barros was chopped down in the box. Villa seemed to give up after the penalty was turned down. That aside Doncaster should have had another one when Liam Ridgewell very deliberately shoulder barged one of their players off the ball.
Considering that the league cup was our only realistic chance of success this season, you would have thought that we could have expected a little bit more from the players. It seems to me that the hunger has gone from the side and we have accepted the mid-table mediocrity that is so often the result of a long hard season. And indeed, the league position suggests that they think that even that will be handed to them on a plate. Quite simply it is not good enough. These players are earning - a very loose definition of the word - thousands of pounds per week, and much of that comes out of the ordinary supporters pockets.
I know for a fact that Aston Villa have some of the most fiercely loyal supporters in the land, which perhaps explains why they continue to spend money on substandard products rather than shop elsewhere. However you cannot help thinking that in years to come, unless things change radically, this will not be the case. In today’s society where more and more people are moving away from their towns of birth for employment and social reasons, clubs cannot rely on regional association to maintain their fan base and success, however infrequent, is the only thing which will keep the fans returning.
Aston Villa has always been considered the bigger of the two Birmingham clubs and indeed Birmingham is the second largest city in England. To not have a football team in the top half of the table challenging for honours is unacceptable, or at the very least, surreal.
I have been reading recently that Doug Ellis has finally decided to relinquish control of the club. Doug has done very well for Aston Villa over the years (I am not one of those who blames him for our demise) and has managed to keep the business in a very strong position financially when so many other clubs are in deep financial trouble. Unfortunately the world of football has moved on from when Doug started and it is time for a fresh injection of cash and some new faces to try and revive the club. I sincerely believe it is time for a wholesale change in personnel at the club, players and manager alike.
Irish property developers the Comer Brothers and Michael Neville who are looking to purchase Villa for around £64million will certainly inject some cash to be spent on players, but my cynical side tells me giving it to a manager who fails to inspire his team will merely lead to a squandering of a golden opportunity. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against David O'Leary as a manager and I think in the right circumstances he is very capable. I am suggesting, however, that he has become associated with the failures of Villa over the past couple of years and retaining him for much longer will keep that link to the bad days, when the club needs much more positive input. Likewise Juan Pablo Angel. He is simply another in the long line of expensive strikers who have moved to Villa and failed to live up to their potential. He is a very talented individual and I think perhaps he would benefit from a change of clubs. It is time to cut our losses.
For the Villa fans, we can only hope that the new year brings a new attitude at the club and that things will improve - lets face it, they can’t get much worse after a 3-0 defeat at Doncaster!
John Millward http://www.lazybugger.com