No group of people love to indulge in schadenfreude more than football supporters. The club currently on the receiving end of much mirth are Aston Villa. Many observers, myself included, believed that Villa’s comprehensive 3-1 win at Liverpool in December was confirmation of the arrival of a new and exciting team ready to ascend the league table.
That result arrived straight off the back of a five match unbeaten run, which included a 4-1 League Cup rout of Norwich City at Carrow Road only four days previously. Few would have predicted then Villa’s ensuing disastrous run, which has included an 8-0 hammering at Chelsea, home defeats by 4 and 3 goals against Tottenham Hotspur and Wigan Athletic respectively, F.A. Cup defeat at Millwall and, most abjectly, missing a Wembley final in the Capital One Cup by virtue of losing a two-legged semi-final against League Two Bradford City.
For any individual who revels in the discomfort of others, Villa Park would currently be the first place to look for your thrills. There remains a generation however, who will always consider Aston Villa to be a giant of the English game. Founder members of the football league and European Champions in 1982 they are certainly one of the country’s most famous football names.
The Midlands club are in their 24th season back in the top tier after a one year hiatus in 1987/88, and this side is treading a finer line with its prized status than any since that demotion 25 years ago. Parochial rivalries will dictate that the vast majority of followers of Villa’s Midlands’ rivals will wish another relegation to befall the claret and blues. Nevertheless, there are good reasons for the remainder of the football public to hope that Villa survive this troubled season.
A common and loudly heard lament in the English game is the lack of home-grown and young players being given an opportunity in first-teams, not only in those operating in the Champions League, but throughout the Premier League. The argument understandably proffered by clubs such as Wigan Athletic, Newcastle United, Swansea City, and West Bromwich Albion is that greater value for money can be found abroad. For these outfits, and others like them, shopping abroad has broadly worked.
On arriving at Villa though, Paul Lambert made a clear and definitive decision that the money he had to spend would be directed towards recruiting young, exciting, and hungry players, with a clear eye on the future, while simultaneously giving Villains’ fans a fresh feel-good factor at their club after a miserable couple of years, none more so than last term’s dull grind under Alex McLeish.
22 year-old left-back Joe Bennett arrived from Middlesbrough for £2.75m and has now cemented a place in the side, along with fellow full-back, 23 year-old Matthew Lowton who signed from League One Sheffield United for a reported £3m. Ashley Westwood, a promising midfielder from Crewe Alexandra is beginning to establish himself in Villa’s midfield after being captured on the final day of the summer transfer window for £2m.
These sums give lie to the theory that Lambert has been completely deprived of a competitive transfer budget. It has been his determined policy to change the direction of a club which was stagnating. The one significant outlay the Scot has made was on the precociously gifted young Belgian forward Christian Benteke, the 22 year-old signing on the same day as Westwood for £7m, a fee that would already be more than doubled should the man with ten Premier League goals to his name move on.
Amongst the widely documented recent terrible sequence of results that have beset Villa, have been some sparkling away displays that, but for the defensive frailty which is proving so costly, would have brought maximum points. Villa held a two goal lead at West Brom before being pegged back to draw 2-2, and had the same result at Swansea City after leading going into stoppage time.