COS contributor George Jones laments another season of what might have beens.
Another year gone by, another wasted opportunity. For yet another season, Aston Villa have knocked on the gates of the top four and for yet another season, the third season in a row, the Midlands club have finished sixth. Why has the club struggled to finish the race for fourth in first on so many an occasion despite the increased investment over recent years? Where does it fall apart? The answers lie within the team itself.
During Martin O’Neill’s time in charge, he has made numerous changes to a side who were relegation candidates. Of those signings, some have been class, some not so. To the first category would go signings like Ashley Young, James Milner, Richard Dunne. The latter would see players like Steve Sidwell, Habib Beye and Moustapha Salifou – yeah…who? And don’t forget Heskey of course with his five goals in well…. forty-five appearances. Investment in the club has been tremendous with many of these signings costing quite a number – Milner cost the side around GBP12 million and has turned out to be one of the club’s best signings in recent years.
The style of football appears to be the issue. We have three class English wingers in Milner (who’s recently become a central midfielder), Young and Downing. We have Agbonlahor, one of the quickest players in the world. Villa just aren’t playing the football they should. They have the pace to tear teams apart but the ball isn’t being kept on the deck well enough. Milner holds the centre of the park tremendously well, but partner with Petrov, one of the most inept passers known to man, the style Villa need isn’t present. The front isn’t any better. Agbonlahor and Carew can score, only on occasion though. Don’t get me started on Heskey. What Villa need is a playmaker to play with Milner in the middle if 4-4-2 was the chosen option. Petrov would only see usefulness in a 4-5-1 in the holding role. A 20 goal a season striker is an absolute must also. It took MoN the space of a week or two to fix the defence entirely last summer. So perhaps it could take him the same amount of time to sort the frontlines.
This isn’t to say there hasn’t been progress. There has been a great deal since the introduction of the Lerner/MoN combo four years ago. From being near relegation, they’ve turned the club into top half regulars and even European regulars. There is now the belief that the club could achieve great things within several years, and with O’Neill to stay at the helm for at least one more season, the chance is still there for him to lead the club into the top-flight European competition for the first time in decades. There will be greater competition for those spots more than there has ever been. Manchester City have their limitless spending power. Spurs are…already there. Everton will fight, and Liverpool are going to want what they lost back.
Aston Villa need only add a few quality signings to reach the top four. And no, having Heskey just doesn’t cut it anymore.