Ahead of the first leg of Bradford City’s semi final with Aston Villa, The Width of a Post has swapped interviews with the superbly written Villa site, myoldmansaid.com. David Michael answers our questions.
When Bradford City and Aston Villa were drawn together just before Christmas, you guys seemed to be flying after a great win over Liverpool. What on earth happened over Christmas?
Injuries, lack of experience, complacency? In 2010, Villa got beat 7-1 by Chelsea; they went into the game with the best defensive record in the league. It was like the dam finally cracked and broke open. A similar thing happened with the 8-0. The five kids at the back had played out of their skins in the previous games (Ron Vlaar our captain has been out injured).
Chelsea was a [Stamford ] bridge too far. The defence were all over the place against Spurs, Wigan and Swansea too. In terms of how this affects the semi against your good selves? It’s been better to have a wake-up call now, than at Valley Parade. Put it this way, a few Villa fans will be less cocky going into the semi vs Bradford now.
A friend of mine said recently said to me that Villa are “the worst team ever in the Premiership who have never been relegated”. Are you confident you can stay up this season?
You need to replace that friend with someone who knows his footy. Villa have the fifth best record in the Premiership (since Sky TV invented football). I fully expect Villa to stay up and I believe in Lambert’s approach to bring Villa long-term success.
If Villa do go down, I would like everyone who works at the club to resign – the marketing staff, the media staff and unfortunately, Lambert also would have to walk. The head groundsman can stay, because he’s the best in the business!
A lot has been said about Villa going down the route of playing youngsters, yet you have proven senior pros like Shay Given and Darren Bent available. Why are they being overlooked when you are struggling?
The answer to this is mainly found in the answer to the next question. Lambert is playing a principled long-term game. You’ll more than likely see Shay Given play at Valley Parade. He was looking a little shaky before he pulled off two great saves in the previous round. Bent’s injuries haven’t helped him, but he’s mainly fallen victim to Lambert’s preference for a five-man midfield with one up top. When he’s on his game, Benteke is immense as the lone forward. When you’ve got Benteke in your team, you’ve got a chance against any team.
As an outsider looking in, it seems you have gone backwards and backwards since not fully appreciating Martin O’Neill. Where has it gone wrong for the club?
Martin O’Neill’s ultimate failure of not getting Villa into the Top Four is the root of all evil. He was given the money, but bar the odd decent signing, could have been a lot more savvy with it. Many players were signed on inflated wages. When Villa were third in the league and around nine points clear of Arsenal at the turn of the year, he was buying Heskey, while Wenger was buying Arshavin in the January window. He left us with a crippling wage bill (90% approx of Villa’s out-goings were player’s wages). The reason O’Neill allegedly left was down to him wanting Scott Parker, but the board said, enough is enough, and it kicked off from there.
Since, Randy Lerner has made two poor managerial appointments (one that just beggars belief!). Lambert coming in has offered Villa a long-term plan. Trust and build around the club’s talented academy, supplement with other decent young players, and buy a quality star player in key positions to complete the jigsaw. Once the nucleus of the players has played together for a couple of seasons, you’ll have a real team (not a collection of expensive purchases), and if the quality is there, we will be able to challenge for Europe again.
We can’t compete head-on with the top four or five in terms of affording or attracting big names, so we need to build a team in a more old school patient way. Although, the average age of the Villa team that last won the league in 1981 was just over 24. It’s 23 at the moment, so we might only have to wait a year!
Is Paul Lambert the right man?
I think so. He has a plan and he’s sticking to it. He’s a European Cup winner as a player and has an open-mind to European leagues and their players. He found Benteke after all, and Vlaar looks to be a good buy, if he doesn’t become plagued by injury. Lambert has also got a bit of Ron Saunders’ no nonsense attitude to him.
The only problem he’s got is in today’s media/social media age everyone wants instant results, while he’s trying to build something solid for the future. A League Cup semi-final (and possible final) seems to be an instant success though, that he’s not getting much acknowledgement for!
Realistically, where do Villa fans believe they should be competing in the league? I doubt you’ll expect to challenge for the Premier League, but surely just staying up isn’t enough?
Villa should be sniffing around to qualify for Europe every season. This is Lambert’s long-term plan. As I’ve said above, we can’t compete in terms of buying the top continental players with the Manc or London clubs, but with Lambert’s scouting network, we can unearth Euro gems like Benteke to supplement our tight-knit home grown academy players who have a winning mentality and are all friends. Give it a couple of years and we’ll be able to slug it out again with the best.
How do you view the League Cup semi final with Bradford City? Is it a big game or a distraction?
It’s a big game for sure. I don’t know why, but people seemed to have forgotten that football is about winning trophies. I think managers who throw away cup games are idiots (O’Neill and Gerard Houllier have been guilty of this). When you get the managers of teams like Wolves, Stoke, etc, making 10 changes for a cup game to concentrate on the league, it’s selling football supporters short. It’s not as if they’re resting players to concentrating on winning the league! In terms of the League Cup, the likes of Middlesbrough, Leicester City and Birmingham City have all won the trophy in recent years, you try telling those supporters it wasn’t important. I’m sure it helps them get through the bad times.
Ultimately this attitude of devaluing the cups is cheating the fans, because there’s nothing better for supporters than a trip to Wembley or the drama of semi-finals – games with a do-or-die outcome. It sure beats watching somebody else’s team on TV in a Champion’s League group game, which the media have brain-washed punters into believing is more exciting than watching their own team in a domestic cup game! Of course, it’s all about the money… I’m getting a head of steam for a rant here.
It’s over 10 years since Bradford City were in the Premier League. Do you have any memories of us from back then?
I actually spend most of 2000-1 season in Australia, so only followed from afar. So I missed Stan Collymore on his last legs, in mercenary mode playing for anybody who would pay him, before the PR masterstroke of using an apparent depression (‘shame’ more like) to wipe away all his sins, was utilised to open the door to a media career. Benito Carbone was much more fun.
I remember 1987-88 more vividly. Villa looked like they were keen on throwing away promotion in the final stretch with three loses on trot and a draw before the decider against Bradford at Villa Park; when Platt settled it with a header 1-0. People forget what a close call that season was. Bradford missed out by a whisker, a point at Villa Park and you would have been promoted. Villa would have missed out and Graham Taylor would have never ended up as England manager…So we can blame Bradford for ‘The Turnip’!
How do you see the first leg going on Tuesday?
Well, your main concern at Valley Parade will be the Villa crowd. I went to the last round at Norwich. After half-time, Villa were jittery at 1-1, with Norwich in the ascendancy, but then the Villa fans just took over. It was one of our best away supporter showings in recent years (and we’re normally pretty good). It completely inspired the players to a 4-1 win. Also, I think a lot will depend on whose fit in Villa’s defence. If either Vlaar or Baker are back, it will make the game a lot more comfortable for Villa. You’ll also have to tame the Beast that is Benteke.
Bradford’s best hope is if you can stop us from scoring any away goals. If you keep a clean sheet (win or draw), it gets very interesting. Tranmere, a division below us at the time, were 3-0 up in the semi first leg in 1994, but conceded a Villa goal in the last minute. It totally changed the tie, and set up one of the all-time Villa Park classics in the second legs (that I was honoured to be at). I don’t think I could take the drama again, if Bradford take Villa to such a climatic finish…especially since I hear you’re rather good at penalty shoot-outs!
We’ve been decent away from home in the cup, but I’d be happy with a draw in the first leg, as I’m confident we’d finish off the job at Villa Park.
All the best and let’s hope for a cracking cup tie.
A big thanks to David from My Old Man Said.