Too Good To Go Down: Dreading the Finish Line with Aston Villa

(Photo Credit: Laurence Griffiths and The Mirror)

(Photo Credit: Laurence Griffiths and The Mirror)

So my first full season following The Villa is coming to a nail-biting conclusion, and I can wholeheartedly assure you that the results have been anything but what I expected. After Villa’s excellent start to the season I was expecting a staunchly mid table performance from the club which would give me amble time to familiarize myself with the Premier League without too much tension. Instead I now find myself sitting 4 games out from the end of the season with Villa only 2 points removed from relegation. Considering the fact that to start the season one of my beloved Men in Blazers (Michael Davies) chose Villa as one of his 3 preseason picks to get relegated, I probably should have been more prepared for a rocky ride, but I wasn’t. But in spite of it all I can’t help but attach myself to one pig-headed conclusion: this team is too good to go down.

And thankfully, that seems to be a point that many pundits are making too. And don’t confuse this with the nonsensical mantra I heard from many Villa fans during the worst parts of this season; that the club is too Big to go down. Newcastle taught us that that doesn’t matter in 2009 when they were shockingly relegated. But that isn’t what we’re talking about here. Rather, this Villa team is absolutely loaded with Premier League Caliber talent as evidenced by the fact that they just beat Liverpool in the FA Cup Semi-Finals and will be taking on Arsenal May 30th at Wembley with a chance to take home the Cup.

(Photo Credit: Glyn Kirk, AFP)

(Photo Credit: Glyn Kirk, AFP)

Those late season, on the field performances justified this notion, but in all honesty this proof wasn’t even necessary for me personally. Let’s rewind for just a second and discuss. Say what you will about Paul Lambert as a coach. This season the team had clearly quit on him meaning he needed to go. However, the guy is an absolute dream when it comes to player acquisitions. Not only did Lambert have a spectacular eye for talent, he was also a shrewd business man capable of operating within Randy Lerner’s increasingly finite financial restrictions on the club. Time and again throughout his tenure Lambert brought in excellent young players or cagey veterans alike, but always on bargain deals good for the club and for the disinterested owner.

Image via Getty Images

Image via Getty Images

This season was no different as, during the January Transfer Window Lambert not only managed to bring in the electric (though now sadly unused) Carles Gil in an attempt to revitalize the Villa offense (which he temporarily did practically single-handedly), but also a versatile and much needed winger in Scott Sinclair who is still in the prime of his career. Add to that the fact that he shrewdly avoided paying an inflated fee to keep the then under-performing Tom Cleverley AND stuck to his guns to keep the price down on Sinclair as well, and you had yet another superb example of Lambert’s expert ability to bring in Premier League talent at under-market value prices. An excessively important skill at a club with an ownership situation like the one Villa has.

Now, none of that helped the team win. I understand that. This same roster which is undeniably stocked with quality players (Delph and Cleverley have earned caps for the English National team, Benteke is a beast who still hasn’t even discovered the full depth of his abilities, Ciaran Clark and Jores Okore are a talented burgeoning duo of center backs paired with the stud Ron Vlaar, and Jack Grealish has been a revelation the last few games… to name just a few…) was drastically underachieving and didn’t seem to care that they were about to get a proud club relegated. A new voice was undeniably necessary, but in spite of the team’s abysmal performance it was obvious that the talent was there. In the end, then, I was sad to see Lambert go because of all the great work he had done putting this squad together, but grateful to see a change which would hopefully reignite the club.

(Photo Credit: Carl Recine, Reuters)

(Photo Credit: Carl Recine, Reuters)

I was not, however, pleased with who the club decided to bring in to replace Lambert. In my limited time following the club I had sold myself on Lambert as an intellectual type who would be much better suited to front office jobs, player analysis and acquisition than the fiery, on pitch tasks of a manager. However, I still enjoyed the idea of having someone who I felt was ‘smart’ running my football club. So it did not enjoy the idea that my club would now employ “Tactics Tim,” a manager almost universally ridiculed for his over-enthusiasm, and simpleton’s tactics. However, what I wasn’t considering was just how demoralized and desensitized the players had become under Lambert. In truth, Sherwood was exactly what the club needed.

Screw tactics. Screw technique. Screw intelligence. This team needed some freaking passion. And that is exactly what Tim Sherwood brings.

It may look comical. We may be mocked by other fans and pundits. But screw it, if it keeps us in the League who cares. With Sherwood at the helm the players are finally playing somewhere close to their talent level, and if we’re lucky that will be enough to keep us in the League.

Certainly there are still flaws, and certainly the club has not been built back up to the form it should be at. But the talent is there. The team give a crap. The fans finally have something entertaining to watch and have hope again. We just need to get through this season at this point. If we can just avoid relegation in these next four games (still a massive feat admittedly) it will all be worth it. I see no reason Villa can’t scrap together enough points to stay ahead of Sunderland, QPR, Burney, and even a resurgent Leicester. And heck, we might even have enough life in us to overtake a floundering Hull or Newcastle. This team does not deserve to go down. They have the talent of a Premier League Side and the last few weeks they’ve finally started playing like it. Under Sherwood the seemingly moribund team found  a pulse, and now we’re inches away from staying alive for one more year.

(Photo Credit: REUTERS)

(Photo Credit: REUTERS)

There will certainly be growing pains that we have to pay for next year. Sherwood has never purchases a player before. Ever. In his entire (albeit brief) career as a Premier League manager which could really hurt this off-season when compared to the successes of Lambert’s acquisitions. However, in all honestly the team shouldn’t even need much more talent. If the team stays up we should stand a fair chance at resigning anyone we need off of this year’s roster, and will likely only lose Vlaar who has become replaceable with the emergence of Clark and Okore anyway. As long as we stay up and don’t need to initiate an immediate fire-sale we should be able to bring back the vast majority of this year’s admittedly deep team, and hopefully without the lack of motivation and enthusiasm which plagued the club for long stretches this season (I mean… we had to cancel the goal of the month contest for October because we didn’t score a single goal all month…….) we should be able to leverage that talent into a staunchly mid table performance next season (which I for one honestly welcome at this point).

This team has talent to spare this season. Villa is a big club with Premier League caliber players and now (at long last) a little freaking enthusiasm and swagger coming on the back of their FA Cup Semifinal win. The battle is far from won thus far, but there is still no doubt in my mind that this club is too good to go down. A disaster could still come, and it would absolutely devastate this club, but for the time being I feel like we need a little optimism and faith. This team and these players belong in the Premier League no matter what their abysmal record is. Now let’s just hope we go out and prove it this weekend against Everton. I don’t care if the media mock us for it, I want to celebrate every point we get from here until the end of the season like we just won the freaking League. Because if we don’t get those points, we won’t even be in the League to get mocked next year.

(Photo Credit Michael Regan)

(Photo Credit Michael Regan)

Advertisements

New Blood and New Hope: The Signing of Carles Gil

(Image via AVFC.com and Getty Images)

(Image via AVFC.com and Getty Images)

Amid heavy pressure from Villa fans, and threats of a Holte End protest Paul Lambert has done what he does best and bring new, cheap talent into the club by purchasing former Valencia and Elche man Carles Gil for a price somewhere around £3.2 million. But before we get into this let’s start with why the move was necessary.

First and foremost, Villa can’t score goals. They are on pace to be a historically low scoring team. They have only scored 11 goals all season and are on pace for 20 goals all season if this keeps up. That would tie the Premier League record for fewest goals in a season, and to make matters worse, no club in BPL history has ever scored fewer than 28 goals and avoided relegation. So that’s cheery. And this whole “lack of goals” things sure makes it hard to win. Villa are win-less in their last 6 matches, and in that stretch lost games to midlands rival West Bromich Albion (a team flirting with relegation all year) and Leicester City (when they were bottom of the table no less). So clearly, as things currently stand Villa are flirting with disaster and relegation. Time for change then, yes? Yes.

Yup, definitely time for change.

Yup, definitely time for change.

But what kind of change? Well, Villa’s defense is clearly not the problem, and is in fact and massive, Herculean strength. The fact that they have only scored 11 goals all year, and are somehow in 13th place is absolutely astounding. The two teams with the next lowest scoring totals are Sunderland and Burnley with 18 and 19 respectively, so it isn’t even close. Aston Villa is the worst offensive team in the League by far, and yet Burnley is in 17th place and Sunderland is in 16th place (just outside of the relegation zone) while Villa sit (relatively) safe from relegation (for now) in 13th place. This shouldn’t even be possible, but thanks to Villa’s spectacular defense, it is. In fact, their 23 goals allowed number is 5th best in the League, and the only four teams who have allowed fewer goals than them this season? Are the 4 teams on top of the League. So clearly a defense this good belongs at the top of the table, not down in the basement flirting with relegation. Again, the offense is the problem.

Time to sign a flashy new striker then? That’s what struggling offensive teams do right? Wrong. In this case anyone. Christian Benteke has all the talent to be one of the ten best goal scorers in the Premier League. The guy is amazing. Seriously. Just check him out.

He basically just embarrassed the entire Crystal Palace team by himself there. And if you noticed there wasn’t a single other Villa shirt nearby helping him there. And then of course there’s the fact that he’s capable of this…

So clearly, the issue isn’t our Striker. The problem is that no one can ever find him with the ball. We have apparently 0 setup men on this team. Its the midfield where our offense stalls. Enter: Carles Gil. A natural central attacking midfielder, the hope is that Gil will be able to get the ball up to our freak of nature finisher and generate some goals. We’ll find out if that’s how this game-plan plays out tomorrow when Villa take on Liverpool, but from what I understand of the guy that shouldn’t be an issue. Gil’s main issues in Spain were playing time related, not talent related, so as long as Lambert gives him consistent time on the pitch (something he hasn’t been kind enough to do for other players in the past) things should work themselves out.

So… that’s how we ended up in this predicament of fan rage and potential protests, and Lambert’s plan to fix the problem. Honestly I have a fair amount of confidence that Gil will be a success. This is due to the fact that Lambert’s best attribute, as far as I can tell, appears to be finding quality talent at bargain prices.

(Photo Credit: Chris Brunskill, Getty Images Europe)

(Photo Credit: Chris Brunskill, Getty Images Europe)

Aly Cissokho (another signing from Valencia) has been great for Villa all season, and Lambert dug him up for only £2 million. Philippe Senderos was a great plug in for the injured Ron Vlaar early in the season until he himself went down, and Lambert brought him in off a free transfer. He also brought in Jores Okore (along with Ciaran Clark one of the two young players Villa fans hope will be the core of their defensive back line for a decade) last year for only £4 million. And let’s not forget that during his first year with the club Lambert brought in Benteke, Westwood, and Vlaar… three of the core components to this club. And Lambert has done all this without the budget of an Arsenal or a Chelsea. The man is clearly good at scouting talent and paying the right price for them, and under his reign Villa’s roster may be more talented than its been for years. So why aren’t they winning?

(Photo Credit: Laurence Griffiths and The Mirror)

(Photo Credit: Laurence Griffiths and The Mirror)

Villa fans, in my opinion, have every right to be angry. Villa is a big club. A huge club. They have more rich history than nearly any club in England, and are even the oldest club in the country. They’re a founding member of the Premier League, and they don’t deserve this. They are not a 13th place club. They are not a club that should score the fewest goals in Premier League history. And they are certainly not a club that should be worried about relegation.

I, however, still have mixed feelings. To put things in American terms, I have to assume that Lambert simply isn’t a good coach. He can’t make his players perform on the pitch no matter what his talent pool looks like. He has never succeeded at Villa (unless you consider avoiding relegation success… which at this point I almost do…) no matter how much talent he brings in. However, whatever his shortcomings may be in terms of on field tactics, his marketplace tactics are absolutely superb. He finds players who are undervalued by other clubs and swoops in for bargain deals on Premier League caliber plaeyrs. He has done this so consistently that it is obvious to me that, again in American terms, he is the best General Manager in the BPL. And for that reason I would be incredibly unhappy to see him go.

Image via Getty Images

Image via Getty Images

I feel like I’ve seen the reverse of this situation many times in American sports. A guy will be a great coach and succeed so wildly that ownership let’s him be his own GM and pick his own players. Almost invariably, however, the guy ends up shooting himself in the foot and making terrible personnel decisions, signing guys to horrible contracts and wasting money left and right, drastically crippling the club. In fact a little bit of that is going on right now with my hometown Detroit Pistons where new Coach and President Stan Van Gundy made the horrendous decision to keep Josh Smith on the roster resulting in a 5-23 record to start the season. So in any event, it seems easy to me to strip a Coach of GM duties and let him keep coaching. It seems impossible (especially looking at the way the BPL and world football function) to remove coaching duties from a manager, but let him continue making personnel choices.

So in the end, I really hope this Gil signing works out. I hope Aston Villa’s offense shows stupendous promise, they avoid relegation, and everything begins to improve as we set the table for a more successful season next year. I’d love to keep Lambert on the team, and I would hope he could surround himself with enough quality assistant coaches to improve the on field product if his coaching ability is truly lacking. In the end though all I really want is for Villa to win, and I don’t really care if that is with or without Lambert. I just want the frustration to end, and to get some hope back. So Carles Gil, welcome to Birmingham. I hope you’re ready to create some goals.

Image via Valenciacf.com

Image via Valenciacf.com

Another Day, Another Draw: Aston Villa’s Season of Squandering and Surviving

Image via Aston Villa Twitter at https://twitter.com/AVFCOfficial/status/551760819940524032/photo/1

I know Alan Hutton… I know… I don’t get it either…(Image via Aston Villa Twitter at https://twitter.com/AVFCOfficial/status/551760819940524032/photo/1)

Aston Villa drew against Crystal Palace last Thursday. Their seventh draw on the season to go with 8 losses and only 5 wins.  What’s more disappointing, however, is the fact that this recent stretch of mediocrity has been against the league’s worst competition. Early on in the season I thought that Villa’s woes were due in large part to multiple key starts (in fact… ALL the team’s stars) missing time for various injuries (Benteke, Vlaar, and Delph), but even with those guys back Villa have STILL looked mediocre on whole.

Now, I’m not saying I thought Aston Villa were supposed to be world beaters this year. In fact, they’re performing only slightly worse than I thought they would. The defense is far better than I expected but the offense has been practically nonexistent.

So with the January Transfer Window now upon us I can’t help but wonder about a couple key concerns from earlier in the season. That is to say, the fate’s of both Fabian Delph and Ron Vlaar. Both guys’ contracts are up at the end of this season, and like many fans I was rather desperate to see the team find a way to keep them beyond this season when the year began (even though Delph for one showed little to no interest in returning to the club). However, I have a new series of thoughts.

 

Vlaar I would obviously love to keep because he’s a staunch defender, a great team player who doesn’t really complain or vocalizes frustrations, and he’s the friggin’ team captain for pete’s sake. HOWEVER, with the burgeoning (apparently although its been a very small sample size) pair of center backs we have in Ciaran Clark and Jores Okore, and considering the sturdy play of veterans Philippe Senderos and Nathan Baker earlier in the year, it is entirely possible we don’t NEED Vlaar. During the long stretch Vlaar missed this year the defense remained stout even without the captain. If we’re going to be solid on defense and slightly below average as a team with him, and solid but slightly below average without him, then why worry about it? If Vlaar wants to join his Dutch countrymen Van Gaal and Van Persie at Manchester United, and refill AVFC’s coffer’s in the meantime then so be it.

Delph is an even more bitter case for me. He has openly expressed interest in leaving the club, and at this point I see no reason why Villa shouldn’t accomodate. The guy is constantly hurt and even when he plays he hasn’t been producing. He’s made a handful of great runs this year, but has yet to score a goal. His runs often end in a bad shot (not caused entirely by Delph’s selfishness but also poor positioning by his teammates… but the result is the same) and no goal, so who cares? He doesn’t want to be here. The offense is atrocious without him, but its atrocious with him as well. He’s on pace to miss half the season anyway, and the possibility only becomes more likely with his national team duties. We have noone to replace him with, but I’m kindof fed up with Delph at the moment. Maybe we need to make way for the Jack Grealish Era and hope for the best.

But transfer’s aren’t what I’m here to talk about. What I really wanted to talk about was the idea that Villa (as foolish as this may sound considering preseason expectations) are squandering a real opportunity here. By all accounts this year began as a wide open Premier League season where it appeared anyone could make a run. Indeed, Southampton have spent nearly the entire year in the top four. Newcastle, after their disastrous start (losses against everyone but Villa with whom they drew…. of course… EVERYONE can beat Newcastle, but Villa…) had a stint in the top four. West Ham looked like real contenders for a couple weeks. Hell, Villa themselves were even in the top four for a hot minute.

Now, none of these showings has proved to be all too lasting with the exception of Southampton who remain in the 4 slot as I’m writing this. My point, however, is that the Premier League narrative is generally about the dominant big clubs. Five/Six giants (Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester City/Tottenham) fighting it out over the top 4 slots. Occasionally their narrative of dominance is upset by some upstart (yet still big) club like Everton tried to do last season or Newcastle tried in 2011/12, but its generally the same teams near the top. This year, however, things have been blown wide open for large stretches of the season. Arsenal and Tottenham have looked mediocre for large stretches and Liverpool appears to be downright bad without Luis Suarez. That’s 3 of the Big 6ish who could easily be overtaken, and multiple clubs have tried.

Photo credit AP and http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/players/luis-suarez/10524190/Liverpool-open-talks-to-make-Luis-Suarez-their-highest-paid-player-ever.html

Oh Luis Suarez… how Liverpool does miss your comically toothy grin and finger pistols. (Photo credit AP and http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/players/luis-suarez/10524190/Liverpool-open-talks-to-make-Luis-Suarez-their-highest-paid-player-ever.html)

Villa, however, outside of their great start to the season (10 points in 5 games) have done nothing to take advantage of the fact that this year seems to provide an opening for the lesser clubs of the premier league. Now, in truth they simply don’t have the horses to do so, so I can’t be too disappointed. However, as a Kentucky football fan I can’t help thinking that Aston Villa are squandering an opportunity here.

You see, the SEC East (the division in which Kentucky plays) is much like the Premier League in that it has traditionally been dominated by 3 powerhouse schools: Tennessee, Florida, and Georgia. This left “bottom-feeders” like Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina to languish at the bottom of the table, so to speak. Recently, however, there was a 3-4 year gap from about 2010 to the 2013 or 14 where those traditional powers (ESPECIALLY Tennessee) were been down, opening a window for the lesser schools to jump into the upper ranks.

In practice this meant South Carolina. Here are the standings of the SEC East from 2009 (the last year of traditional outcomes before the shift) to 2014/15, this season the first year where the shift appears to be reversing.

SEC East standings

Now, the SEC expanded before the 2013 season and Missouri joined the SEC East which throws things off slightly, but the larger point is still valid (just imagine Missouri isn’t there). South Carolina gained the most by Tennessee’s large downfall and the relative downfalls of Florida and Georgia. They became a year in year out power in the SEC East. They’re Southampton in this parallel. A team that appears poised to cling to a top 4 spot all year, and punch their ticket to the Champions League next season. Vanderbilt (under then coach James Franklin) represent the West Hams or Newcastles of the league. A team that gained a lot by this down period, but never quite parlayed it into a division crown (or top 4 berth) the way South Carolina and Southampton did respectively.

 

And then there’s Kentucky. Under then coach Joker Phillips Kentucky did absolutely nothing during this period where the division turned itself upside down and traditional “worst” teams could jettison themselves up to “first” status. They completely squandered a 4 year period where the division was wide open. Moreover, even though Kentucky now has a new head coach, Mark Stoops, who is making all the right moves, and has the program better than it has looked in decades, it may be too late.

(Photo Credit: UK Athletics)

(Photo Credit: UK Athletics)

Stoops is now competing against the old powers again. The old boogeymen are back, meaning Stoops has to fight a battle 10x harder than Joker had to fight. He may still succeed, but his task is much harder than it would have been to make a move during those down years. And that, my friends, is your Aston Villa parallel.

Aston Villa are honestly making me happy just by not getting relegated. With how bad that offense looks I’ll be happy if we can just start new next August and still be in the Premier League. But it is incredibly frustrating to watch a golden opportunity like this slip through your fingers. A team with Delph, Vlaar, and Benteke shouldn’t be this bad. And they should be able to compete in a season where the big powers are down like this. Aston Villa are using this down environment to simply “survive” rather than “thrive.” This is frustrating as a fan, and worrying for the long term. If we can only “survive” in a season where we AREN’T getting pounded on by everyone else, what happens when the big clubs bounce back?

If things really go sound and Villa end up relegated, what then? Look at other Big/Dormant type clubs like Villa that have been sent down. Sheffield Wednesday were a founding member of the Premier League, but they got relegated in 2000 and haven’t been back up since. A full decade and a half. That could easily be Villa’s fate if they fall down to the championship. There is no reason to think the current ownership (considering the fact that Lerner is trying to sell the team) will pump any money into the club at the Championship level than he is diong at the Premier League level. Things can only get worse, and if Villa are relegated I doubt they’ll come back up until they get new owners.

Overall I think Villa will do enough to not get relegated this year. They won’t take advantage of this opportunity and make a run. It’s too late for that with their record anyway, and they can’t even score goals against bad teams at this point. But hopefully their cavalcade of draws will keep them in the BPL for another year. Things need to change though or Villa have dark days ahead. Kentucky has been saved by the fact that they are now the best they’ve been in years, even though their rivals rose too. If Villa’s rivals raise the ante, and they don’t answer we’re in for a rough ride. Hopefully they can do it, but I don’t know… as I write this they’re in the 80th minute of a nil nil draw with Blackpool in the FA cup… so I don’t exactly feel confident.

[EDIT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!]

But Benteke just scored a beauty in the 88th minute to win the game for Villa 1-0! So maybe I’m too pessimistic, and there’s hope after all. In Benteke we trust. Just score goals baby.

 

Promising Beginnings and Unexpectedly Early Crossroads

Aston_Villa.svg

With the international break now upon us, I figure its time for some reflection on my first season as a Premier League fan. So far I couldn’t be happier about my experience. Villa came out with a great start (10 points in 4 games including a win against Liverpool), and even though they’ve struggled of late (3 losses to Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester City) that was to be expected, and they looked good anyway. Paul Lambert has somehow rebuilt Villa’s back line in one fell swoop over the summer (taking Alan Hutton out of the dog house back to the starting lineup at Right Back and playing new signees Philippe Senderos at Center Back and Aly Cissokho at Left Back). Missing the captain Ron Vlaar is obviously not ideal but both Ciaran Clark and Nathan Baker haven’t looked bad at all filling in for him at Center Back. However, both of them have missed what looked to be sure fire goals off of set pieces which is not ideal. Particularly worrisome because goal scoring and even shot generation appear to be major problem areas for Villa thus far.

With Vlaar out Lambert seems to play much more conservatively, using Kieran Richardson in the midfield as an extra defender of sorts instead of someone such as Joe Cole (still dinged up) or Jack Grealish (still too young to really be the guy anyway, as assistant coach and beard aficionado Roy Keane has elucidated), both of whom would enter the game more offensively minded. So as much as I love the hard working, gritty defense of this Villa squad, its a little painful to see the lack of offensive creativity and a seeming refusal by Lambert to push the ball forward.. like… ever…

However, even with that said the team has still been incredibly fun to watch, and there is ample reason for hope on the horizon. Vlaar should be returning soon, and perhaps with his captain back anchoring the back line, Lambert will take the risk to inject a guy like Cole (as long as he has anything left in the tank at this point in his career) into the starting line up and generate some scoring chances. Moreover, star striker Christian Benteke (Villa’s leading scorer the last 2 seasons even with a season-ending injury last year) finally made his return to the first team against Man City, which will obviously be a huge offensive boost.

Having Benteke back is sure to boost Villa's offense (Image via Getty Images)

Having Benteke back is sure to boost Villa’s offense (Image via Getty Images)

But all isn’t completely rosy moving into the international break. For one thing Senderos appears to have gotten injured on international duty and will miss the Everton game. But the larger issue is the persistent issue of money at the Villa of recent times. With all the uncertainty around Randy Lerner’s attempted sale of the team there is no knowing what kinds of funds are available to Lambert to build, or even maintain his squad. He, along with new Chief Executive Tom Fox, flew to the US this week to meet with Lerner and discuss finances and contracts. Specifically (we assume) contracts for Ron Vlaar, Fabian Delph, and Jack Grealish, all three of whom will be out of contract this summer, meaning the club could potentially lose them for nothing.

(Image Credit: Neville Williams)

(Image Credit: Neville Williams)

The Grealish issue appears to have largely resolved itself as he seems close to a new deal with the club, as evidenced by his pulling out of Ireland’s recent match to hammer out contract details during this international break. If all goes as planned and Grealish re-signs it will be a huge boon for the club. Locking up Grealish (only 19 and considered a bright rising star in the league) will mean the club has secured a cornerstone for its long term future.

Vlaar is the lynchpin to Villa's defense, and the captian should remain a cornerstone of the club for years to come (image via astonvilla.co.uk)

Vlaar is the lynchpin to Villa’s defense, and the captian should remain a cornerstone of the club for years to come (image via astonvilla.co.uk)

The larger concern, however, is the short to mid term future of the club. And here’s where we come to Delph and Vlaar. Vlaar’s importance is obvious. He’s the captain and the anchor of that defense. Without him the club needs to play more conservatively all over the pitch which as we’ve seen during his time out with injury, means little offense and fewer goals, which I’m sure you’re aware is not a winning recipe.

(Image via http://www.avfc.co.uk/page/NewsDetail/0,,10265~3334030,00.html)

(Image via http://www.avfc.co.uk/page/NewsDetail/0,,10265~3334030,00.html)

Losing Delph, however, would perhaps be even more damning. His offensive creativity represents one of the few bright spots of Villa’s offense. He’s a rising star in the league, and for England, and losing him would absolutely set the club back on its current rebuilding stint.

Lerner is obviously reluctant to sink too much more money into a club which he apparently has lost interest in owning. Moreover, Vlaar and Delph may not even want to return to a Villa side that has nearly been relegated 3 years in a row. Delph appears primed to become a major piece for England’s international squad, and even to become a top player in the Premier League. He may value a chance to play for titles on the top clubs in the League over staying with the rebuilding Villa. Vlaar meanwhile, has already proved himself to be a major international player after Holland’s run to the final 4 of the 2014 World Cup.

As far as I see it Villa is set to make the next (perhaps first) big step in their rebuilding process this season. This is primed to be the year that they leap up from the relegation danger zone (15th-20th) to solidly mid table, which in light of recent events (16th – 2011/12, 15th – 2012/13, 15th – 2013/14) is a much bigger deal than it would seem at first. They could probably land anyway from 7th to 14th in the table this year, and I’d take that happily I think. It would mean we secured our status as a Premier League team for next season, but more importnatly it would give us the opportunity to build on that improvement and keep on growing. Young players like Grealish, Benteke, and Ashley Westwood could continue to grow and develop. We could ensure that the Tom Cleverly loan becomes permanent. And we could use both the January and Summer transfer windows to further improve the team, hopefully with as resounding a success as the signings of Senderos and Cissokho have proved to be thus far.

YOU STAY AWAY FROM MY DUTCHMAN LOUIS VAN GAAL!!! HE'S MINE NOW!!! YOU AND YOUR HILARIOUS ACCENT CAN'T HAVE HIM!!! (Image via: Dean Mouhtaropoulos, Getty Images South America)

YOU STAY AWAY FROM MY DUTCHMAN LOUIS VAN GAAL!!! HE’S MINE NOW!!! YOU AND YOUR HILARIOUS ACCENT CAN’T HAVE HIM!!! (Image via: Dean Mouhtaropoulos, Getty Images South America)

However, Delph and Vlaar might not take such a finish so happily. Vlaar is nearly 30, and with his former international boss now at Man United his days with Villa may be numbered. Moreover, United appear to be hoping to buy up Delph AND Vlaar in one fell swoop, but even if they don’t land the package, Delph is being courted by Arsenal. Both players could leave Villa for their respective new homes this summer on free transfers if things don’t go right at Villa, and if we don’t sell them during the January transfer window that means losing these key pieces for nothing.

Go away Arsene Wenger!!! Delph doesn't want to play for your silly football club!!! Arsenal is a silly place!! ... Can't trust those frenchmen....

Go away Arsene Wenger!!! Delph doesn’t want to play for your silly football club!!! Arsenal is a silly place!! … Can’t trust those frenchmen….

I’d much rather keep both of them as losing them in any capacity sets back the rebuilding clock significantly so I certainly hope Lambert’s talks with Lerner have gone well. This may very well be the most important part of Villa’s season this year. More important than the Arsenal win or a much hoped for Europa League berth. If not it may very well mean back to the bottom with Villa, and a return to relegation scares for a long time to come. I really don’t know if staying with Villa is whats best for thsoe two guys. At Manchester United and Arsenal they may very well have the chance to win Premier League AND Champions League titles. And they can probably grab a lot bigger pay day than they can get from the floundering Lerner. But I really see a future for this club with them. I really think this club can make some major leaps and bounds if they continue to grow and hang on to this core they’ve developed. I guess all I can do for the time being, however, get down on my knees and beg Moses Keane to lead us to the promised land.

Moses Keane

 

Please Lerner, let me go on dreaming.