Alex Whybrow examines the positivity.
Look, I know – we’ve been here before. But this time it feels a bit different, doesn’t it? Saturday’s win over Bournemouth felt special to me, largely because it felt normal. A routine win against a team in the relegation zone. We won because we’re better than them. They turned up, hoping for an upset and we dispatched them without really getting going.
It’s been a while, hasn’t it?
Something about the win at the weekend makes me think we’re on the cusp of a huge turning point. It’s felt like there has been a, completely justified, reservation from the fans so far. We’ve been burned far too often to get excited by a ten, twelve, fourteen game run. Lambert, Sherwood, Bruce, Smith, even Gerrard, all had decent runs where some of us allowed ourselves to think – wow, maybe this is it?? Naturally, it wasn’t.
But maybe, just maybe, this is it…?
We’re not winning games because the players are rolling their sleeves up higher than the opposition. Or they’re looking into the manager’s eyes with greater intensity. Or even because we have one supremely talented player in the form of his life. We’re winning matches because the manager is telling the players exactly how to beat the opposition, and they’re listening.
That’s a huge oversimplification of how much effort the coaching staff and the players are putting in during the week, obviously, but this is what gives me so much hope. If anything, it feels like we haven’t really got going yet. The players are learning on the job, and it’s starting to work better and better. This time, it’s not just a flash in the pan.
That’s just the start of it, though. All through the club, it feels like things are starting to come together. So, with an international break, I thought I would indulge in a little positivity. Bask in some optimism. As a Villa fan, this goes against my nature, but do you know what? I’ve spent nearly 30 years waiting for us to be ‘proper’ contenders again, so I’m going to allow myself to get excited, even at the risk of jumping the gun (again).
Again, I’m trying not to get too carried away, but he’s just brilliant isn’t he? He is absolutely everything I want from a manager, replacing someone who I think was everything that I didn’t want.
I don’t want to dwell on our previous manager for much longer than I need to, but I think the contrast between the two helps to emphasise what a huge step up he is for the club. An average (at best) footballer who has become a student of the game. Who started from scratch and worked tirelessly to improve himself as a coach. Who meticulously plans every aspect of the game. He’s on the touchline every game scrutinising every single pass, he’s the last one to leave Bodymoor every night, he’s on the training pitch every day. He’s humble, he’s pleasant and he knows exactly what he’s doing.
Emery is all about control. His philosophy seems to be that you have a much higher chance of winning the game if you control as much as you possibly can. That’s why he spends so much time off the pitch analysing and dissecting. That’s why he organises one-to-ones with every single player during the week. That’s why he wants us to build up slowly – controlling possession, controlling the game. I imagine the “moment of magic” tactic that our previous manager employed would leave him in a cold sweat.
I don’t need to go on. You know we’ve got a great manager.
I’m a naive and sentimental fool. I like to like the people that play for us, as much as I like to like the players, if that makes sense. Seeing players like Mings, Watkins and McGinn become important players for us makes me even happier than if we would have smashed our transfer record three times on world renowned superstars. I like them as people, and they’re playing to a level that even I, as a big fan of them, never thought they would be capable of.
McGinn and Mings in particular – they were part of a team that gave me some of the happiest moments as a fan, but at a much lower level. If they could make the step up to help us push on to a level that for so long has seemed out of reach, is there a Villa fan that wouldn’t just absolutely love it? They know, as much as any modern player can, what it means to play for Villa. They get us in a way no new signing could.
Not everyone will feel the same way, of course, and I get that. So for balance, it’s also great to see players like Martinez and Kamara – both who are, or are going to be, world class – play for our club.
It feels like our youth set up has been bubbling under the surface for a couple of years now, but it is starting to feel like we’re about to see a few players join the first team squad that could really make a difference.
H&V’s adopted son, Cameron Archer, is probably the pick of the bunch. It’s going to be a special moment when he scores his first league goal in front of the Holte. There won’t be a dry eye on the match thread. I am sure next season is the season he is given a proper chance, and if he gets that chance I’m certain he’ll make us all proud. He just has something about him that seems a bit special.
Then you’ve got Aaron Ramsey – could we have two brothers dominating the midfield for us? And Tim Iroegbunam, who seems like a more complete midfielder every time I watch him. With others dotted about the leagues, you just never know who else might make the step up. Cam taught us that you can’t make too rash a judgement from a loan spell (I wouldn’t write off Louie Barry just yet…).
Oh, and our under-18s have just reached the final of another cup. Look out for Kellyman, Young, Feeny, Wilson and a host of others in the next couple of years.
It’s easy to forget, what with actual matches to enjoy, that Villa Park is going to undergo some quite exciting development, starting in the summer. We nearly went bust a few years ago.
Our women’s team
We’re actually pretty good! We’ve just got through to the semi final of the cup, and we’re playing some really nice football. Kenza Dali is a great player, we’ve added some excellent experienced players and Rachel Daly, if she’s played as a striker for England, could be on the cusp of being a global superstar in the summer.
We’re still playing catchup with a few of the more established clubs in the league, but we’ve made a massive step up this season and it’s great to see. If you haven’t been to a game yet, you should go down. It’s completely different from a men’s game, but very enjoyable, especially if you take kids.
We’re getting there too, aren’t we? It’s going to take some time still, and that’s understandable, but we’re starting to buy into this new way of playing. We’re a justifiably nervous fanbase, but we’re slowly coming round to it all. Just as the players seem to be adapting at different speeds, so too are we. And that’s fine. If we keep winning, if we keep improving, we’re on board. The atmosphere will continue to improve, the nerves will slowly disappear and we’ll sit back and relax as our centre backs play one twos on the edge of our own box.
Honestly, in six months, screaming “Get it forward!!!” at a game will be met with a chorus of tutting. Because despite all of this positivity, you can’t take away our love of a good tut.
So we’ve got a couple of weeks off now. Let yourself enjoy it. Christ knows we’ve been due a bit of optimism. Who knows where it might take us.