Remembering Aston Villa’s European Hopefuls of 2007 – 2010

Looking back at good times.

The current Premier League campaign is turning into a bit of a lonely one for Aston Villa. The division’s top two, namely Arsenal and Manchester City, are battling it out for the title. Then, a whole host of teams are squabbling over European places. Teams positioned from 12th right the way down to Southampton who are in 20th are all separated by just four points and any three of them could suffer relegation. Then there’s Aston Villa, currently in 11th position and level on points with 10th-placed Chelsea. The Villans have no fears of going down. Perhaps the most optimistic Villa faithful may say that they are in the race for Europe, but oddschecker, which compares, wouldn’t agree.

While Unai Emery’s side is just four points behind Brighton, who currently occupy the seventh and final European spot, the Seagulls have two games in hand on the Villa Park outfit. Hence why the aforementioned website makes the Villans rank outsiders to secure European football next term. And let’s face it, we can’t blame them. But it wasn’t always this way. Back in 2007, former Celtic manager Martin O’Neill was building one of the best squads in the country and was about to embark on three consecutive seasons in which Villa would challenge for a spot in continental competition.

2006/07 – The Revolution Begins
Martin O’Neill took over from the sacked David O’Leary at the culmination of the previous season, but it wasn’t until the 2006/07 season that business truly began to pick up at Villa Park. The Villans already had a strong core to their team, with Martin Laursen and Olof Mellberg one of the Premier League’s finest central defensive pairings. In front of them was England hopeful Gareth Barry, and O’Neill brought in former Celtic captain Stiliyan Petrov to partner him in central midfield.

Young striker Gabriel Agbonlahor was implemented into the first-team setup and in January, the club brought in two of their greatest-ever signings. Striker John Carew arrived from Lyon while Ashley Young, who was the shining star in a Watford team destined for relegation, also arrived. They helped the club to a respectable 11th place in the league that term, and that was just the beginning.

2007/08 – European Qualification
Everyone could see that Martin O’Neill was building a team capable of contending for honours, but a number of eyebrows were raised by the players he sold in the summer of 2007. Gavin McCann and Gary Cahill were shipped off to Bolton Wanderers, while long-time defender Liam Ridgewell left for rivals Birmingham City. Prolific striker Juan Pablo Angel also left in April for the MLS. They were replaced with West Ham United duo Marlon Harewood and Nigel Reo-Coker, While Zat Knight arrived from Fulham.

But none of them truly broke into the first team, and it was the squad that O’Neill had already built the previous season that propelled them to a sixth-placed finish and a spot in the UEFA Cup. Villa managed to pick up a victory over Chelsea over the course of the season, as well as doing the double over rivals Birmingham with a particularly impressive 5-1 thumping at Villa Park being the highlight of the campaign.

Two Further Years of Continental Qualification
The summer of 2008 was one of the most impressive in the history of Aston Villa. Players such as James Milner, Brad Friedel, Steve Sidwell, Luke Young, and Nicky Shorez all arrived at the club, and the Villains were contenders once more. Villa once again finished in sixth place, but the gap to Arsenal in fourth had reduced drastically, and it would reduce further the following campaign. Away victories over both Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, as well as a 3-2 victory at Everton were the highlights of the campaign, with their European exploits ending in the Round of 32 with an aggregate defeat to CSKA Moscow.

In the following campaign, the ten-point gap to fourth place was reduced to just six points, and Villa were genuine Champions League contenders for much of the campaign. Further impressive signings were made such as Stewart Downing, Stephen Warnock, and Richard Dunne, and there were hopes that the club could return to European football’s most elite of dining tables for the first time in over 25 years.

Unfortunately, they couldn’t quite get over the line, and things would drastically fall off a cliff in the years that followed. But the memories of Martin O’Neill’s men will forever remain, and fans of the club can hope that European specialist Unai Emery may well lead the club back to the promised land in the years to come.