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Aston Villa

Aston Villa Are a Bigger Club Than Newcastle United

The Boot Room

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Short of tallying up revenue (or perhaps expenditure, more appropriately), trophies and crowd attendances, it is difficult to know how to establish the size of a football club. A great deal is said of history as an indicator of grandeur but quickly does it become tiresome and a little embarrassing to see and hear people desperately holding onto past glories. Attitude ought to be the means of defining a club’s contemporary stature, with more surely made of a team’s approach to each game that they play.

Take, for example, Aston Villa.

Once a titan of English football, Villa have experienced a turbulent decade and a trophy-less last two. Under Martin O’Neill, they challenged for a place in Europe’s elite competition three seasons running, resembling a club with the sort of stature that has been banished to the history books. Persistently, for the last few years, they have only just found themselves on the right side of the narrow margin between relegation and survival. This season of strife could prove to be a bridge too far. Despite their fruitless recent history, though, the Villans maintain a position as one of the country’s biggest clubs, even if their attitude to every game would suggest otherwise.

To expect the worst of each match must be demonstrative of how far the club has fallen and symptomatic of a much deeper issue than simply one of personnel. A change of manager at Villa Park has done little to quell fears of the drop, and even less to alter the outlook for the long-term with every game seen as a probable defeat and careless ownership still in place. If club stature were to be judged based on the number of trophies won over the years, Aston Villa would be considered a bigger one than Newcastle United, to whom they listlessly suffered a 0-1 defeat on Saturday. Attendances this season, by contrast, tell a different story. Newcastle’s average of 50,883 supporters per game eclipses and shames Villa’s 33, 176.

Evidently, the Villa Park faithful have little faith in their team these days. Great clubs are built on their drive, belief and ambition – in short, their will to be great clubs. The claret and blue outfit have lost all of these characteristics and it is hard to pinpoint when any of them were last in evidence in the Midlands. Not for some time, it is fair to say.

Villa began the season well – brilliantly, in fact. Taking 10 points from a possible 12 was a dream start for Paul Lambert and his young side of which little was known and even less expected. Form rapidly went downhill in the subsequent weeks and months and the club has since descended into what can only be described as resignation. Relegation looms larger than in previous terms, of that there is little doubt. The only way Villa will escape is through a healthy portion of good fortune and the poor form of teams around them, which begs the question: which are the clubs with which Villa should be competing.

In truth, it’s hard to say but most supporters will believe that Newcastle United are among them – perhaps Stoke City, Swansea City and West Ham United too. These clubs occupy the positions from 8th to 11th, sitting just outside the impenetrable seven and represent top-flight comfort and accomplishment. For a club that has been in the Premier League every season since its inception, Villa should be there at the very least.

Another truth is that this should have been a season of growth, not regression, as should the season before and the season before that. Perpetually stuck in Premier League quicksand, it is a wonder whether Aston Villa and comparable clubs of considerable size but limited quality set targets for upcoming campaigns or whether they simply adapt according to how the season seems to be panning out. A laissez-faire attitude to ambition seems to have engulfed Villa Park and it has shrouded the players, fans and disposable coaching staff in an uncertainty that is now embedded in the preparation for every game.

The larger question in light of all this trouble, though, is: how does a big club re-establish itself after so many years of struggle? The short answer involves a significant investment from a wealthy foreigner, rightly or wrongly. Since one has not been forthcoming since Randy Lerner’s decision to put the club up for sale, perhaps it would be wiser to look at other clubs and the examples they have set. Newcastle United might, in fact, be the most important case of a positive resurgence, particularly given the real possibility of the drop.

There have been suggestions that relegation would represent an opportunity to clear out and start again, as it seemed to for Newcastle. This argument is as short-sighted as most of Villa’s activity has been in recent years, as a dip into the Championship could be more long-term than anticipated, as Leeds United and many other clubs have proven over the years. Relegation is not akin to clicking the refresh button. It would cost the club millions of pounds in television money for instance, which is something that simply cannot be afforded after the monstrous new deal struck by Sky and BT.

In reality, any proposition as to what the club must do in order to rebuild itself is futile if each of its elements are unable to come together to achieve. Ultimately, the attitude at Villa Park has been and continues to be wrong and quite poisonous, with success as improbable in practice as it is in the minds of all those involved with the club. Of course, Lerner must go and give life to a new era at the club. Sherwood’s position is as tenuous as his qualifications for the job and the players are on equally thin ice, given their lack of quality. Things need to be refreshed but not in the Championship. Unless things change quickly, Aston Villa will just be another big club in England’s second tier and could stay there for some time.

Football has become more cut-throat than ever and fans even more fickle. History will mean nothing to Villa in a league that they don’t belong. The club’s mantra says it is “prepared”. Whichever division they start in next year, needless to say those present will have to be prepared to re-establish the historic club to how it should be.

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Aston Villa

Aston Villa’s play-off final is vital regarding the future of Jack Grealish

The 22-year-old has matured significantly under Steve Bruce this season.

Josh Kerr

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Photo: Getty Images

Aston Villa’s day of destiny awaits, and the future of Jack Grealish could also hang on this crucial Wembley fixture.

The 22-year-old has been in wonderful form for The Villans this season, and he showcased his talent in the play-off semi-final over two legs.

Villa edged past Middlesbrough 1-0, with Grealish playing a starring role over and club’s supporters will be desperate to keep their star man.

However, the future of the Solihull born youngster could hinge on whether Steve Bruce’s side gain promotion to the Premier League with a number of clubs set to swoop if Villa don’t reach the top-flight.

According to the Birmingham Mail, Grealish was recently offered a big money move to Leicester but opted to instead stay at Villa Park.

However, if Aston Villa were to fall at the final hurdle at Wembley then it may be difficult for Grealish to focus on another year in the Championship especially if the Premier League comes knocking once again.

The attacking midfielder has blossomed under Bruce this season and has been central to the club’s promotion hopes.

He has really matured over the year and his performances on the pitch have continued to impress those who once doubted whether he would fulfill his potential.

According to reports from the Mirror, Villa will need to cut costs if they fail in the play-offs and Grealish would be one of the club’s more saleable assets.

Grealish would be a huge loss to Villa, but the Midlands side will be full of confidence going into one of football’s richest fixtures.

They will know full well that a win could be the factor that ensures the club are able to withstand elusive offers for some of their top players.

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Aston Villa’s James Chester comes back to haunt former manager Tony Pulis

The Welsh defender came back to bit his old boss in the play-off semi clash.

Max Cohen

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James Chester
Photo: Getty Images

Tony Pulis’ Middlesbrough side were expertly stifled by Aston Villa in their play-off semifinal, as the Villans held Boro to 180 minutes of scoreless football.

Villa centre-half James Chester was a constant rock at the back, revealing to Pulis that his former boss was wrong to sell him when the two were together at West Bromwich Albion.

Chester signed for the Baggies from Hull City in the summer of 2015, after five impressive seasons for the Tigers. The fee was reported to be in the region of £8 million and many expected the Welsh international to excel in the back four under Pulis.

Yet, frustratingly for the centre-back, Chester made only 13 league appearances for the Baggies in the 2015/16 campaign. The Welshman started just nine Premier League matches all season, as Pulis clearly did not consider him as first-choice at the Hawthorns.

After just one year at West Brom, Chester was sold to Championship side Aston Villa in 2016.

(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

In the following two seasons at Villa Park, the centre-back has enjoyed tremendous success, making over 75 appearances and establishing himself as an indispensable presence at the back.

This season, Chester has struck up a formidable partnership with former Chelsea captain John Terry.

The airtight defensive combination was on full display during the two matches against Middlesbrough, as Chester and Terry stifled the high-octane Boro attack.

Featuring the likes of Britt Assambalonga, Adama Traore, Stewart Downing, Patrick Bamford, and Rudy Gestede, the Teesiders’ star-studded frontline was held scoreless due to Villa’s superb defense- led by James Chester.

As Tony Pulis watched his side run out of ideas and fall to a 1-0 aggregate defeat, he will surely be ruing his 2016 mistake.

Allowing James Chester to be sold to Aston Villa truly came back to haunt the Boro boss, as the Welsh international delivered Pulis a dramatic reminder of his abilities and cost the Teesiders a spot at Wembley.

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Aston Villa

Aston Villa should at least take a look at Carles Gil this summer

The Spaniard spent the season out on loan from Aston Villa at Deportivo La Coruna.

Mathew Coull

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It looks as though Carles Gil will be leaving Aston Villa this summer. The Birmingham Mail reported this week that the Spaniard has no future at Villa Park, with the club looking to offload him in the summer.

An apparent obligation on the part of his current loan club Deportivo La Coruna to bring him in permanently has now been denied in the Spanish press. Marca now claims the permanent deal is void, after Depor’s relegation from La Liga.

It comes after a difficult season for Gil, in which he suffered a hernia problem and was eventually frozen out by new manager Clarence Seedorf.

But ask any Aston Villa fan and they will tell you that Gil is immensely talented. In fact, many would like to see him get another chance in England.

So should he?

Aston Villa paid Valencia a fee of around £3.2 million for the player, according to BBC Sport. It came after two excellent seasons out on loan at fellow Spanish club Elche.

Therefore, retrieving such a fee for the player would surely not be a difficult task for the club. But he clearly still has something to offer, especially if Villa remain in the Championship.

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Gil was one of only a few players to come away from Aston Villa’s relegation campaign with any semblance of dignity and in his first half season at the club looked a real talent.

At just 25-years-old there is also still plenty of scope for him to improve. If Villa stay down again this season then major investment in recruitment is bound to diminish. So having a player with the talent of Gil still around at the club could be like a new signing for Villa.

It certainly seems as though Tony Xia and Steve Bruce want to banish any memory of that awful Aston Villa side that was relegated to the Championship. However, Gil might be one of the very few from that squad with redeemable qualities.

At the very least, it is worth keeping him through pre-season and seeing what he can do. If Bruce does not like what he sees, he can give Gil the boot before the transfer window shuts.

But if he does? Well, Gil could easily resurrect himself a decent career at Villa Park.

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