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Season review : Player by player


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by Pete Bosworth

PB looks at how the current squad has performed this season and looks forward to both an exciting closed season and Bright Future [TM] for Aston Villa.

What an amazing 12 months that has been. Just think of the state the club was in last May, the doom and gloom that surrounded the place, and compare it with how things are today. It really is an amazing turnaround, both on and off the pitch, which has gone, I think, way beyond what anyone could possibly have dreamed as the 2005-2006 season drew to a close.

Of course, it is on the pitch that matters, and many supporters as the season kicked off would have been content enough with a mid table season of consolidation and transition pretty much what was expected. That, ultimately, is what O’Neill and his young squad have achieved. In common with any such team, we have had periods where we looked unbeatable, and periods where we looked absolutely dire, with the true Aston Villa somewhere in between. I think that when you look at our form at the end of the season, it is difficult to be anything other than hugely excited about what lies ahead. More of that to follow, but for now, lets look at each player in the squad and assess their season and whether or not they have a part to play in our Bright Future [TM].

Goalkeepers

Thomas Sorensen: Age 30. 158 Villa career starts. .

All goalkeepers make mistakes and Sorensen is no exception to this. The best Villa keeper of recent times, David James, is of course famous for them, and few would argue that he is currently the best keeper in the country. What matters is how frequent the gaffes are and whether the keeper concerned makes up for the errors in his general play. Tommy troubles me to be honest. At his age he should be at the very peak of his powers, but there is just something unconvincing about him, something I can’t quite put my finger on. The newspapers for months now have been full of talk of Villa looking at other keepers, and it wouldn’t surprise me too much to see the Dane replaced this summer.

Stuart Taylor: Age 26. 6 Villa career starts.

Hmm, I don’t have a great deal to say on Taylor really. On the occasions he has played I haven’t come away thinking that he should be the number one for an extended period. I look at his age and I think that he is now beyond the “prospect” age and should really be at a club where he is playing every week for the first team. Sadly for Stuart, I don’t see that club as being Aston Villa or indeed being in the Premiership. Bob Wilson was, not for the first time, wrong.

Defenders

Mark Delaney: Age 31, 175 Villa career starts (2 goals)

Injuries have blighted Marks career really, and the man who spent the season on the treatment table is likely to have his contract terminated this summer. It’s a real shame, as I always admired his commitment – very much an O’Neill kind of player in many ways. Good luck Mark, I enjoyed watching you.

Jlloyd Samuel: Age 26, 170 career Villa starts (3 goals)

Well, we all know that Jlloyd will be leaving this summer after a long season of being ignored by the new manager. One of these players that just never, ever lived up to their early potential – I’m not sure where it all went wrong for him, but somewhere along the line it did and now he looks set to restart his career at Newcastle where his defensive style will fit right in.

Olof Mellberg: Age 29, 226 career Villa starts (6 goals)

I think that the conclusion that you have to reach after this season is that Ollie needs to be partnered by a commanding centre back for him to look at all comfortable. He just isn’t a natural leader, so taking him off the captaincy was a strong move that has seen his play generally improve. However, when partnered by either Ridge or Cahill our defence has leaked like a sieve, and this must raise serious question marks over him. Personally I think he will do, for now, but in the long term we should be keeping half an eye out for a suitable replacement.

Martin Laursen: Age 29, 26 Villa starts (1 goal)

In my opinion Martin is the best Villa central defender since God himself donned the claret and blue all those years ago. Commanding and decisive in the air, a superb ball player and a genuine threat at set pieces he is, in a nutshell everything that Ollie isn’t. Look at this for a bit of trivia: Aston Villa didn’t lose a single League match this season that Martin played in. Had he played more games then I think he would have pushed Barry hard for player of the year. His long absence in the middle of the campaign is the chief reason why we finished mid table and not top six. And that, my friends, is the rub. Superb as he is, his injury record is one which is a serious cause for concern. We don’t have the players who can come in and replace him during his long spells on the treatment table as this season has shown, meaning that the manager needs to bring in a player of similar class as insurance against Martin’s inevitable next injury. Such a player will cost many millions of pounds, and cannot realistically be left on the bench. Will Ollie be happy to sit on the bench on the occasions Martin is fit? Will the club continue to subsidize six months out of every season on the physio’s table? These are the questions O’Neill will weigh up this summer. I hope he stays, I really do as I love him to bits, but I will understand completely if the decision is made to move him on. Where’s the icon for “sad face”?

Freddie Bouma: Age 28, Villa starts 46

What a difference a new manager makes eh? Freddie, voted “most improved player” on just about every Villa website, puts the improvement in his form down to a manager who actually explained what a left back (a position he had never played before) was supposed to do. By the end of the campaign I thought he looked extremely classy, like the product of the PSV talent factory that he is. This one we will keep, and he will be a Villa star for years to come.

Aaron Hughes: Age 27, Villa starts 60

Almost as unpopular with the fans as Jlloyd, Hughes was kept out of the Villa team for much of the season by the spectacularly ordinary loanee Phil Bardsley, and that, I think, says all you need to know about his future prospects at Villa Park. What’s wrong with him you might ask? Well, he can’t pass the ball, and this is a pretty big drawback in this League.

Liam Ridgewell: Age 22, Villa starts 73 (7 goals)

Now too old to be classed as a “kid”, it is time to assess whether Liam has the ability to play top 4 football. Although he improved quite a bit this year, cutting out many of the rash, stupid errors brought about by rushes of blood to the head that characterized his early performances for Villa, I just don’t see him as being good enough to hold down a spot in the team. The threat of a move to Birmingham City has been hung over him since January, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him take the Gold’s porn money and run sometime this summer.

Gary Cahill: Age 21, Villa starts 27 (1 goal)

Of the two young central defenders in the squad, Gary is clearly the better long term prospect. He is a better defender than Ridgewell, and a vastly superior technical player. Although he isn’t quite ready for a spot in the first team by rights just yet, he is one to keep for the future, and I hope that he is happy to accept another year or two on the bench.

Midfield

Gareth Barry: Age 26, Villa starts 338 (35 goals)

Well, he would have got my vote for the “Most Improved Player” to be honest, as well as Player of the Year. Finally we have seen this season what Gareth is really capable of. Giving him the armband was probably the best thing O’Neill did all season and Gareth has grown, hugely into the role as the season has progressed. Suddenly we have a player capable of taking a game and running it, against almost any opposition, dictating the pace and direction of play, a genuine top class talent that would grace any side in the land. His continued omission from the National side shows that McLaren is a total clown. O’Neill describes Barry as the “heartbeat” of the club, and I think he is absolutely correct. Captain Fantastic, a player that I am delighted to see has proven me wrong.

Gavin McCann: Age 29, Villa starts 127 (3 goals)

I think that time is about to be called on Gav’s time at the Villa. Nice lad, a genuine “tryer” and not by any stretch of the imagination a poor player, he just isn’t quite what you need in that spot if you want to seriously push the top four. I wish Gav all the best, he has been a good honest worker us that really filled a need when we were desperate for it and I’m sure he will find a Premiership club that will be glad to have him, I just think that Villa as a club has moved beyond this sort of player now.

Stillian Petrov: Age 27, Villa starts 34 (2 goals)

Ah, the enigma that is Stan. Persistent rumours of him and his wife being “homesick” (For Glasgow? Really? Birmingham must have really gone downhill) may perhaps explain why the best player in Scottish football for so long has looked like a lost little boy for much of his time in the Premiership. I think also the fact that he has had to take over Gav’s defensive role for a large part of the campaign hasn’t helped him to settle properly, and when we bring in a proper midfield anchor this summer and Stan moves into his more usual forward position behind the strikers, we may well see a different player next season. Either that, or he does an “Unsworth”, and I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.

Steve Davis: Age 22, Villa starts 80 (7 goals)

While it is true to say that the second senior season of a player’s career is the hardest, few can have found it harder than “Davo”. 12 months ago he was being talked of as being the next “big thing”, a rising star being courted by Alex Ferguson no less. Today, there must be serious question marks over his future at the club after a season that has seen him drift in and out of games and in and out of the team as a result. Personally I hope that O’Neill gives him another chance, although the emergence of Craig Gardner may well prove to be the final nail in his coffin. Can Steve get his career back on track? Can he follow the example of his captain and ram my words back down my throat? Will he even get a chance to? Time will tell.

Patrik Berger: Age 33, Villa starts 9 (2 goals)

Another contender for most improved player I think, who would have thought that he could resurrect his career from the bench at Stoke to a starring role in the Premiership again? It looked to be all over for him after a falling out with O’Neill described as “an argument over who ran the team”. But, you have to give the guy credit, in the season’s closing weeks we saw the Paddy Berger of old, a superb playmaker from the very top drawer of world football, doing a very passable impression of Paul Merson. As with Laursen, the key thing is whether or not O’Neill believes he can keep him fit next season. If he does, then having a player of this caliber to call on when the squad gets thinned through injuries and suspensions in mid season is exactly what will be required I think.

Craig Gardner: Age 20, Villa starts 14 (2 goals)

As debut seasons go Craig has had a very solid campaign I think, and has shown enough to merit a squad place for next season, no doubt. His final day goal against Bolton demonstrated his massive ability and potential. Next season will be tough for him mentally in all probability, the question being whether or not he comes out of it as a Gabby or a Davo?

Isaiah Osbourne: Age 19, Villa starts 7

While clearly very, very green, Ozzy (Izzy?) stepped into the team during our squad crisis in mid season and showed enough I think to show that there is a good future ahead of him, albeit probably quite a way ahead of him. Far too early to tell whether or not he has a big part to play in our future, but one to keep an eye on I think.

Also Lee Hendrie and Eric Djemba-Djemba, both of whom are Championship bound this summer.

Forwards

John Carew: Age 27, Villa starts 11 (3 goals)

Although he hasn’t scored a hatful of goals, it is difficult to overestimate the value to the team that Big John has. Vastly experienced, in fact just vast, he is exactly what you want leading your line. Once we figured out that hitting the ball to his head wasn’t the strongest play ever, we really saw just how good he is. I don’t see him as a 20 goal a season man, but all the same, he would be the second name on my team sheet every time (after Barry). He can lead us to Europe, if not through scoring loads of goals, just by making them and being involved in everything positive that we do.

Gabriel Agbonlahor: Age 20, Villa starts 53 (10 goals)

He has just got better and better as the season has gone on. O’Neill was roundly criticized for playing him out of position during the first part of the season, but for me, it has increased his awareness and overall game by so much that it was something that was well worth doing. Again, next season will be tough for him, fighting for his place against in all probability an expensive, experienced international for his place. Having seen off Milan Baros and Juan Pablo Angel I am sure that he will be confident of rising to the challenge.

Ashley Young: Age 21, Villa starts 11 (2 goals)

To be honest, I spent about three months wondering the hell all the fuss was about with this lad. I thought that he looked, at best, ordinary, and I really thought O’Neill had been conned into buying a lemon. Then I saw him come off the bench against Portsmouth and put more into 17 minutes of play than he had done during the rest of his time here. Since then, he has looked like a £10m footballer (in fact, we might just have got him very, very cheap). Dynamic, pacey, a superb carrier of the ball who can take on and go past defenders with ease and, most importantly of all, deliver a real cross that doesn’t end up in the upper tier of the Holte. It is a long, long time since such a player played for Villa, and for me, he is the future of the club, and quite possibly the country at international level. What a prospect he is!

Shaun Maloney: Age 24, Villa starts 5 (1 goal)

He’s a very clever player in my opinion is the wee man. I don’t think he’s in the same class as Ash, but still, he can run with the ball stuck to his feet, he can hit the telling pass, and he looks pretty lethal from set pieces, from range in open play too. Probably only really a squad player (unless he reveals some as yet hidden talents) he is though, the kind of player that gives a squad proper depth – just what you want off the bench or to come in when someone is injured or suspended.

Luke Moore: Age 21, Villa starts 32 (13 goals)

What to do with Luke? Clearly a talent, clearly a goal scorer (as he has showed off the bench recently) does he have a future here? He is clearly unsettled, but it is difficult to see a starting role for him ahead of Carew or Gabby up front (never mind whoever comes in this summer), and he isnt about to kick Ashley Young into the reserves either. Difficult I think, and probably up to him. I think O'Neill will be happy enough to keep him around as quality squad player, the question really is whether Luke wants that, or whether he feels he is worth more.

Also: Chris Sutton – about to retire.

The Future

We have, even with the severely limited squad we operated with until late January, just finished four points short of UEFA Cup qualification. I think that the way we finished the season gives real hope that even without any additions this summer we have already in place a squad capable of securing a top six finish next season.

Reports vary on how much money O’Neill will have to spend this summer from £25m to £40m, either way, it is widely accepted that only Manchester United and Chelsea will have the clout to outmuscle us financially. I think that if O’Neill spends his money wisely (and to date he has for the most part got it right and so there is no reason to suppose anything different this summer) then we might just surprise a few people next season. O’Neill is openly talking of challenging for the top four, and while that may possibly be a step too far, I have genuine belief that it might just be possible as an outside bet, given a fair wind and a little luck. Certainly anything less than UEFA Cup qualification next season will be viewed, quite rightly, as a failure. For O’Neill, the longest honeymoon in history is now over, and the job for which he was hired starts now, today. It will be exciting to see if he is up to challenge.

I wish you all a good summer, enjoy all the gossip and rumour that the season brings, and I hope you join me in looking to the future with real hope, real optimism.

Villa are back!

PB

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Yep, all bang on. I would however put a decent amount of money on both Aaron Hughes and Steven Davis joining their former international manager who is now at Craven Cottage. He loves Davis and Hughes was his captain, so it makes so much sense for him to go for, and get, both of them.

I also think that people are being a tiny bit harsh on Olly Mellberg :?

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A pretty much bang on assessment from top to bottom, with my only reservation being Olly where I think you were a tad harsh.

Centre-half is the most vulnerable position in any team, where any mistake is nearly always punished. It can't have been easy for Olly trying to do his job, in a team low on confidence, whilst making sure his inexperienced partners for most of the season did theirs. I'm not sure many other top class centre backs would have coped much better under the circumstances.

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  • Moderator

I disagree to an extent about 3 or 4 of your conclusions, but not massively sso.

Freddie Bouma - for me he doesn't do enough going forward, though he's pretty good defensively. More to come, I'd hope, but I'm not sure.

John Carew, I'm yet to be convinced by. More based around fitness than anything else - he looks a bit laboured at the mo' but a full pre-season will help, unless it brings injuries.

Steven Davis I rate very highly indeed and Aaron Hughes, for me can certainly pass and play, I just feel that he doesn't do enough to stop crosses coming in. I guess that his time in the prem as a regular may be coming to an end, but he's a lot better than most fans seems to think IMO.

For me the interest will be not so much in glamour signings, but in balancing the side, and the midfield in particular.

Davis, Gardner, Petrov, Barry are all extremely capable or promising players, with good futures, I just wondr about the balance of attack and defence. Barry makes us tick and has been fabulous, Petrov controlled and cool, Gardner energetic and able and Davis brings invention and quick feet and creativity in the final third. They're all better going forwards than defending, though GB is looking like an all rounder, as does Petrov to an extent.

What's interesting is that there's very few who look on the way down, or who have peaked, and many who have huge scope to get better.

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Aaron Hughes, for me can certainly pass and play, I just feel that he doesn't do enough to stop crosses coming in.

That's my gripe too with Hughes.

he seems relatively comfortable on the ball, and can pass and cross.

But defensively he's been weak IMO, especially as you say in letting his man "do" him and/or get crosses in too often.

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I don't agree with the ratings to be honest, i don't know how Gabby can be rated the same as Berger who's only played about six games for us!!, neither do i think Barry deserves such a high scoring as like the rest of his team mates he was nowhere to be seen in the winter period.

but decent effort anyway.

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