Time to take silverware seriously again…lets go glory hunting!
It’s better to be in the FA Cup, then be out of the FA Cup, Mr Lambert. Especially, if you want to be remembered fondly as an Aston Villa manager in years gone by. For me, there’s only one question when judging a Villa manager as a proper success. Did they win a trophy? In recent decades, give me Ron Atkinson and Brian Little over John Gregory and Martin O’Neill any day.
The recent FA Cup draw brought further thoughts of how Villa have once again squandered a chance of a good cup run in one of two competitions they can realistically win.
When Villa lost at home in a lacklustre fashion to Sheffield United, a League One club, Villa’s season was effectively over before the first week of January had finished. Dispatching United would have served up a home tie verses a struggling Fulham, and after that, Villa would be at home against Championship team Nottingham Forest, leaving them then with just Sheffield Wednesday or Charlton to dispatch to get to a Wembley semi-final. Last season, the luck of the FA Cup draw was shining on Villa again; it turned out a win against Millwall, would have left Villa with Wigan as their sternest test on route to a Wembley final date.
What’s done is done, but I always remember as a kid, TV pundits talking about your team’s season being alive, if they were still in a cup or chasing Europe. Nowadays, some Villa fans don’t seemed too fussed about such ambition. Admittedly, expectations have lowered in recent seasons, to the extent I was questioned what I meant when I tweeted about Villa’s season being ‘over’. You would hope that the ‘excitement’ of a relegation battle doesn’t count.
The most tedious thing about last season being an Aston Villa supporter was the reactions by some Villa fans to the club’s League Cup run. According to them, Villa had to choose between the cup run and the league. Apparently, they’re mutually exclusive, with relegation beckoning, if Villa actually won the cup.
Even when Villa found themselves in the semi-final, with probably the easiest draw they could have imagined at the beginning of the tournament, the same fans seemed to want to be knocked out. When Villa were 3-1 down from the first leg, their logic was their comfort blanket, if Villa didn’t make the final. As if two more games in a tournament that ended in February, would really effect Villa’s progress in the league that ended three months later. So, the Blues got relegated after winning it. So what? For the record, when it happened to the Blues, a) they had a ton of injuries, b) had a poor manager and c) were probably in shock from winning a trophy.
Throwing it all away
In recent seasons, supporters have been set bad examples by Aston Villa managers in terms of how they should approach cups. Martin O’Neill’s decision to sacrifice Villa’s European intentions in the UEFA Cup after the Ajax game, and then literally throwing away the tie against CSKA Moscow in the knock-out stages in 2009, still leaves a bad taste (and I didn’t even travel to Moscow). Just as bad was Gerard Houllier’s limp-wristed surrendering of an FA Cup game against Manchester City. Fast-forward to Villa’s League Cup trip to the Eithad last season, and the benefits of taking cup games seriously, no matter how your chances look on paper, were there for all to see. Villa dismissed City 4-2 in their own back yard. The resulting League Cup run after that triumph, helped keep Villa supporter’s pulses going through a woeful end to 2012.
A similar argument to the club’s attitude to the cups sprung up again, after Paul Lambert’s interview with Tom Ross, where he seemingly dismissed the FA Cup.
Lambert’s interview stated nothing that nobody already knew, but the media like to blow anything up. I mean, just look at Tom Ross’s opening line introducing the interview on his 0wn website:
“I have just done THE SADDEST if not the most HONEST interview in my 33-year career as a football commentator for Free Radio 80s,” wrote Tom Ross, about his interview with Paul Lambert.
Really? What a dull career as a journalist Mr Ross must have had. Ross could have interviewed any football supporter to get the answers that the game is now about money and the league is more important. The saying that the league is a team’s ‘bread and butter’ is not a cliche for nothing. It’s hardly a revelation.
However, cups shouldn’t be considered a ‘either or’ matter. The worrying thing is if this is Villa’s mindset, then there is a distinct possibility that ASTON VILLA WILL NEVER WIN ANYTHING AGAIN in most of our lifetimes.
The FA Cup, unlike the League Cup, takes place on a weekend, so fixture congestion is minimal. Going back a couple of decades, less fit players on dramatically less wages, would just get on with things. Nobody was even bothered about squad rotation back then, even when a tie could have a couple of replays to decide it. With the form book thrown out the window, cups used to be fun and not a hindrance. That was the magic of the cup, which has since been severally diluted with giant-killings mainly occurring nowadays due to bigger teams fielding their second string.
Considering Lambert was putting out his first team for the FA Cup tie against Sheffield United, he really didn’t need to set himself up for the media flare up that followed. He had nine days until Villa’s next league game against Arsenal, so it’s hardly much of a drain on the Villa squad.
The main problem though, wasn’t what happened in the media, but more the effect it had on his player’s motivation. In some earlier interviews, Lambert has dismissed the notion that Villa will be involved in a relegation battle this season, so it’s odd that he would even go down the road of being worried about the FA Cup’s effect on Villa’s league form. All he had to say was, he might blood two or three younger players and leave it at that, or just serve up his usual, “We’re gonna give it a right good go”. No drama.
In it, to win it
It’s also a myth that a cup run dents your league position. Under Brian Little in 1996, Villa finished top four, won the League Cup and got to the FA Cup semi-final. Under Martin O’Neill in 2010, Villa finished sixth, despite also getting to the League Cup final and a FA Cup semi-final.
Winning builds confidence and Players like playing as many games as possible and after all, it’s what they get paid ridiculous mounts of money for.
Personally, as a Villa supporter who as a kid watched Villa win the League, the European Cup and then as I got older twice visited Wembley to see Villa lift the League Cup, the main Villa holy grail left for my remaining time on this earth is to see the club lift the FA Cup. So it pains me to see the club not take it seriously.
Unfortunately, most of the teenager and younger generation of Villa supporters haven’t seen their team win anything in their lifetime. It would be rather sad to think they never will. After, the debacle of Bradford City, I have the feeling Paul Lambert owes Villa supporters a cup win. Hopefully, he’ll get it and the balance in the universe will once again be restored. UTV.