The premise of Aston Villa’s rebuilding going into the 2019/20 season had been to get young talented players that had the potential to increase their value when sold-on. Some sections of the fanbase pointed to the last relegation season, when Villa bought a slew of younger foreign players with potential (at least in terms of moneyball calculations), but they were unable to settle down fast enough to form a team stable enough to avoid the drop.
Surely Villa should have mixed it up with a bit more experience up and down the spine of the team. The aquisition of Tom Heaton had been a step in the right direction, but an experienced centre-back, midfielder and forward, would have given the squad a more complete look about it.
Fast forward to the present day and Villa’s young lions have struggled, despite showing flashes of their potential. They worryingly sit in the relegation zone, albeit with a game in hand.
Is the age of Villa’s team letting them down?
Young and Hungry
If you go back to the 2013/14 season and there was a bit of a song and dance about Villa’s ‘young and hungry’ policy under Paul Lambert. In one game, the then Villa boss fielded a team with a Premier League average age low that season of 24.7 years old.
With Randy Lerner tightening the purse strings, the youthful age of the Villa team was mentioned more as an excuse to dampen expectations for Villa supporters.
Villa ultimately didn’t get relegated with this ‘young and hungry’ team. They dropped, due to trying to bed in too many overseas players from a single transfer window and having a manager that had very little up his sleeve beyond short-term enthusiasm.
The Villa first XI team that stepped out at Wembley to play Manchester City in the League Cup final this season, had an average age of 25.8 years old. Young, but nothing out of the ordinary.
Ultimately, the average age of a team isn’t important. The important factor is it being balanced in key positions in terms of age and experience, from having key players in their prime and a dash or two of talented experience in your first XI.
There’s no better proof then Aston Villa’s finest ever team, Ron Saunder’s team that won the English league title in the 1980/81 season. The 14 players used in that triumphant season had an average age that was actually lower than Jack Grealish’s current age.
The Champion’s Blend
It’s often forgotten just how young Villa’s League winners of the 1980/1, who won the European Cup the following season, actually were.
When the start of the 1980/1 season kicked-off, Gary Shaw was a mere 19-years-old, full-backs Gary Williams and Colin Gibson were both 20-years-old, and the cultured midfield maestro Gordan Cowans was only 22-years-old.
Squad members David Geddis (22) and the late Eamonn Deacy (21), also brought a youthful glow to the set up.
It lends evidence to the theory that if a current Villa player is in their 20’s and still plying their trade in Villa’s U-23 team, then they are not destined to be a successful Villa first teamer.
An astounding statistic is six of the 14 players that made up the squad that lifted the title in 1981 were younger than Jack Grealish is now (24 years and 7 months).
The rock solid central defensive partnership of McNaught (25) and Evans (24), were also close to Grealish’s age, and still a few years shy of what is considered the peak of a centre-back’s powers.
When it came to the wiser and older heads, Villa’s midfield pair of Mortimer and Bremner were both still under 30 and probably at their peaks at 28-years-old, the same age as full-back Kenny Swain. Tony Morley (26) was also entering his prime.
Jimmy Rimmer (32) and Peter Withe (30), were the only members of the 30’s club and gave Villa that dose of experience in key areas.
At 24.6 years-old, the average age of the 14 players that won Aston Villa the league title in 1980/81 was even less than Paul Lambert’s youthful chargers, who were deemed too young and inexperienced for the Premier League.
Ex-Liverpool player Alan Hansen famously claimed that “You can’t win anything with kids”, when Villa beat Manchester United 3-1 on the opening day of the 1995/96 season.
Despite United winning the league that season, in the case of Sir Alex Ferguson’s team, Hansen technically wasn’t wrong.
The average age of the United squad during that season – of those who made more than 10 appearances – was 26 years and 137 days.
However, it was Villa, 15 seasons earlier, that had actually already proved him wrong.
1980/81 Shirt Currently Reduced on Kitbag
The Ages of the League Champions of 1980/81
Jimmy Rimmer, age 32
Gary Williams, age 20
Colin Gibson, age 20
Ken McNaught, age 25
Allan Evans, age 24
Kenny Swain, age 28
Eamonn Deacy, age 21
Dennis Mortimer, age 28
Des Bremner, age 28
Tony Morley, age 26
Gordon Cowans, age 22
Peter Withe, age 30
Gary Shaw, age 19
David Geddis, age 22
Average Age – 24.6 years old
(An earlier version of this article appeared on MOMS in 2013)