‘There’s bad, and then there’s being dropped for Peter Enckelman’
By Daniel Williams
When it comes to the most intriguing period of Villa’s over 30-year-old signings, it’s hard to beat the first decade of the 21st century for some of the more wildcard signings made by Villa bosses.
In a nutshell, Villa acquired some of the big names of the time, as they were approaching their retirements. Ginola, Schmeichel, Nilis, Berger and Heskey, to name a few. But the big question was, were they past their sell by date?
We reflect below on whether Villa managed to squeeze any last drops of juice out of them for the claret and blue cause.
All ratings are based on how they stacked up as a Villa signing, as opposed to their overall ability or legacy as a player.
2000 – 2010
Steve Staunton (2000 – 2003) – 30-years-old
The King of Returns. When Steve Staunton returned to Villa for a second spell, it became the second time he’d returned to the same club, following his transfer back to Liverpool just a couple of seasons prior.
Staunton’s flame didn’t burn as brightly upon return, but despite that, he’ll always go down as one of the club’s recent greats.
Please can we have another left-back like Stan?
David Ginola (2000 – 2002) – 33-years-old
Well, well, well. Few transfer incomings have sparked more interest in my lifetime as a Villa fan than this one. David Ginola was one of the Premier League eras most sought after vintages. Bottle him up, import him to Birmingham and then lay into him for piling on the pounds.
Honestly, what is it with us? Yes, Ginola had just turned thirty-three years old, but this was a footballer who’d never relied on pace. This was a footballer whose flair and sleight of foot shouldn’t have aged. They did, though, didn’t they? Tubby disappointment.
By far the biggest let-down on this list, considering his potential
Luc Nilis (2000 – 2001) – 33-years-old
Quality goal against Chelsea. Horrific injury after that. Could’ve gone on to hit Peter Withe-type plaudits with the fans; could have gone on to be another Milan Baros…
Given that he’d previously formed one of the best strike pairings in Europe – an explosive dovetailing partnership with a young Ruud van Nistelrooy at PSV – it’s probably more likely to have been the former.
Despite his age, he had severe football smarts that could have got a decent season or two out of him (think Teddy Sheringham). He could have potentially gone onto launch Villa into the Champions League…well, at least the UEFA Cup, but, you know, let’s not be too bitter here.
A sad anti-climax due to his horrific injury. If only.
Peter Schmeichel (2001 – 2002) – 37-years-old
Ah, the Great Dane. Peter Schmeichel’s time at the club shared much in common with a Great Dane. At the start of the season, he was big and imposing, and by the end of it he may as well have had paws for hands.
Thought to be an inspired signing at the time, it proved to be anything but. Schmeichel conceded thirty-seven goals in twenty-nine Premier League games before being dropped for Peter Enckelman. He does hold the record of being Villa’s only goalkeeper to score in a Premier League match though: a fine volley following a flick-on from a corner against Everton.
There’s bad, and then there’s being dropped for Peter Enckelman.
Ronny Johnsen (2002 – 2004) – 33-years-old
We all love Graham Taylor, but our hero’s second stint at Villa wasn’t the best. That being said, he did do one great piece of business, namely bringing in Ronny Johnsen on a free transfer from Man Utd. The big Norwegian had only been a bit-part player at United, but he came to the fore at Villa Park.
Johnsen went on to be an integral part of Hewhoshallnotbenamed’s – I’m not fickle, I just don’t like him – first season as Villa manager. It was bloody bizarre that this one ever worked out when you look at our record with former United players, but work out it did.
Bang average, but quite good by our standards.
Oyvind Leonhardsen (2002 – 2003) – 31-years-old
“I’m afraid you’ve got me confused with someone else, mate. My name’s Darren.”
“No. Oyvind Leonhardsen – he played for the Villa.”
“Yeah. He scored three goals in nineteen games.”
No, me neither.
He was good at Wimbledon, to be fair.
Patrik Berger (2005 – 2008) – 31-years-old
He had a bust-up with Martin O’Neill and was then subsequently shipped out to Stoke for much of his first season. Half a year in the Potteries can do crazy things to people; Paddy came back rejuvenated in his second season at Villa, which was topped off by slotting away our Goal of the Season at home to Sheffield United.
Grade – C+
In O’Neill’s book, he was probably a luxury player, but he was class and Villa supporters always appreciated something a little different, as a break from the MON functionality.
Kevin Phillips (2005 – 2006) – 31-years-old
Scorer of a Second City Derby goal that saw us beat the Blues for the first time in seven attempts. All hail King Kev. Despite his undoubted talent, that was about it though.
His Villa cameo was one of the least productive spells of his career.
Didier Agathe (2006 – 2007) – 31-years-old
See comments on Oyvind Leonhardsen, minus the goals and a few appearances
Not enough evidence. If it wasn’t for the internet, I’d have probably have forgotten he played for Villa.
Chris Sutton (2006 – 2007) – 33-years-old
When Chris Sutton nodded in a winner from a looping Isaiah Osbourne cross at Goodison Park, I was there. Ask yourself: how many people can say that? Ask yourself: how many people want to say that?
Winner at Everton aside, Sutton failed to register a goal in any of his other seven appearances. He did, however, put in his fair share of the workmanlike performances.
An example of Martin O’Neill running out of ideas.
Gabor Kiraly (loan during 2006 – 2007) – 30-years-old
Researching this series of articles has taken a while. I had my doubts over whether I’d ever be able to complete this entire thing. When I hit those dark spells, I had to remind myself what this was all for: this was an opportunity to write about Gabor Kiraly.
In all other walks of life, charisma can just about see you through, so when Gabor Kiraly arrived at Villa Park with some grey pyjama bottoms in tow, everything was going to be alright, right? Wrong. You could not be more wrong.
Kiraly’s five-game loan spell saw us pick up one point from a possible fifteen. On the flipside, he did play a crucial part in the greatest goal I’ve ever seen at Villa Park. If you look closely at Paul Scholes howitzer of a volley at Villa Park, you can just about see Gabor diving just after the ball hits the back of the net.
He also undermined perhaps one of the best performances in Villa shirts of both Liam Ridgewell and Gary Cahill, when he allowed Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s late speculative effort to skid through his grey joggers to give United a late win in the FA Cup at Old Trafford.
Apparently Martin O’Neill had a sense of humour.
Brad Friedel (2008 – 2011) – 37-years-old
The year was 2007, and Martin O’Neill sought to tighten up what was a porous defence. Friedel was brought in alongside the likes of Luke Young, the lesser-spotted Nicky Shorey, Carlos Cuellar and the world’s best pub player, Curtis Davies.
Though the rest (but for Young) may have proved to be Premier League cannon fodder, the stoic American between the sticks was a genuinely solid piece of business.
In his first two seasons in claret and blue, he managed to keep twenty-eight clean-sheets in seventy-six Premier League appearances, which played a major part in back-to-back sixth-placed finishes. His Villa career curtailed under Gerard Houllier, but he’s without doubt our best ‘keeper of the noughties.
Sure, his only competition was Sorensen, Guzan, Given and Johnstone. It’s not so much the 100m Olympic final as it is four drunks fighting over a bag of chips on Broad Street, but it’s Friedel who’s packing them away at the end of the night.
Habib Beye (2009 – 2012) – 31-years-old
Sunday, Monday, Habib Beye. Tuesday, Wednesday, Habib Beye. Thursday, Friday, Habib Beye. Saturday, wh…HE’S ON £40K? £40k A WEEK OR A DECADE?
I’m sure it’s Beye’s fault Villa are in the Championship…
Emile Heskey (2009 – 2012) – 31-years-old
Emile William Ivanhoe Heskey. Father of six children, scorer of goals (though less prolific in football than in parenthood), destroyer of Germany. Should never have been stuck out on the left-wing though, should he?
Heskey arrived at the club as part of of a £3,500,000 deal from Wigan Athletic. For those of us less versed in financial transactions, that’s 3.5million British pounds. 3.5million. I can’t believe it either.
His time in Aston was fairly unproductive as he stumbled to nine goals in ninety-two appearances in all competitions. That’s an average of a goal every ten games, which puts him on a par with Martin Laursen.
A unique Villa player, who at Villa Park, when put clean through against Manchester United, managed to have his shot go off for a throw-in. His strike rate was worse than one in ten. Nuff said.
BUY OF THE DECADE
Despite a wild circus of characters that were bought in on a punt to try and inject something extra into Villa, the most solid and sensible of all signings has to be Brad Friedel.
Despite being 37-years-old at the time of signing, Villa got a solid three seasons and 100+ appearances out of the American keeper. To this day, he currently stands as the last decent and reliable keeper Villa have had.
The evergreen Friedel surprised the football world when he signed for Spurs and continued as a Premier League number one, going on to play 310 consecutive Premier League games, playing for Blackburn, Villa and Spurs.
In the end, Villa probably kicked themselves letting Friedel go, considering he was on Spurs’ books for four further years after leaving Villa Park.
Compiled and written by Dan Williams, follow him on Twitter here – @WanDilliams
NEW PODCAST EPISODE: