The year 2000 FA Cup final at Wembley was, in some quarters, billed as England versus the Rest of the World. Aston Villa’s largely homespun crew against Chelsea’s cosmopolitan culture club.
Chelsea emerged victorious and the first seeds of discontent were sowed by Villa’s coveted domestic products.
Gareth Southgate, Ugo Ehiogu and Julian Joachim openly declared that they wished to spin the exit door in the outward direction, while murmurs of unease filtered through from Paul Merson and David James.
Ehiogu, Southgate, Joachim and James have now all departed and John Gregory’s once British Bulldogs are now barking from a League of Nations songsheet.
David Ginola, Turkish defender Alpay and Colombian striker Juan Pablo Angel were the first to infuse some continental flavour on the Villa Park menu — and this has now been topped up by the recruits of Hassan Kachloul from Southampton, Mustapha Hadji from Coventry and Swedish defender Olaf Mellberg from Santander of Spain.
Perhaps the biggest stir of the summer came with the announcement that England goalkeeper James had been sold to West Ham. Villa fans were non-plussed and the radio phone-ins were running hot questioning Gregory’s sanity for letting the in-form and consistent goalkeeper to leave.
Gregory then pulled his Joker out of the pack. Actually it was a big blond goalkeeper by the name of Peter Schmeichel. We thought we’d seen the last of the eccentric shot-stopper when he headed off to the sunnier climes of Portugal, swapping the European Cup winners of the time for Sporting Lisbon.
The intensity of Manchester United’s demanding programme was getting the better of him and the keeper thought by many to be the best in the world was getting slightly error-prone. He couldn’t stay away for long though.
The big Dane may well have to contend with another European adventure, should Villa successfully negotiate the final leg of their Inter Toto Cup campaign. A clean sheet at home to Basle on Wednesday will see Villa enter the opening round of the UEFA Cup.
Villa’s participation in this competition concerns Glenn, as Villa have played five of what he describes as ‘proper matches’ ahead of Saturday’s meeting at the Lane and will be, by definition, match sharp and ready to hit the ground running.
Whether the early start has any effect as the season gathers momentum remains to be seen, but Villa are not ideal opening day opponents.
Developments on the David Ginola front as the Premiership season nears have taken a surprise twist. His anger over reported jibes regarding his physical condition have prompted Daveed to seek legal advice.
One such reported comment was when Gregory reported that his players were as ‘fit as a butcher’s dog’ on their return to training. Asked about Ginola, Gregory was quoted as retorting ‘it depends what butchers you go to’.
Whatever sort of figure Ginola cuts these days, Glenn will be hoping that, with his new signings and a demanding pre-season programme completed, it will be Spurs who are a cut above come ten to five on Saturday.
By Richard Hubbard