Lowdown on Aston Villa
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Considering, that by general consensus, Aston Villa have endured a turbulent and somewhat disappointing season, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that the team could still enter next season with passports at the ready.
Sitting in seventh place in the league, Villa are nicely poised to pounce should any of the other contenders drop their guard. Of course, there are all sorts of permutations involving Liverpool, Arsenal and Leeds that could see the UEFA Cup extending a welcome to teams outside the standard slots.
For instance, should Liverpool finish in the top three and add the FA Cup to the already won Worthington Cup, this would free-up an extra two spots in the UEFA Cup which would be awarded on league merit. Leeds finishing outside the fourth and winning the Champions League would offer another.
So it’s all still to play for teams loitering on the fringe and Villa, unbeaten in nine games, a nicely placed to take advantage. This should protect against any end-season-kickabouts.
That Villa are still in a position to capitalise after a season of unwanted media attention is a credit to manager John Gregory for his steering of the club through choppy waters.
Never short of a quip or a quote, Gregory has come through what must have been one of the most difficult seasons of his management career still keeping a smile on his face.
Gregory entered the current campaign with mutiny on his hands. Players questioned the club’s ambition and formed an orderly queue to depart the west midlands outfit.
Gareth Southgate, Julian Joachim, Ugo Ehiogu were three of the bigger names wanting away and Benito Carbone never returned after an extended loan spell last season.
Only Ehiogu went of the former, but Gregory also had to contend with murmurs of discontent from goalkeeper David James and Turkish defender Alpay. At one stage even the manager himself voiced his own doubts over the board’s willingness to release funds to compete with the big spenders.
Gregory’s recruits have yet to perform to their full potential. David Ginola, sold to the astonishment of many Spurs fans, has yet to really dazzle his new public and was, earlier in the season, chided by his manager for carrying a few too many pounds. Daveed did not take too kindly to that and seized the opportunity to whip off his shirt and show his six-pack after finding the net in December.
After a fruitless chase for the South African striker Benni McCarthy, Gregory turned his attention to South America and came up with Colombian striker Juan Pablo Angel who was plying his trade for River Plate in Argentina.
Like most imports from a different continent, Angel has struggled so far to adapt and we have yet to see the best of the £9.5m signing. Gregory has gone on record as saying Angel will have to deliver the goods next season when he is fully settled in.
Meanwhile, Joachim is back in the good books, playing well, and now says that he no longer wishes to leave as long as he is playing first team football and Southgate has indicated a willingness to talk.
If Villa continue with their recent improvement, Gregory could well have the bargaining chip of European football to persuade them to commit their futures to the club.