Sunday 17 December 2017

Aston Villa - a club on the road to nowhere

WE are at the time of year when Sky Sports repeat ad nauseam their Premiership Years series -- the nostalgia-based show that doesn't actually deal with anything that happened before 1992, WRITES DANIEL McDONNELL.

This week, viewers will have been reminded of an era when Aston Villa genuinely competed at the top end of the table. When Manchester United ended their league title drought in 1993, it was the Birmingham club that pushed them all the way.

During the 90s, Villa Park was a happy hunting ground for Irish players, with Paul McGrath, Ray Houghton, Steve Staunton and Andy Townsend all enjoying memorable days with both club and country.

At least Villa had plausible pretensions to glory back then. Now, they have aspirations of doing so without any realistic basis for such confidence. They lack the spending power of the clubs at the right end of the table, although Martin O'Neill did spend lavishly on certain individuals.

Unfortunately, they cannot compensate for that shortfall with a rich tradition. They've only won the league once since 1910, and that was in 1981. That was followed up with European Cup triumph, in a truly remarkable period for the club. But the majority of the players they look to attract today weren't even born then.

The Champions League has passed them by. Instead, they have a record of falling at the first hurdle in the Europa League. O'Neill did bring them to the latter stages of the UEFA Cup two seasons ago, but sacrificed that competition by fielding kids against CSKA Moscow to preserve the senior stars for a fruitless tilt at a top -four finish.

Richard Dunne and Stephen Ireland, both handsomely paid, felt they were joining a club with ambition when they were surplus to requirements at Manchester City. Unfortunately, they have landed at a Midlands club that is firmly ensconced in the middle of the road.

Daniel McDonnell

Irish Independent

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