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Aston Villa: Patient Approach as O’Neill Continues to Build


Paul Grech

As a young kid, Paul Grech got used to hearing ‘oh no, not him’ when the others found out that he would be playing on their team. He quickly took the hint that he was crap at football. Hopefully, he’s a bit better at writing about it....
[full biography]
09/07/2007 08:00:00.
read: 1529 times.

For a moment there, Aston Villa fans must have wondered whether Randy Lerner had turned to Doug Ellis for advice on how to run the club. Not only were they not buying any players, they weren’t even being linked with anyone.

The arrival of Nigel Reo-Coker significantly eases those fears.

Visibly relieved to finally leave West Ham, Reo-Coker comes from a traumatic season that saw him being blamed for the club’s struggle against relegation. The fans remembered his apparent desire last summer to move to a bigger side when the club started to struggle and with Reo-Coker’s form dipping well below what they had been used to, the association that he was trying to play his way out of the club quickly took hold.

For the twenty two year old who has just missed out of making it into England’s World Cup squad, it was quite a come-down not to mention a vital lesson as to how quickly fortunes can turn in football.

That West Ham held out for a fee of ₤8.5 million for a player that they clearly felt they could do without, and that Villa were prepared to pay that amount, proves that his abilities are still greatly valued. And it could hardly be any other way.

Strength, determination, athleticism, good passing vision and an excellent leader mark him out not only as one of the better players of his generation but as one of the finest midfielders in the Premiership. Frighteningly, he can become much better.

Which Martin O’Neill, a manager famed for his ability to get players to perform to their best, will surely sees that he does.

This transfer offers further valuable insight on how O’Neill plans to build his side. Rather than load the club with a number of average and ageing players that might produce better results in the short term, he has been carefully choosing who to buy going largely for young players who have already reached a good level but who, crucially, have the potential to become much better.

Anyone who watched Ashley Young tear the Italian defence to shreds at the recent U21 championship will have understood why O’Neill was so willing to spend in excess of ₤10 million to get him from Watford. The Bulgarian midfielder Stilian Petrov is another who falls in this category, even though he has yet to produce the kind of football he regularly showed in Scotland.

There is, however, a substantial risk in this strategy. Villa’s perilous dip in the second half of last season hinted that the squad needs greater depth in order to compete at the highest level and whilst O’Neill’s careful additions might have the first eleven pushing for at least for a top ten finish, he would have problems should there be injuries to any of those regular players. More players of a better quality are needed.

The implied message to Randy Lerner is simple: keep that cheque book open.

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