It’s the most wonderful time of the year (!)

Dave Woodhall talks about Villa’s past week, touching on transfers, cup ties and the appalling taste of professional footballers.

No league match last weekend (thanks to UEFA spotting a money-making opportunity around a friendly), no league match this weekend (thanks to FIFA spotting a money-making opportunity around pointless internationals) but at least there is some football to watch – more on that later.

There was also the excitement of the transfer window closing, which thanks to Sky and rolling 24 hour news has now become the biggest story of the season. Once upon a time, children, there was something called Cup Final Day, which was treated with the same excitement.

Of course, Villa did their best to act as spoilsports by completing most of their business months ago but there was still one unexpected deal with the surprise arrival of Czech international striker Libor Kozak from Lazio for around £6 million. Yes, I thought it was odd to be signing another striker but I suppose Christian Benteke is going to be injured or suspended a couple of times this season so a reliable back-up makes sense. Kozak’s goalscoring record in Serie A wasn’t great, although he was top scorer in last season’s Europa League, but Paul Lambert is nothing if not meticulous in his scouting of new players so he must have seen something in Kozak to make Villa’s newest signing worth the investment.

With the main (unfilled) priority seeming to be an attacking midfielder it was ironic that the final day of the window saw two players leave Villa Park who could have done the job admirably. Barry Bannan moved to Crystal Palace for an initial £500,000, and whichever division they play in next season will probably be about his level. Bannan’s undoubtedly got talent but he also appears to have the sort of mentality that gets supporters backs up and means he may never fulfil his potential. If he does graft and help keep Palace up then he and they might become fixtures in the Premier League. If not, there’s a well-worn path that ultimately leads to Walsall.

Bannan aroused mixed feelings during his Villa career. Opinions of Stephen Ireland were less divided. Massively talented but totally idle, Ireland could have been a big star at Villa but squandered every chance he was given. The ill-fated semi-final against Bradford was probably his last opportunity – he should have dominated the stage and taken Villa to Wembley but instead he was as anonymous as his colleagues. He’s off on a season-long loan to play for the manager who got the best out of him and as he won’t be back until his contract’s up that’s the last we’ll see of Stephen Ireland. I’d like to say good luck but I wouldn’t mean it. Whereas Bannan has still got a future to play for, and to be fair to him has always looked like he gives his all, Ireland appears not to like football and regards it as a job to be endured as a means to an extremely wealthy end. Given the Villa’s position when he arrived I wonder how different his career and our recent past might have been had his commitment matched his undoubted ability. How much difference, do you think, is there between Ireland’s natural talent and that of Gareth ‘£83 million’ Bale? What a waste, indeed.

Of course there was some football during the past seven days, with Villa easing their way past Rotherham United in the League Cup second round. Goals from Andreas Weimann, Christian Benteke (naturally) and a blinder from Fabian Delph led to a routine win and a home tie with Spurs in round three. Full credit to Villa for putting out a more or less full strength side and also to Rotherham for sticking to their game and not being overwhelmed.  Being able to patronise the plucky losers makes a nice change.

It’s Non-League Day again on Saturday. You know the drill by now – have a look round online, see who’s playing where, get out and spend a couple of hours enjoying yourself. You might not see a feast of scintillating football but I can guarantee there’ll be no pink-trimmed Range Rovers.