Dave Woodhall looks back on a week at Villa Park where a few things happened.
Last week I said forthcoming events might give an indication of where Villa stand in the great scheme of things. Maybe we should give them another week.
Shay Given arrived, as predicted. Alex McLeish said there might only be one new signing, although whether that’s immediately or before the end of August depends where you stand on the scale between blind optimism and breast-beating hysteria. Villa have had a bid of £9 million turned down for Charles N’Zogbia, and while Wigan owner Dave Whelan (who stopped being a lovable maverick a long time ago and is now firmly filed under T for Twat) says they want another million, other clubs are ominously starting to be linked with the winger. I still think he’ll sign for Villa, though. The haggling is all about sending a sign to other prospective selling clubs that we aren’t going to be throwing money around just because we’ve received plenty of it this summer. Really it is. Carlos Cuellar’s transfer to Rangers seems to have gone quiet, though. I hope he stays – despite what I said last week we’d struggle to get a better replacement for anywhere like the same money.
And we played our first pre-season friendly of the summer, the usual curtain-raiser at Walsall, last Thursday. The strongest Villa team to turn out at Bescot for years strolled to a 3-0 half-time lead with Darren Bent scoring twice and Emile Heskey getting a third. The best sight of the night, though, was the Stephens Ireland and Warnock seeming to have put last season’s ‘difficulties’ behind them with encouraging displays – Ireland in particular showed some of the touches he’s capable of. Villa then made multiple changes for the second half and provided the main reasons for both pessimism and optimism over the coming months. As ever, we have some promising young talent emerging from the Academy and they all acquitted themselves well at Walsall, but the Villa side who played during the second half was woefully thin on first team experience. Our strongest line-up can be a match for anyone, but as has been the case for years now, it won’t take many injuries or suspensions to cause a crisis. Strengthening the squad is vital.
The team have now jetted off to Hong Kong, because what all players need just before the season gets underway is a trip to the other side of the world and back, either side of a couple of games played in alien and unhelpful conditions. But this inconvenience is understandable when the enormous benefits the trip will bring are taken into account. As Premier League chief executive Richard Scudmore says, “We look forward to reacquainting ourselves with old friends.” And very nice in their brand new replica shirts I’m sure they’ll look too as they watch Chelsea v Manchester United on prime time TV next season. Prime time that is, for them.
So let’s see how Villa get on against Blackburn just for a change, and whoever they play after that. Then let’s get the N’Zogbia deal wrapped up and move on to the next target.