Aston Villa: Proud History, Bright Future – that seems to have been the tag line for Randy Lerner’s tenure at Villa Park thus far. And let’s face it. It must be true; even Tom Hanks has a scarf that says so much.
So let us begin with the Proud History aspect. Seven First Division titles; check. Seven FA Cups; check. Five League Cups; check. Oh and one of those shiny European Cup thingees; check.
Fair to say I don’t think many people can argue with the Proud History claim. There’s even a rumour going round that we founded the whole damn league.
But let’s face it. History is exactly that – history. We haven’t won the league for 30 years, the FA cup for 50 years and our last domestic trophy arrived 15 years ago. Not exactly ideal when trying to attract the next generation of Villa fans ey?
I’m not sure if it’s simply a case of me getting old(er) but Villa Park seems a bit flat these days. Attendances aren’t as high as we’d like and the noise levels seem to be on the slide.
Now this is where the Bright Future part needs to help out. When I hear the word future, it automatically makes me think of the younger players at the club.
Now the club might not have the best recent record in the transfer market, but one area where we have been wise to invest is in our youth academy.
Recent success in the FA Youth Cup illustrates the return on this investment. We won the cup in 2002 with a team which included Stefan and Luke Moore, Liam Ridgewell, Peter Whittingham and Steven Davis. Players who have had mixed success since leaving the club, but have largely forged solid careers.
We were runners up in 2004 and again last season, when our youngsters were unlucky to lose 3-2 following a late winner by Chelsea.
The FA Youth Cup is for players 15-18. Therefore we most likely won’t be seeing these lads break into the first team ranks for another couple of seasons just yet.
But this season we’ve already seen the club rely more and more on our academy produced players. Marc Albrighton has shot to prominence whilst Barry Bannan, Eric Lichaj, Ciaran Clark, Nathan Delfouneso, Jonathan Hogg and Andreas Weimann are amongst a group of young professionals starting to make a name for themselves.
A strong performance in the FA Youth Cup is no guarantee of future success. I think the careers of Stefan and to a lesser extent Luke Moore shows us that much is true. But it is generally an indication of the seeds being sown for potential silverware further down the line.
Fergie’s Fledglings won the tournament in 1992. Their side included David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville. They were also beaten finalists a year later, that day their side included Paul Scholes and Phil Neville. You get the idea.
You might be interested to know the last time Villa won the cup prior to 2002 was in 1980. I should hope we all know what happened at the club over the next couple of seasons. That isn’t to suggest that these youngsters brought us the silverware directly, but success breeds success.
So we didn’t spend the summer splashing out £20m on a new striker and central midfielder. But perhaps we don’t need to? Albrighton already looks as though he could be worth millions of pounds. And given time the likes of Clark, Delfouneso and Bannan could well follow.
A certain Paul Birch was part of that side that beat Man City 30 years ago; his name can still be heard on the terraces today. I for one hope that over the next couple of seasons the next Aston Villa legend emerges and 30 years from now we’ll be chanting his name.George goes by the user name Mowgs on the site.