To be, or not to be: Champions League football at Villa Park

And so, another summer full of elation, frustration and rain draws to a close.

The transfer window is now closed and Martin and Randy begin their fourth season at the helm. Amongst the fanfare of their arrival was an announcement of a five year plan to bring Champions League football to Villa Park, will this season see us take another step towards this top four finish?


Most Aston Villa fans would agree that each of the three previous seasons have seen us make slow and steady steps towards this goal, so this brings us to the pertinent question asked above which is at the front of all of our minds.

There is no easy answer, just strong arguments for both sides.

Taken a step backwards

There is no denying that the teams around us like Spurs and Manchester City have taken big strides forwards. The latter even managed to add insult to injury by pinching one of our best players. So even if we have managed to stand still, we've still gone backwards.

With Martin Laursen's retirement we've lost our best defender since Paul McGrath. He was always going to be irreplaceable and we haven't recruited a central midfielder with either the impact or influence of Barry. So in short, we’ve replaced two great players with seven lesser players.

O'Neill’s managerial ability and potential to turn us into a top four team has also been called into question. His man management and motivational abilities may well be second to none, but he stubbornly persisted with a system that wasn’t working for too long.

It’s also hard not to be suspicious of this tactical understanding when he often seems to lack a credible plan B or C. He's also ultimately failed to bring in 'top-class' players during the transfer window.

This hardly sounds like a team on the march forward.

Taken a step forward

We might not have had the high profile headline grabbing signing we hoped for, like van der Vaart or Huntelaar, but O'Neill has been busy assembling a squad packed full of potential.

We now have genuine competition for every position which will prove to be invaluable this season. The players know they have to perform or they'll be dropped. They’ll also be no more playing out of position and tired legs towards the final hurdle.

  • Dunne: A leader and warrior; four time player of the season that will tackle a lamp post if asked
  • Warnock: Fans player of the season, great defending and great pushing forward
  • Delph: The next Steven Gerrard? Will play for England within two years and will be our captain within three
  • Downing: Capello thinks he’s mustard, so who am I to argue?
  • Collins: Good squad player highly rated by bubble blowers
  • Beye: Another player of the season last time out that looks good going forward, providing solid competition for Luke
  • Marshall: Not really worth a mention, sorry Andy

By my reckoning, O'Neill and Lerner have made a net player investment of £85 to £90 million since they arrived. Add to that, if we're in the mix for a Champions League place come Christmas, then I fully expect a us to make that big name signing we hoped for.

However it’s not just about the players we've brought in, the players we already have are improving. Milner, Reo-Coker, Gabby, Sidwell, Cueller, and Guzan have all looked impressive of late and I really fancy them to step up this year along with the likes of Albrighton and Delfouneso when called upon.

What's more, O'Neill has also listened to our prayers and reverted back to system he had so much success with last year. Defending with 4-5-1 and attacking with 4-2-3-1. He may deserve some of the criticism levelled at him, but there aren't many better managers out there.

Lerner also deserves a mention. He has more than demonstrated his ambition and commitment. Investing in players, Bodymoor Heath and the Holte Hotel. Not to mention the planned North Stand development which should see crowds of 50,000 plus at Villa Park.

I’m very grateful to Lerner for not gambling with our clubs future by attempting rapid expansion, instead, picking solid organic growth. I’m also proud to wear the kit made by Nike with a great sponsor like Acorns and appreciate the respect he shows to the fans.

Verdict

Pushing for one of the four Champions League positions is without doubt a massive ask for our club. Even with their millions, Manchester City are expected to struggle.

However we have a great young squad that will just keep getting better and a passionate and exciting manager we should all be proud to have and an owner that’s done all that we could possibly ask of him.

Bring on Small Heath, bring on the top four and bring on the Champions League!

Gavin goes by the user name MerryMan on the site