The truth hurts

I'm no spring chicken. In fact, when the last World Cup to be hosted on this soil kicked off in 1966, I hadn't even reached my first birthday.

I have two young sons now, who are no mean footballers and who are died-in-the-wool Aston Villa fans. I wanted the World Cup to come to England for them. It would have been a massive part of their lives, and something they would never have forgotten. The loss of that opportunity is painful in its own right: it's made even more painful by the fact that it's been taken away by a buffoon Emperor waited upon by bent courtiers.

But I can't help thinking that there was a great deal of naivete in the English bid. We, the home of football, would play it straight. We'd tell it like it was, present the facts and then - blue-eyed and smiling - we'd bring our princes and politicians and footballing icons to FIFA's headquarters, shake a few hands and everything would be o.k.

It wasn't. Maybe we're not that expert at skulduggery. Maybe cloak-and-dagger doesn't really suit us. We don't fight dirty, and we lose.


I don't want to stretch a point too much, but it strikes me that there's similar naivete at Villa Park right now. We're all delighted that the youngsters - Barry Bannan, Marc Albrighton, Jonathan Hogg, Ciaran Clark and Nathan Delfounseo - are doing so well and showing such promise. We're all chuffed to bits that Gerard Houllier and his coaching team seem to be ingraining a way of playing football which is easy on the eye, and which seeks to build from the back and relies on possession of the football.

And it's a bit like the Emperor's New Clothes: we're all so happy and delighted that we run the risk of being afraid to tell it like it really is. And how it really is, in my view, is this...

We're in a lot of trouble

At the moment, Villa have an ageing and increasingly clumsy-looking traditional back four with a youthful, enterprising but essentially ineffective set of forwards in front of it. We are increasingly combining calamitous gaucheness in defence with waywardness up front - and I'm not seeing a tactical blueprint to deal with the situation.

Sure, the return of Stiliyan Petrov and Nigel Reo-Coker will steady the midfield ship. But these are workaday, if committed footballers. They would be far more likely to help Villa back up the league table through a return to huff-and-puff football than through a new dawn of passing football.

You take on the top sides in one of two ways: you either outplay them, or you outfight them. While Houllier's commitment to attractive football is commendable, he doesn't have the playing resources to achieve it, Randy Lerner will almost certainly not buy it, and the Villa youth is nowhere near seasoned enough to do it this season (or probably next).

The killing fields

I've been roundly criticised for years on this blog for being over-positive and over-optimistic. This isn't supposed to be a negative post - in fact, I would love for nothing more than the departure of MON and the arrival of Houllier to herald a new dawn of exciting, attractive, passing football. That is how I want Villa to play.

But that is how Tony Mowbray wanted West Brom to play two seasons ago. And they tried it. To a large extent, they achieved it, winning plaudits from all around for their fine footballing philosophy. But they went down. And they went down because they didn't have the playing quality to match that very philosophy.

I don't want Villa to end up in the Killing Fields of the lower half of the Premier League. On Wednesday evening, I watched a Villa side outplay the Blues and lose. I suspect there are going to be many more 90 minutes like that one, unless we wise up in January.

So, Mr. Lerner (have we been here before?) - if you've appointed Gerard Houllier because you want Villa to take on the Premier League with flowing, attacking, passing football - then you need to put your hand in your pocket in January and invest in some real quality.

Otherwise, I rather suspect our naivete will mean it's the Killing Fields for us. The nice guys don't always win. Sometimes, as Mr Blatter so desperately proved, they even come last.