Date: 27th September 2013 at 8:53am
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After crushing United and a successful start to the Champion’s League campaign City head back to the Midlands to face Paul Lambert’s young Villa side. VMC’s Skoorb caught up with Vital Villa’s Mike for the very latest at Villa Park…

1. Who is your favourite Aston Villa player of all time & why?

“This is by far the easiest question I can answer, but even then it comes close. I fell in love with the club whilst we had the pleasure of God playing at centre half – Paul McGrath – and given that was the position I played in at school as well, apart from occasionally moonlighting as a goalkeeper, there was nobody else in the league at the point I could look up to higher in my mind and he played for us!

“Everything about him was effortless, the tackles, the way he read a game, the way he put somebody on the deck, the way he looked at a colleague when they he) made a mistake ‘must do better, you’ll learn,’ clearing a ball with a back heel, the spectacular own goals he used to score, especially one very memorable back heel from the edge of the box that as a kid I used to for some strange reason applaud just as much I did a goal in the right penalty box.

“I’m sure in one game when Shaun Teale scored a spectacular own goal, McGrath looked at him with a look of ‘don’t steal my thunder.

“It was just so effortless, and when you learnt more about the man, the lack of training, the knees, and his demons I just admired him even more for never coming off that pitch not having given his all.

“The reference to, but it comes close, is I also had the pleasure of seeing Gordon Cowans dictate a midfield, not with physical strength, but with a deft touch, a killer pass, and the ability to make a yard make the opposition team member look like he was about six yards behind him and already losing ground.

“If Villa could ever find two players half as good as they were for us, the last few seasons would’ve been dramatically different in my mind. Nostalgia maybe? But I don’t think I’ll look back at some of the ‘best’ players we’ve had in recent years with as much fondness in two decades time.”

2. What brought you to support Villa?

“A new group of friends. Rebellion against a family raised supporting the dark side. It was a few things. I actually had been to St Andrews a number of times before I first tasted Villa Park under the evening lights, and it just clicked. Everything felt right about it even though I was a newbie on the night. Going to St Andrews I enjoyed the football, I enjoyed time with my mates and having a laugh. My first time at Villa Park I really don’t have much memory of it – and I wasn’t drinking back then, I was a good little schoolboy, I just walked out thinking ‘wow’ and wanting to experience that again. It was so different, I’m not sure if I found Villa or Villa found me.”

3. What is the best thing about being a Villa fan?

“Lately – the ability to develop a thick skin, self depreciation, an ability to laugh at yourself louder than everybody else in the room and turn the joke on them? Seems to be a common consensus unfortunately after the seasons we’ve endured and I would say lately, but it’s gone on longer than that really. I think it’s hope, the fact we still support a club with soul who rightly nods to our history, our importance in the grand scheme of things thanks to a man known as Mr McGregor, and our past successes with the hope that once in my life I’ll see us lift what I was too young to, or not alive to see, us lift in the past.

“Of course I’ve just played right into the hands of many opposition fans (cue comments) of living on our history, but we’ve come so close since and seen it fall away. Boardroom issues of not backing at the right point, manager’s hitting their own ceiling…we’ve never quite been able to push on as we should’ve especially in the Premiership years, at points we are like our own enemy.

“It may be history, but it’s a proud one, and one to be very proud of. The future is unknown, football is too much about the present and overloaded with money these days sadly. When the money grabbing idiots at all levels decide tiddlywinks is the new blue sky idea for them to put their grubby fingers into, I’d hope it’s the historic clubs that band together and give us the game we fell in love with back.

“The best thing…honestly I just am – nobody can take that away from me, I wouldn’t want it any other way, and if my love for Villa dies I’ll have no interest in football and opposition fans can take the piss all they want, but secretly, whether they admit it or not, I bet the vast majority can identify with this paragraph because they are exactly the same.

“Success is not a marker of a fan. I might not agree with your owners, the way you have brought success – and I didn’t really agree with it when we tried it on a much smaller scale under O`Neill because it’s so short term and relies on the money not running out. I might even loathe the self-entitlement we see in the press now from City supporters. But given your recent past, I don’t doubt those fans we see expecting success and playing the big “I am” card probably weren’t around in the days of Peter Reid, Niall Quinn, David White, David Flitcroft and those are the names I simply remember because I thought you played some cracking stuff as a kid before you hit relegation.”

4. If there was one player in Aston Villa’s squad that you would want to keep above all others who would it be and why?

“Christian Benteke has to be the obvious go to here. There were three questions last season in our interview list that just became, Benteke, Benteke, Benteke. It’s impossible to ignore how he grew into the league post Christmas and the impact he had.

“But we do have so many players who aren’t there yet, but could be. The likes of Andi Weimann, Ashley Westwood, Fabian Delph, Nathan Baker, Matty Lowton, Ciaran Clark.

“Can I be cheeky on this one and say minus a couple of players who I just haven’t seen enough improvement on this season, following how they performed last season I’d want to keep absolutely everyone else because I fear we scapegoat or write somebody off too quickly after throwing them in at the deep end and expecting them to carry David Ginola (courtesy of a John Gregory crack many years ago) and float themselves and that certainly isn’t going to happen over night.”

5. Every team has a player that is an ‘unsung hero’, a ‘water-carrier’ for the ‘artists’ if you like. They get through a lot of work but often don’t get the recognition they deserve. Who would be your pick for this ‘role’ in the Villa squad?

“We have a few, because depending on what mood fans seem to be in, somebody is unlucky not to be picked for England. Matty Lowton and Ashley Westwood most recently ignoring previously capped Gabby Agbonlahor, and the very next week they haven’t done enough to justify their selection let alone their status as a Premiership player.

“Really oft maligned players Baker and Clark are guilty of individual mistakes that get focused on regardless of what else they do. Westwood does the very simple things and never shines, never looks spectacular and even now when he plays a killer throughball fans are still surprised because if you read the match thread nobody knew he was on the pitch. Gabby tracks back like a trooper but fans only remember the shots he misses, and Andi Weimann is the same, and it’s the latter I have to go for.

“Last season Weimann was popping up – he’s a striker by the way who plays wide to Benteke normally – in midfield, at right back, near the penalty spot, I’m sure I saw him at least four times last season covering the left back even though he was playing wide on the right of Benteke. The lad’s energy is phenomenal and the only time he gives up seems to be when his body says “take another step and I’m making you take two weeks off.” He didn’t have the best of season’s in terms of finishing last year, but when you’ve just sprinted 500 yards nonstop to help win the ball in defence, and then got back in the penalty box you’re meant to be focused on, you can kind of forgive somebody for not having the composure to not snatch at an effort. He also hasn’t started this season well, but my guess is whilst Lambert loves his Rambo efforts, he’s been told to focus a bit more on his upfront role, so of course when he’s not covering the right back, midfield doesn’t get blamed, it’s Andi’s fault for not chasing back etc.

“I wish we’d let him float, because the kid has a finish like anybody, most people when he was coming through the Academy compared him to Dean Ashton. Workrate, effort, knows where the net is but he’s fallen into the role of being the utility man on the pitch so when he gets a chance he’d normally bury with his eyes closed, he’s knackered.

“If I’m right, I’m glad Lambert is addressing it and curbing his enthusiasm but of course, you love a player prepared to do that don’t you.”

6. Football Manager time – If you could pick any three players from City’s squad who would you choose & why?

“As former Villans, and huge losses that have never been replaced, I have to show some loyalty and plump for Gareth Barry and James Milner as two I’d drive back myself and I don’t drive!

“It would please me, and probably scare the crap out of them, but you can”t have everything in life.

“Aguero just speaks for himself for me.”

7. The Time Machine – If there was one thing which you could go back in time and change from Villa’s past what would it be and why would you make that change?

“1992 where we pushed Manchester United but unfortunately bottled it towards the end of the season where the anticipation seemed to affect our form. I think Ron Atkinson showed a little too much faith in players who weren’t performing as the season drew to a close, and whilst I can understand him sticking with them because of the job they’d done so far, and he obviously thought keeping faith with them would help turn things around, a bit of fresh blood, wanting to take their chance may just have made the difference.

“That was a lost opportunity for us. We missed out on the league and your best mate Sir Alex thought we were the only team going to challenge him but Ron didn’t last long and Deadly’s infamous axe again circumcised the progress we’d made and the squad was dismantled.

“I don’t mean to imply had we won that year we’d have shown the dominance United did, because they had a much better base than us, we had in effect a first team with a few subs, but it could’ve been the boost that changed our fortunes for the last 20 years.

“Failing that certain referees who don’t understand the last man means a red card, even when you are playing Manchester United, or most recently a referee who doesn’t realise that if you grab a player and force him to commit lewd conduct there’s the possibility as the last man that maybe he pulled him back. At the very least it was an attempt to pull him off? Oh, I’d also buy Arsene Wenger some self-powered glasses, he misses way too much.”

8. What if?……… had to choose between survival in the Premier League or beating Birmingham in the FA Cup Final which would you pick?

“Well this is a trick question. I’m not going to spend the time checking but I don’t believe my fellow City team have ever won the FA Cup? So your question is kind of redundant. However, I’ll play along. On the question asked, Premiership survival.

‘If that question becomes the League Cup, I’d go Premiership survival, because beating Arsenal really helped them. Well it gave them a good laugh as for some unknown reason, where I freely admit I’m probably going to understand the meaning of life…or women…far quicker than the decision of our board to appoint Alex McLeish.

“I’ll even extend it to Premiership survival vs losing both games to them in the league. It’s unlikely to happen again, can you really see them being promoted? (I can see family members already writing me out of their wills!) I’ll take Premiership survival.

“I don’t get any fan who puts their local rivals above their own clubs interests…but maybe that’s because I grew up with both sides of the coin and don’t really get the hate that exists for some anyway?”

9. Goal Line Technology has been introduced this season (& not before time in my opinion). If you could change one rule in the game what would it be and why?

“Referee’s with ridiculously slow watches in games involving Manchester United? Referee’s who are too scared to give decisions against the love boys of the so called top four, or as I call them, one winner, and three losers.

“Not really rules are they? I’d change the offside trap. I’m not convinced the muppet who came up with the new variant even understands what constitutes ‘affecting play’ because the referees and the linesman…sorry on pitch help adjudicators with responsibility to the referee with the slow watch….get it either.

“There are plenty of things that could be improved in our now money driven game, and video replays is a start but they need to overrule the referee, and be accountable when they get it wrong or bottle it themselves. I do have some sympathy for referees, their role cannot be foolproof via positioning alone. But camera action, and everything else we can do – including more officials to police a game better can’t be a bad thing.

“Oh it would break up play. More than a muppet feigning injury? Fans don’t get 90 minutes as it is, if the clock is stopped for a video replay not only is it fairer but fans may start to get close to value for money.

“The ability to use camera action to punish divers and fakers and if needed remove the goal it led to and reapportion points would also be a huge bonus to remove the cheating attitude – I hate to say it – the foreign game has introduced to our much loved game. Why can’t we get back to players being really dirty Alan B’stards and tackling hard but fair! Got to be better than the liberal democrats we now have who roll around for 30 minutes over a broken nail or somebody said something nasty to them ‘stop sitting on the fence?’ until the referee folds and books somebody.

“Sorry can’t change one, if those with a finger in the pie want to enjoy the benefits of all the money that flows their way, then referee mistakes is no longer a discussion point down the pub, it’s no longer acceptable. You want the money, be accountable. If not, halve your wage.”

10. Which player do you think will score the first goal on Saturday and what is your prediction for the final score?

“The referee….sorry wrong question.
BR>”No, I’m really not comfortable about this match. We won at Norwich but we weren’t dominating. We were hammered in a game midweek I’ve forgotten, and I can’t answer the question.

“The pessimist in me says your bloody goalkeeper will open the scoring, such seems our luck at the moment, but as is normal for us, against sides like you we do rally after going behind, so I have my fingers crossed that whilst we’ll probably lose, we make you earn the victory and we don’t roll over and maybe give a 90 minute performance for the first time in about 4 years.

“A result is not expected by most fans, putting in a performance we can be proud of is. If the players do that, we won’t be too downbeat as however horrible it sounds to say this, this isn’t the type of game we expect to win these days. But the performance is key.”

Very many thanks and respect going out to Mike and the Vital Villa team.

all times East Manchester BST

Tomorrow 15h00 Aston Villa, Villa Park PL
We 2 Oct Bayern Munich, The Etihad, CLGS2
Sa 05 Oct 12h45 Everton, The Etihad PL
Sa 19 Oct 17h30 West Ham, Upton Park PL
We 23 Oct 17h00 CSKA Moscow, Arena Khimki CLGS3
Su 27 Oct 16h00 Chelsea, Stamford Bridge PL
Sa 02 Nov 15h00 GMT Norwich City, The Etihad PL
Tu 05 Nov 17h00 GMT CSKA Moscow, The Etihad CLGS4
Su 10 Nov 1405 GMT Sunderland, Stadium of Light PL
Su 24 Nov 13h30 GMT Spurs, The Etihad PL
We 27 Nov 19h45 GMT Viktoria Plzen, The Etihad CLGS5
Tu 01 Dec 16h10 GMT Swansea City, The Etihad PL
We 4 Dec 20h00 GMT West Brom, The Hawthorns PL

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