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Thursday, 31 January 2013

The rapid demise of Aston Villa

It wasn't too long ago that Aston Villa Football Club were one of the best up-and-coming sides not only in England but in Europe too.

Randy Lerner had taken over at Villa Park in 2006 and soon began to pump money into the club to  in a bid to possibly reach the Europa League or, as it was called back then, the Uefa Cup.

It was all going well; Villa brought in the likes of Ashley Young, James Milner and Stewart Downing (He was good once, honest!) as the club looked at assembling a squad that could push for the top 6 at the very least and with it, potentially locking horns with Europe's elite.

SIGNING: Downing was a wanted man (Zimbio)
The thing that most fans (apart from the likes of Birmingham City, Wolves, West Brom) liked, was boss, Martin O'Neill bringing in young, hungry, English talent and it looked for all the world that Villa would soon blow the dust from their trophy cabinet, and return to the glory days of the 1980s; winning the old First Division (equivalent of the Premier League) in 80/81, the European Cup (Champions League) in 81/82 and the European Super Cup in 82.

They came close under O'Neill's guidance; during his four year tenure at Villa Park, he achieved a creditable 11th place finish (first season) before guiding the club to a trio of sixth place endings, thus sending the club on a European tour to the likes of Hamburg, Amsterdam and Prague. The future was looking very bright.

Curtis Davies (R) takes on CSKA Moscow's Vagner Love (L) (Zimbio)
However, then came the bombshell that Villa fans didn't want to hear; the news of O'Neill resigning just a couple of days prior to the opening 2010/2011 Premier League game at home to West Ham, and this was the start of Villa's slide.

Their stars soon began departing; Milner eventually signed for Manchester City soon after O'Neill left and the following summer saw wingers, Young and Downing leave for the north-west; signing for Manchester United and Liverpool respectively.

Young and Milner moved on (WhoAteAllThePies)
Gerard Houllier was the man entrusted to take over where O'Neill had left off, however, medical conditions saw the Frenchman only last a season at the club, ending the season in 9th place.

Next up was Alex McLeish. Big 'Eck had managed to relegate arch rivals, Birmingham to the Championship, despite winning the Carling Cup. The appointment of the former Scotland manager was lambasted by Villa fans and they were never on side for his solitary season (finishing 16th) and he was soon relieved of his duties. During this campaign, Villa had the poorest home record in their history, gaining just 19 points out of a potential 57.

And then, came the appointment of Paul Lambert. Another Scotsman placed in charge of first team affairs and, so far, it's been another disappointing season. The club spent a lot of time and money pursuing Lambert in the summer before finally getting their man from Norwich City.

Lambert's side have been disappointing (SportsMole)
However, his first transfer window at the Villa helm was a poor one - preferring to go with youth rather than signing more experienced heads and it's quickly deteriorated into a dreadful first half of the campaign with only Cristian Benteke standing out from a bunch of poor, in-experienced signings. A falling out with regular "20-goal-a-season man" Darren Bent hasn't helped their cause, they suffered defeat in the Capital One Cup to League 2 side Bradford City, and after their latest defeat in the game against fellow strugglers, Newcastle, Villa seem certain to be heading through the relegation trap door.

With no spine of the team and little experience, you struggle to see how the club can survive. And the worst part? The Championship is a very difficult league to get out of.

BENT-CH WARMER: Star striker (L) and Stephen Ireland (R) (London24)

Friday, 18 January 2013

Warren meets... Brian McDermott

On Wednesday afternoon, I had a chat with Reading manager Brian McDermott about his career as a player, coach, Chief Scout and every other job he seems to have had at the club! Anyway, here it is, I hope you enjoy it!

WL: Brian, it all began for you at Arsenal, how big a thing for you, after getting released by QPR, to come up through the ranks with the Gunners and into the first team?

BM: Yeah, it was a big thing for me. I made my debut at 17. Obviously was at QPR for a long time but never made the grade there. Then went to Millwall and had a trial there and it just didn’t happen for me there, and I was lucky enough to get taken up by Arsenal, played 70 odd games for them. It’s a fantastic club and a great experience.

TOP GUN: Brian during his Arsenal days
WL: So during your time there, who were the main players at Arsenal?

BM: Liam Brady - I made my debut with Liam Brady. There was Graham Rix, Tony Woodcock. Later time in the 80s there was Charlie Nicholas, Pat Jennings, we had some fantastic players there... Kenny Sansom was another one. We got to three cup finals and it was a really good experience and still, it’s a top club.

WL: After Arsenal, you spent a bit of time in Sweden. How did that move come about and was it a hard decision to make due to you only being in your early 20s?

BM: Yeah, it wasn’t easy to leave home at the time. I just felt I needed to have a new experience. At the time I wasn’t getting many games at the Arsenal and I just felt that I needed to go to get life experience more than anything. It went well for me in Sweden; I was Player of the Year over there in 1984 and I had a great time and I’ve got a real affinity with Sweden.

WL: You mentioned that Player of the Year, how high does that achievement rank in your career?

BM: Yeah, that’s up there. That was when I was a player and the person who was a player was 20 years ago now probably. It was such a long time ago, I can’t really remember too much about it! It was up there though, I had a great experience and I really enjoyed the people over there.

WL: You then came back to England before having a spell in Hong Kong, can you tell me a little bit about the move out there?

BM: I’d just been at Exeter, we’d won the league and I went to Yeovil. I then left Yeovil and was offered the chance to play abroad in Hong Kong. It was a completely diverse experience; I took the family out there and we had a great time out there. We spent about six months out there and again, it was another really good experience for me.

WL: You played the last of your playing career for your hometown club, Slough, however, you soon got into management; was this an aspiration of yours?

BM: Not particularly. I was at Slough for a couple of years and financially we were going under. We ended up 8th in the league, in the Conference and managed to get to the semi-finals of the (FA) Trophy. It was a fantastic year for us but the club went under because the chairman didn’t want to finance the club anymore. I ended up at Woking and was there for 18 months before I ended up at Reading where I’ve been ever since.

WL: As mentioned, you’ve had that non-league experience, how did those tough times with the smaller clubs shape you as the man you are today?

BM: Non-league is completely different (to the Football League); you train two nights per week and you play on the Saturday, you haven’t got the training facilities and you have to do a lot of the work yourself. Everything really; you haven’t got a lot of staff, players don’t turn up on training nights sometimes. It’s a good experience and it’s part of your 10,000 hours where you’re learning!

WL: We’ll talk about Reading now, you’re time there is similar to the spell at Arsenal in starting at the bottom and working your way to the top, seemingly holding down every job at the club, but, did you ever think 13 years ago that you’d ever be manager of Reading Football Club?!

BM: Not really. I’m not someone who thinks like that; I live very much day-to-day. I’ve enjoyed every job I’ve done. I’ve done the under-17s, the under-19s, Chief Scout, I’ve been reserve team manager, so I’ve done every job at the club now and I know the club off by heart! We’ve got great supporters at our club, really good staff and I really enjoy coming into work every day.

Shane Long was unearthed by McDermott (Zimbio)
WL: You had play-off final heartbreak at the end of the 2010/2011 season (to Swansea), what did you say to the players after the match that helped them bounce back from that and reach the Premier League the following campaign?

BM: I just spoke to the players and told them just how proud I was of them for their efforts over the season. I was generally just so proud of what they’d done and was so disappointed for them. I think I was more disappointed for them than myself. We had a tough three months but we had to rebuild and go again. You have two choices; you can give up or you can thrive, get on with it and do what you have to do. We did what we had to do and last season was one of our proudest and one of the best achievements you have seen at Reading Football Club in many a year.

SINC-ING FEELING: Scott Sinclair slots away the penalty (Who Ate All The Pies)
WL: Of course, you finally achieved promotion from the Championship against Nottingham Forest, but was there ever a point in the season or a specific game (other than the Forest one) where you thought you’d do it and it would be your year?

BM: No, I just thought very much day-to-day. Never thought ahead, never looked back and I concentrated on the job in hand every day. I never thought about promotion, the only time I did was when we did go up. Even then, I was determined to win the league and that was important to the players; there were players in the dressing room that hadn’t won a medal – Ian Harte, Jason Roberts, Mikele Leigertwood, Jobi McAnuff and I wanted them to win a medal, and they did.

Reading reach the Premier League (The Sun)
WL: Brian, now you’re a Premier League manager, if there any time to relax and if so, what do you do to relieve the stresses?!

BM: There’s time to relax. I’m okay with it really. I’m a very calm person, I do the best I can, I enjoy talking about football to the players and the staff. To be honest, my relaxation is still, completely football orientated.

WL: As a Crawley supporter, I’ve got to ask, you took Hope Akpan from us last week, where can Hope get to under the guidance of you and the staff at Reading and what did you see in him to make the offer?

BM: Well probably the same of what you’ve seen in Hope! You’ve probably seen him play more times than what I have. He’s a top lad, he’s got energy, he can pass it, he can score goals. He’s hungry for it and he believes that he can do it so that’s always half the battle.

ROYAL APPOINTMENT: Hope Akpan (Reading FC Facebook)
WL: This season is about survival, but where can you see Reading as a club in three to five years time?

BM: No idea! Haven’t got a clue, and that’s why I live in the moment. Where you see yourselves, I don’t know. I can never answer that question; I have no power over the future, I’ve only got the now and I only live in the now and the moment!

WL: Finally, we’re in the middle of January now, transfer window is still open of course, are there any specific areas of the squad you want to strengthen?

BM: We maybe come up with something. We’ve signed three players so far (Hope Akpan, Daniel Carrico and Stephen Kelly) but if something comes up that interests us then we’ll look to possibly do a deal.

Many thanks to Brian for the interview.