Why Aston Villa need to imitate Barcelona.

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The title of this piece might appear far fetched or indeed a dream to most of us who follow Aston Villa, but the truth is that we could take basic principles from Barcelona and apply them.  I believe that over time, whilst it might only make us a mere shadow of the Catalans, it would enable Villa to improve immeasurably as a club.

Last night whilst Arsenal were fumbling at Ipswich and Liverpool were collapsing at Blackpool I enjoyed Barcelona destroying Real Betis.  Betis are currently top of the second tier of Spanish football but were thoroughly overpowered by sheer technical ability – the final score incidentally was 5-0, I think you will know who to.

What struck me last night and often when I watch Barcelona is the quality of the passing.  It is not good, or even excellent, it is sublime.  The difference between a good footballing side, such as Arsenal, is that they make a pass for the sake of passing.  Barcelona make a pass to do something.  When I watch Villa it is often painful trying to watch professional footballers judge and then attempt to make a pass.  The sighs and derision that often echo around Villa Park are testament to my point.

However passing is not a cultural thing.  It can be taught.  Every single Villa player in the academy should be made to watch Barcelona pass the ball, learn that is should be crisply struck, but still remain controlled.  They should also be made to take note of the fact that the ball is on the ground and whilst “pass and move” applies, it need not be at a pace that means you’re struggling to make ground up.

Because Villa never seem in control of late.  If you wanted a midfield to boss the game, the boys in claret and blue probably wouldn’t be high up in the list.  We need to instil a culture within our youth prospects to keep the basics of football at the heart of everything they do.  As I watched Barcelona last night with Xavi, Iniesta and Messi, whom all originated in their academy, I looked for comparisons amongst what we’ve had.  

The list as any Villa fan will know makes painful reading.  Luke/Stefen Moore.  Darren Byfield.  Lee Hendrie.  Gary Cahill.  Stephen Cooke.  Darius Vassell.  I could go on and on.  Now, regardless of how their careers have progressed or are progressing now, and despite their youthful promise, there was always something lacking.  None of them ever had the technical ability to be the very best.  Perhaps seasoned Premiership players, but the very best?  And this is where our club needs to change something culturally.

Because Xavi, Iniesta and Messi are private men.  They are well paid, well known celebrities of not just domestic football but globally.  Indeed they were all nominated for the Ballon D’or just this week.  Do our youth players have the same drive, determination and desire to be the very best?  Do they understand that they should not be out drinking themselves stupid, cavorting with undesirables and dragging footballs name through the gutter?  I think that this is lost of most Premiership footballers, but I would like to think that someone at Aston Villa is drumming this culture to be the best person you can be into our players.

The reality is that if we ever want to compete (and I mean genuinely compete rather than flirt) with the elite of our domestic game we have to not just aspire but actually become the best at parts of our game.  When I attended Martin O’Neill’s first conference with Tom Ross some years ago and a fan asked whether we would compete in the Champions League the response was irrelevant.  I knew as well as every Villa fan there that we were a million miles away from our aspirations of one day being reunited with the European Cup.  We are as far away now and it has not been through lack of investment or drive.  There has been back luck, a change of manager and questionable purchases.  But we have never looked comfortable because I believe that our core footballing principles need to come from within.  

Here’s to hoping that the school of Bannan, Albrighton, Hogg et al can bring this dream alive.

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