The summertime is a wonderful thing. Particularly when the players return to pre-season training, as they did today, and the new season feels that little bit closer. Indeed, Villa’s first pre-season fixture against Walsall is less than two weeks away. One naturally has to ignore the freezing rain lashing down from the skies & the thunder clouds that currently hang over Bodymoor Heath.
The metaphors should probably end there.
As the club puts out the obligatory news reports with accompanying photos of the Villa squad getting drenched, one couldn’t help but draw a wry smile at some of those featured.
Warnock and Ireland make their way into the photoshoot, and whilst perhaps little can be accurately drawn from this, their mere inclusion is positive. Because with a new manager comes new beginnings, and new chances.
In Stephen Ireland, somewhere, is an excellent footballer. He tries his hardest not to show it, infuriates with his petulance and frustrates everyone with his lack of success at the club to date. A make-weight in the Milner deal to Manchester City, we inherited a disenchanted player who found himself lost in a Villa side rocking badly from the loss of O’Neill. Ostracised, perhaps rightly for the absence of seemingly any interest in the squad, he was shipped out and sat out the rest of the season injured with Newcastle United.
But what next for him? He is the classic example of the “would be like a new signing” brand of player. Whilst we would like to think that if anyone could forge a relationship with Ireland it might be a strong minded manager like McLeish, but one wonders whether he is in last chance saloon at the club. Further errors of judgement, or for that matter, perceived lack of effort, will not be tolerated.
Warnock went from reliable, solid and a mainstay of a fine defence to banishment over a matter of weeks. A victim of a criminal loss of form as Villa slid precariously down the table, he also did not see eye to eye with Houllier, who’s strict approach he did not abide by. It can be easily forgotten that both had history, with old Gerrard having shipped him out of Anfield years earlier. Suffice to say that they were hardly best of mates.
Again, inside Warnock is a fine footballer. There is also a temperament and a questionable attitude. However there’s also a good defender, with a stamina and drive that gave our promising side some dynamism. Out of the two Stephen’s, one imagines we might see Warnock back in the mixer.
The difficulty, as ever, might be the motivation of such players. Likely millionaires already, where would the desire to prove previous managers or indeed the Villa supporters that they have been misjudged? It is worrying to think that perhaps even professional pride plays a minimal part in their desire to turn their careers around.
However, the truth is surely, that regardless of what one might think, and stripping away all of the rumour, gossip and newspaper trash-talk; these are two assets of our squad. Their Villa careers might well have been fractious, erratic or in Ireland’s case a complete non-starter. But at the very least under McLeish, starting afresh, there can be no suggestion of an agenda with which to prevent their potential from flourishing.
Whilst not ideal, and it would be ludicrous to say that it was otherwise, there are at least two decent players to pick from whom were completely disregarded last term. And is that such a bad thing? I would rather we at least considered picking players whom would command a fee in the region of 6m each, although granted that is open to debate in itself.
And so; welcome back Ireland & Warnock. Aston Villa’s first signings of the 2011 summer transfer window.
>> What do you think of Warnock & Ireland? Add your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter.
>> Keep your eyes peeled tomorrow for a further instalment in the ’Spotlight’ series.