I‘ve backed the Villa for the Premier League title to win £5K next season – the stake was fiver and the odds 999-1. In the trade, we used to call that a ‘mug bet’ and I’d have been known as a ‘mug punter’. I don’t expect to win but I did think the odds were generous. Of all the ‘also-rans’ in the Premier League, Villa inspire, for me, the most hope for an outrageous result. Why?
An ‘also-ran’ is a team that isn’t Man U, Man C, Arsenal, Chelsea or Spurs. These top teams have a similar business plan: they hoover up all the best players in the world because they can – they have almost limitless funds at their disposal. Arsenal and Spurs are the poor relations in this elite – not having as much as the others – but their fans believe that if they did have the funds, they could be champions of the EPL.
So, it’s just a question of money then. If a mega-wealthy oil baron owns your club, you can do it; if not, you can’t. ‘Villa, as one of the rest, don’t have the money so they can never do it’, is the conventional wisdom.
But we all want to do it, and the only way is to think outside the box. We, and any of the rest, need an alternative business model. Lambert has one: if we don’t have the money to buy the best, let’s develop them ourselves. Reckless? Not for me; I think Lambert has already demonstrated last season that he has the tools to do the job. When he joined, last year, he inherited a shambles and he decided that the only course was to dump it and start again. The resolve required to do this is almost impossible to comprehend, considering what was at stake. But he stuck at it. By Christmas we were the karaoke team of the EPL: the Villa were going down. The experts were derisive, the fans were fearful. But he stuck at it.
Slowly, through the Spring, the green shoots of competence and ability were poking their heads out, and some of us started to believe. Benteke was knocking them in for fun; Weimann and Gabby were combining with him to become a very potent strike force. Westwood was becoming a class act and, when Sylla and Delph settled in with him as the default midfield, this unit helped stabilise the team. Lowton, Baker and Vlaar all enjoyed their first full season in the EPL and are clearly good players and will improve.
So, do I believe this team will win the EPL next season? Behave. Have they got the skill set to go on and be the basis of a top 4 club? Yes. Remember what Lambert has achieved in just one season. What can he do now that the worst is over? Lerner and Lambert and Villa (and we) have survived the most terrible ordeal. But it had to happen or the revolution could never have taken place. The danger and the pain were a pre-requisite.
As the emergence of Aston Villa as a force in the EPL continues, the pundits will start to recommend the Villa model to the rest of the also-rans. Even if they are convinced, can they adopt it? First off, a club will need certain characteristics to even embark on the roller-coaster ride of a life-time. Let’s tick the boxes. An owner with nerves of steel; a manager with the self-belief and the tools to do it; fans who will sign on for the misery and torment and a local press who will be supportive. That’s a lot of boxes to tick. Managers like Lambert are rare; human beings like Lambert are rare.
Over the last few days we’ve read a little about Paul Lambert’s life. How he went to Germany on a wing and a prayer, with only the belief that it was the right thing to do, to sustain him. How overawed he was, on his first trial at Borussia Dortmund, at the sight of legends he would soon call team-mates. How that inspired him when it would have crushed lesser men. Paul Lambert is a man and we are lucky to have him.
I’m just saying: there is another way than simply throwing money at it. I know some of you are still concerned that we will be fighting relegation next year. Relax. Brothers and sisters, I am here today, to proclaim the new Gospel; “God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world”.