With another interminable international break nearing its end, Tea and Crumpets struggled to rouse itself. Two weeks with only Roy Hodgson and its own cursing for company, though, did lend a certain appeal to a change of scenery, for its own sake if nothing else. Change, then. And a shoulder of slow-braised, milk-fed lamb with saffron sauce, mint and cumin dusted roasted heritage potatoes, and a touch of edible gold leaf. Plus Aston Villa, of course, and a spot of conversation with Aaron Campeau of 7500 to Holte…
T&C: When Tea and Crumpets learned Liverpool were set to face Aston Villa next, only one question seemed to matter, so let's get straight to the serious. Last year, rather in an affront to the club's "prepared" motto, Villa were horribly unprepared. They finished 15th and for long stretches were under threat of relegation. For a few seasons now, after flirting with mid-table under Martin O'Neill, that seems to have been how things have mostly gone. In the offseason, somebody decided Joe Cole was the answer to those recent struggles and signed him on a two-year deal. Has this person been identified and fired yet?
7500: Ultimately the person responsible for the signing of players like Joe Cole is probably Randy Lerner, since the lack of funds he gave Paul Lambert—before deciding that perhaps protecting the asset he’s attempting to sell without taking a loss might not be the worst idea—led to the early-summer transfer strategy of locking up anyone with Premier League experience, a pulse, and a willingness to play for Villa. Though it should be noted, former CEO Paul Faulkner did resign unexpectedly not too long after Cole joined the club, so perhaps you’re on to something.
T&C: Back in 2006, around when Liverpool were busy being bought up by Tom Hicks and George Gillett, Villa became Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner's British sporting plaything. Hicks and Gillett piled on the debt, had the club on the verge of bankruptcy facing real fears of administration and relegation, and had stopped coming to matches because the supporters were in open revolt by the time British courts forced the sale of the club. What ignominies has Learner heaped upon Villa? And do they involve Skyline Chili?
7500: Skyline Chili is a Cincinnati thing, so Villa fans have been fortunate in that regard. In any case, Randy Lerner may have been a victim of bad timing. The funds he put into Villa likely would have been enough to get them into the Champions League had it not been for Manchester City coming along and blowing everyone out of the water, and the financial crisis was apparently quite rough on Lerner’s personal bottom line-in a relative, even if he’s still got more money than any one person should ever have in a just world sense at least. That meant a cutback in spending was always coming, and when things went off the rails after Martin O’Neill left—though it could be argued they were likely to go off the rails no matter what and that that's exactly why he left—the prospect of relegation with a Champions League wage bill kicked the belt-tightening into overdrive.
That’s not to say Lerner didn’t make mistakes: he discarded executives at the club possessing actual football experience when he took over, and though the club have reportedly been run very well on the business side of things, their lack of anyone with real power and an understanding of how to build a good and sustainable squad has been evident. Martin O’Neill was given a tremendous amount of money and seemingly no one had the power or foresight to tell him no, and depressing to look back at the transfer fees and wages Villa spent on players like Nigel Reo-Coker, Curtis Davies, Habib Beye, and Luke Young—among many others, though I don’t want to drink a bottle of bleach after trying to remember all of them—and imagine what could have been if someone had been there to tell MON he was being a crazy person.
Still, assuming Villa stay up this season and Lerner sells the club to someone that manages to restore it to respectability, I think his stewardship will be looked at in a positive light. He spent a lot of money on Villa Park, built a modern new training facility, and invested heavily in the academy. He clearly tried his best to build a winner, even if it didn’t happen. Most Villa fans are ready for the Lerner era to be over, but I don’t think there’s much ill-will towards him at this point.
T&C: The Villans, despite that most modern football fans know them primarily as the club England's future king—not that one, the younger one with normal ears—supports, have a rich history for having in the past done things of note. On the pitch. Or so Tea and Crumpets has heard. In fact, they're supposed to be the fourth most successful English side of all time, though as six of their seven league titles came before the First World War, even by Liverpool standards that seems to be reaching an awfully long way back to support calling a club the fourth most successful English side of all time.
Alongside those league titles there have been seven FA Cups, five League Cups, and—in 1982, following their only league title people currently alive might have had some small chance of witnessing—even a European Cup, making them one of only five English sides to have won the top continental competition. Now you've got a manager who sees the FA Cup as a distraction from the goal of barely surviving in the top flight.
7500: Paul Lambert says a lot of things that, if you’re willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, make sense. For Villa, the FA Cup is something of a distraction when faced with a relegation battle, because despite all of the cutbacks in spending these past few years dropping to the Championship would be financially disastrous. The problem is that he’s just not especially good at communicating difficult truths in a manner that won’t infuriate a fanbase that isn’t really interested in hearing excuses for a fall from grace that is frankly inexcusable.
The biggest thing Lambert seems to have trouble with is that Villa fans—and I’m generalizing here—don’t care how difficult his job is, don’t care that he likely had a lot of restrictions placed on the manner in which he built his squad that go beyond a transfer budget, don’t care that he inherited a club that was a complete and total mess, and don’t care that the kind of rebuild Lerner wanted was always going to be difficult and take several years at the very least to come to fruition. They see a club that was one of the biggest in England for decades, that was competing for the league title as recently for the early 90s, that was competing for the Champions League as recently as five years ago, that play in the second-largest city in the UK, and that doesn’t have any reasonable excuse for spending more than a season anywhere near the relegation places.
Lambert doesn’t speak about things in those terms. He doesn’t frame the issues he’s facing very well at all, and he comes off as aloof and, at times, somewhat clueless. I don’t believe that he’s clueless—though aloof seems fair, if not especially helpful—but when he’s so tone-deaf in the way he speaks publicly about things like the FA Cup, it certainly doesn’t do much to persuade the folks that think that he is.
T&C: Say War of the Pacific and most will think Word War Two and the Pacific theatre. It's a title, though, properly belonging to the 19th century war between Peru and Bolivia on one side and Chile on the other over the same things so many wars are over: saltpeter and guano. Or money and territory, though that's hardly as much fun as a war over bird excrement. The shooting started in 1879 when Chilean companies that had been primarily responsible for developing the Atacama Desert, a desolate but mineral rich stretch of land along the Pacific controlled by Peru and Bolivia, saw their interests threatened.
At the time, the economies of Peru and Bolivia were failing. And the two countries saw that most of the revenue from the Atacama was being funnelled into Chile. The answer: Peru began to nationalise nitrate mines in their territory and Bolivia raised taxes on Chilean interests, in violation of a treaty the countries had signed in an attempt to ease earlier tensions over the Atacama. When Chilean companies refused to pay, their assets were seized by Bolivia. When Bolivia seized Chilean assets, Chile occupied the Bolivian Atacama's largest city. When Chile occupied the Bolivian Atacama's largest city, Bolivia declared war.
Peru offered to mediate, but having learned Peru and Bolivia had signed a secret defence treaty six years earlier, Chile believed Peru were not acting in good faith and declared war on both. The resulting conflict was embarrassingly one-sided: Chile routed both opposing armies and marched north to capture Lima. After four years of war, Peru signed a peace treaty granting Chile their southernmost province. Bolivia, hopelessly outmatched, ceded all of their territory to the west of the Andes, becoming landlocked. They still maintain a small navy on Lake Titicaca, a sad reminder of their inability to defend their territory.
7500: I do not understand any of this, and because you have made me look bad in such a public forum I would like to request that you fight me.
T&C: So long as we do it at Villa Park, given the Claret and Blue did about as good a job winning there last year as Bolivia did defending the Atacama in 1879. Still, moving on: six point from the opening three matches is a solid start, but with Christian Benteke still out, is there any reason to fear Villa's attack? Andreas Weimann may be on a rich vein of personal form with two whole goals in the opening three, but he's also been dropped from his national team because most of the time he doesn't score for Aston Villa and has never scored for his national team. Which is Austria. Who are hardly blessed with a surplus of attacking talent that Tea and Crumpets is aware of.
7500: Andi is a perplexing case, in so very many ways. He’ll have moments—occasionally games and even stretches of games—where he looks absolutely unplayable. Everything comes together, and he’s a holy terror. He’ll also have much longer stretches in which it appears as though he's both confused and angered by the goings-on around him, and to show his displeasure he’ll just kick the ball and at times the opposition as hard as he possibly can in the hopes that it will all go away. I absolutely adore him, and he’s just 23 so I still think there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic that he’ll turn into a very good player in the near future. His start to the season has been really encouraging in that regard. But It’s going to take a few more games before I’m willing to believe that he’s turned the corner.
Outside of Andi, Villa’s attack is, well, they have players that play in attacking positions. That much is certainly true. Gabby Agbonlahor—who just signed a new contract!—is Gabby Agbonlahor; he’s not as bad as a lot of people would like to think he is, but he’s not lived up to the promise he showed when he first came onto the scene. He’s still mind-bogglingly fast and he’s added some pretty serious muscle, so the physical aspect of his game is as good as you’ll find. He’s technically solid, not at all a bad passer, and he can run all day. When you look at the things he’s capable of in isolation, he looks like a solidly above-average Premier League forward. But in the actual games, there’s just something not quite right. I have no idea what it is, and it’s bothered me for years. You know how they say some teams are less than the sum of their parts? That’s Gabby, but he’s just one dude. It doesn’t make any sense. He’s still a valuable player for this team, but the cognitive dissonance is too much.
Then there’s Charles N’Zogbia who is I don’t even know. He’s clearly good, but it seems like nothing he ever does leads to anything good, so is he actually good? Darren Bent is not good, and has not been good for a few years, but he’s still alive so that’s something. Leandro Bacuna could play on the wing, and he’s capable of scoring absolute thunderbastards and also capable of completing fewer than half of his passes. You know about Joe Cole, who will probably be on the bench. Also, Kieran Richardson has been playing as a central attacking midfielder all season, so keep an eye out for that!
As you can plainly see, nothing about this team makes any sense at all, which is probably how they were able to beat Arsenal, City, Southampton, and Chelsea last season and still manage to find themselves in the relegation battle.
T&C: It certainly seems not to make very much sense, and yet it's hard to avoid feeling as though everybody may have learned something today. Which does rather go against the core beliefs of Tea and Crumpets. Still, the great thing about learning is that it's at least as easy to forget. Or to have what new things you may have learned push out a few things you might have known previously. So on balance it mostly evens out in the end. And regardless, we wish nothing but the best to Aaron and 7500 to Holte, as well as to Aston Villa. At least when it comes time for them to take on Arsenal, City, Southampton, and Chelsea.
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