On August 19, 1995, following Aston Villa’s 3-1 win against Manchester United, Match of the Day pundit Alan Hansen made the statement that would haunt him for a lifetime: “You can’t win anything with kids”.
Fast-forward 18 years and it is the Villains now relying on youth; even more so in fact than the United team who ultimately proved Hansen wrong by winning the double that season and countless trophies thereafter.
The average age of United’s team that day was 24. Alongside a 19-year-old David Beckham and 20-year-olds Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and John O’Kane was the quintet of Peter Schmeichel, Gary Pallister, Denis Irwin, Paul Parker and Brian McClair – none of them a day under 29.
For all the “kids” in that line-up, there was experience aplenty.
Compare that with Villa’s starting 11 against QPR last weekend where – aside from Brad Guzan (28), Ron Vlaar (28) and Gabriel Agbonlahor (26) – no one who started that match in claret-and-blue was over 23.
And yet they showed the fight and the talent to secure three priceless points in their battle against relegation, continuing where they left off against Reading the previous week. In fact, were it not for a lapse in concentration against Manchester City at the start of the month, we could be hailing this a renaissance for a side who looked dead-and-buried in January.
In fact, I’m hailing it as a renaissance anyway.
Because in Christian Benteke and Andreas Weimann, Paul Lambert has a forward line who not only know where the goal is, but who work their socks off. Weimann’s work for Benteke’s winning goal against QPR was the perfect example of that.
For all of youth’s follies there are also its treasures. And so for every defensive mistake or rash challenge, there is the energy that allows a team to never give in. In youth there is spirit, and Villa are beginning to show that in abundance.
Alongside forwards who have shone in spite of their club’s struggles, the likes of Barry Bannan, Yacouba Sylla, Ciaran Clark and Matthew Lowton point to a bright future.
Because whatever Alan Hansen said, you can win with kids. Sometimes you win trophies, and sometimes you win survival. For the fans and players involved, there isn’t much difference.
And once survival is secured, should the team be allowed to grow together, who knows how far they could go.
Will Aston Villa avoid relegation this season? And if so, what does the future hold for their young team?
image: © ell brown