In his latest end-of-season review, Vincent Ralph looks back on Aston Villa's campaign.
When football managers stick to their convictions, it is either admirable or stupid. For long periods of this season, Aston Villa’s Paul Lambert appeared to be very much in the latter category. And then it all made sense.
Lambert’s faith in youth ultimately paid off, as the side with an average age of just 23 secured Premier League safety and added some gloss to what had been an otherwise gloomy campaign.
But you sense that Villa’s struggles were a one off, a lesson learned rather than the first stages of a habit. And in hindsight this season feels like the trailer before the main event for Villa fans, a glimpse of a future where relegation battles and giant-killings are chapters in an entirely different story.
Lambert needed to call on youth. There was little money to do anything else. And yet to say there was no money would be wrong. The former Norwich boss spent wisely on the likes of Christian Benteke and Matthew Lowton, forming a hub of integral players that he called on regardless of circumstance.
And while other managers would have panicked, Lambert persevered; because in football, patience is an underrated yet vital quality at every level. Success is bred from faith as much as it is from coaching or innate ability.
As averse as I am to cliché, more is learnt from failure than from triumph. Luckily for Villa, you sense they learned having almost failed, having seen the precipice and played their way back from it. And should this team be allowed to grow together, should suitors be dismissed and ambitions be matched, Villa could be watching their best team in many seasons – years before they become that team.
I didn’t have many kind words to say about Villa at the start of the season. I didn’t have many words at all.
Back then I knew nothing of Benteke or Andreas Weimann. I was quite fond of Ron Vlaar, more for his splendid name than his footballing ability. But playfulness aside I saw nothing in the team to excite me, no reason to think they would do anything but struggle.
But when they did start struggling – that is when I took notice.
I have already written much about Villa’s youthful promise in recent months; because I have a feeling that this season really was the beginning of something great for the club. And that is quite the change from my early season prediction.
Back then I said they had one of the weakest squads in the league. But there are different ways to measure squad strength. One is in number, another is in success, and then there is commitment, desire, belief.
So welcome to the Aston Villa love-in, from a writer who didn’t pay them much attention before.
They may have put their supporters through a veritable thesaurus of emotion this year, but they showed me a glimpse of what is to come.
image: © little-pete