Aston Villa's improvement in just 4 games under Martin O’Neill is nothing short of amazing. This Villa squad is completely unrecognizable when compared to last year’s version of underperforming misfits and malcontents. The removal of David O’Leary and Doug Ellis seems to be a catalyst for something special in the West Midlands, and the addition of the best manager on the market isn't going to hurt.
Aston Villa is one of those clubs whose fans don’t deserve the hand they’ve been dealt in recent years, as with Newcastle, Nottingham Forest, Leeds and others. These are “big clubs,” clubs that have won league championships, FA cups, and European cups. And yet, due to awful chairmen, managers, and players, they’ve become at best struggling mid-table sides, and at worst, relegated to the lower leagues.
Now, Villa has a manager and chairman apparently fitting of its history. Removing the specter of Ellis will do wonders for the morale of the club and the supporters by itself; bringing in a low-key behind-the scenes billionaire willing to shell out for players and facilities without raising ticket prices through the roof and defiling the club’s soul will help even more. It’s little matter he’s an American, as on face value, he’s the anti-Malcolm Glazer. I'm not one usually to trust a foreign CEO who comes in and buys up all the shares, but he hasn't done wrong by the Cleveland Browns and is saying all the right things so far.
Sunday’s game versus West Ham was the first chance I've had to see a full Villa game this season, and it prompted this. A draw seemed to be a little unfair to Villa, despite how hard West Ham pressed in the second half. Villa could easily have scored 3 or 4 goals if not for last-ditch defending and the crossbar. O’Neill has done a tremendous job creating a cohesive unit when last season was characterized by infighting and poor team play. It is not easy to stifle West Ham; they attack with flair and always seem to nick a goal. But Villa defended immensely. They were almost always able to get players behind the ball while still creating chances at the other end, and Mellberg, Laursen, and Ridgewell all had excellent games.
Don’t misinterpret this paean to Villa; I hope they don’t get relegated, but other than that, I don’t care other than looking forward to Liverpool thumping them twice. I’m just pleased that they’ve gotten rid of O’Dreary (for god’s sake, will teams please stop hiring him?) and Ellis for aesthetic reasons, and amazed at how much better they look so far this season. With O’Leary, I had them tipped for relegation, and under O’Neill, I expected an improved side that could finish anywhere from 9-14. Now, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them competing for a European place. That’s simply stunning, and whether it’s due to O’Neill or purging the old regime, it’s quite an accomplishment.