To say the last 12 months of Aston Villa's existence as a football club have been tumultuous would be an understatement. Martin O'Neill quit and from there things seem to have fallen apart rather quickly. I don't need to rehash the comings and goings that the last year has brought as it has been done so many times while we wait for the new campaign to begin. However, doesn't it feel like Aston Villa finished 17th last year? Doesn't it feel like they barely managed to escape the guillotine when in fact they played well enough to get into the top half by season's end? I don't think anyone looks back at last season and thinks, "Top half finish! Way to go boys!"
No, I think we look back and think of Collins and Dunne being petulant and bad, Ashley Young playing for Villa while wearing a United jersey under his gear, Gerard Houllier's ill-informed tribute to the Kop & c. We don't think about the furious comeback against Chelsea that ended in a 3-3 draw or the win at Arsenal and at home against Liverpool to finish the season. We don't think about the ways the team showed a resolve that players who had been through similar trials may not have otherwise had. Last year's squad had every reason to roll over and quit but they didn't. They finished pretty strong, actually. I honestly think that's a tribute to the crest on the front-right of the kit.
This season things are a little more stable, at least they are as of my typing this story. The squad is all but set save for a couple of additions that may come on the cheap. We have a manager who appears to be in it for the long-haul, even if he was not a popular choice at first. We here at 7500 like to think his hiring was unfavorable because of the style of play he oversaw at Birmingham City and not because of his previous affiliation. The players who wanted out are gone and it appears to be all hands on deck except for the Carlos Cuellar saga which we all hope ends quickly one way or another.
That all being said, I've seen all kinds of predictions on how this campaign may unfold and how we, as fans, need to temper our expectations. Europe is most certainly not in the cards for Aston Villa and any run at a spot in continental competition would be a miniature surprise given the trauma inflicted upon the club over the past year. But as fans, we tend to tell ourselves that if x and y occur, we're going to be all right. If Dunne and Collins can return to 09-10 form, if Blazing Roaches (Charles N'Zogbia) can prove to be as good or better than the departed Stewart Downing, if Marc Albrighton can be the winger we want him to be, if Fabian Delph can finally stay healthy, and born under punches the beat goes on. We envision these things happening because we watch these players week in and week out and we believe in them. We don't see a future where Albrighton is banished to the reserves and goes on to have a middling career at Brentford. We don't see a season where Blazing Roaches takes offense to the implication that he only has one face and is incapable of properly reacting to anything thereby setting off a gasoline fight with Ciaran Clark that ends in explosions and a really strange funeral. We don't believe there's a way that Darren Bent is going to realize that Aston Villa might not be making European head way soon enough for his liking before he demands a transfer...wait, that might hit a little too close to home.
My point is that I think as Villa fans, we have a certain optimism to our expectations and I don't believe we should alter them much. Aston Villa is far from a dysfunctional, inept organization run by clowns and boobs of the highest order. Even though pure statistical previews (like this one done by the incomparable Graham MacAree of We Ain't Got No History) claim that Aston Villa is in deep doo doo, the numbers have been wrong before. Maybe Villa will catch a few breaks this year. Paul McGrath knows they didn't catch any last year.
So keep your heads up Villa fans. While a repeat of 1982 isn't likely this season stranger things have come about for teams with little to no expectations. This certainly isn't a terrible squad and if they can avoid having team spirit murdered by brutal losses and team outings gone wrong we can all have an enjoyable season. They're going to have aim awfully low to make it worse than last year. What kind of shenanigans do you see in Aston Villa's future? Let me hear your best season-gone-wrong scenarios and let's have a good nervous laugh before we sweat, drink and cry our way through the Fulham match.