If you aren't regularly reading Dan's work at Aston Villa Central, you're missing out. He consistently produces some of the best writing on Aston Villa that I get a chance to read. Today, he has a great look at the last Villa squad to win the league title. What is even more remarkable than the fact that they won the club's first league title in 71 years is the fact that they did so using only 14 players for the entire season. Imagining that happening today is impossible. As Dan notes, 32 different players have donned taken the pitch for Villa this season already. Granted, injury problems at the beginning of the season (remember those?) have inflated that number, but I feel safe saying we'll never see another 14-player champion again. The big-money signings needed for a title run come with big egos, and so much time on the bench would never fly.
But what about a Premier League title for Aston Villa? Can we imagine that happening again? Barring injuries and bone-headedness, I think we could have imagined it this season, and we've certainly got a shot next.
Take a look at what I wrote back in November after 13 games had been played. Villa sat in ninth, and as I outlined then, were only a few strokes of poor play and bad luck away from fourth. This team obviously has the ability to challenge the best squads in England. Do I think that we're better than Manchester United? Certainly not. But luck is much a part of a championship run as skill. If you asked most people on Friday who would win the EPL this year, the answer was Manchester United. But suddenly, after faltering against Arsenal this weekend, the race is on again. I honestly don't think anyone is better than the Red Devils this season, but that would be meaningless if they didn't win the title.
But this wasn't our year. What about next? Well, for starters, I highly doubt that our manager resigns mere days before the start of the season again. Whether it is Houllier, McAllister, or someone else, I expect that Randy Lerner has figured out the need for a gaffer to have the summer with the club. If a change is made, it will probably be at the beginning of the off-season.
After that? Well, we have the core of an excellent front two-thirds. Our midfield has more options than a greedy man could ask for, and we've got one of the best finishers in the world up front in Darren Bent. If they play to their abilities, these parts of the field are championship-caliber. Again, not guaranteed to win, but definitely possessing the requisite ability.
Things get shaky in the back, however. Brad Friedel is one of the best keepers in the world, and a player in whom I have total confidence. But his future with the team is uncertain. Our defense, as everyone knows, is the weakest point of this team. Given that last year's team allowed the fourth-fewest goals in the Premier League, this is a bit of a shock. But, I imagine that Lerner will be willing to spend some money next year, to build on an already solid core of a team. Kyle Walker shows signs of wanting to stay, and Luke Young has looked decent for much of the season. The defense will likely improve, and I can't imagine any team being this bad at defending set pieces ever again.
So can we, 30 years after our last one, imagine another league-winning Villa club? I don't think we have to imagine. We've got one that is nearly capable of doing it now. Next year could be the year, or the one after. Or perhaps never again. But for all the turmoil of this season, it's good to know that it is likely an aberration. A fluke nadir in what should prove to be a successful few years.
So enjoy looking back wistfully today. A league title is great, and those early-80s teams were amazing. But don't spend so much time looking at the past that you become blind to the future. This drought will end eventually, and now is as good of time as any.