This is the first entry in a weekly column about… something. No, seriously. The idea is taking something happening in the sports world — preferably football but sometimes something else — and creating parallels to Aston Villa. I've got some interesting ideas lined up for the future but in the meantime, here we go:
It's kind of hard to write about anything else right now — it's about the only story happening in the world right now — and, quite frankly, I'm starting to come around to the idea that it sucks. Teams spend these 10-day spurts together a few times a year and we act like we expect the quality of play to be something that approaches good. About the only thing the current setup of the international window allows for is an extra opportunity for players to get hurt. And at Villa, I don't like that.
But it's far from saying I'm not a fan of international football. The World Cup is the best thing. I'd much, much rather see the United States win the World Cup than Villa win the Premier League or see Jürgen Klinsmann's team win the Copa América Centenario that comes around next summer than see the Claret and Blues win the FA Cup. (Sorry everyone.)
But in its current state, international football is very, very flawed. There's no continuity or opportunity to really do anything productive and guys just show up and play. It's no surprise that the countries that have a national playing identity often perform the best at big tournaments and countries like England, well, don't.
International football would be better suited if it were played in, say, two one-month windows during the year. If we all took October and March off from club football and replaced it with solely international football, I think the quality would improve drastically. But the clubs will never go for it and we'll just end up sticking with the cluster of a system we have now.
Which, I guess, brings me to my next point which harkens back to that playing identity.
I watched a bit of the United States during this window — but not much — and read a lot more on Twitter about the team. The overwhelming complaint I heard?
Klinsmann's United States still hasn't really settled into a constant playing style.
Is this good or bad? I don't know. Probably the latter.
But then it brought me to Villa…
What will Tim Sherwood's playing identity be as manager of Aston Villa? We've seen the team play to its strengths more often than not lately — looking to break quickly and use Benteke back in that target man / playmaker role — but it could as much as anything be Sherwood's way to get Villa out of the relegation battle; play to your best abilities.
The overarching thing I believe in when you're at the bottom is how you have to find something you're better at than everyone else in the division and exploit the hell out of it. It's part of how Stoke kept surviving and having success under Tony Pulis; they figured out they were better than everyone else at playing long balls and utilizing long throws and set pieces and used it to win. It wasn't pretty but they found that weakness in pretty much everything else they could exploit.
Right now, Villa are using the counterattack as that weapon and for good measure. The club's stable of forwards, wingers and attacking midfielders are all pretty quick — I mean, Gabby Agbonlahor probably isn't the fastest guy in a Claret and Blue shirt any more — and Sherwood's letting the players utilize the things they're better than everyone else at.
But moving forward, Villa are going to have to develop another way or ways to play if they're going to push up the table.
Let's go back to the Stoke example. Sure, they exploited the thing they did best while under Pulis but eventually, the club were looking for something else. That's how we've ended up with Stoke where they are today; a solidly mid-table club who, if everything goes right, could sneak into Europe on the odd year.
Related: Stoke now employ Bojan. Don't tell me that would've happened under Pulis.
The Potters figured out they needed to do more than just that one thing well to push forward as a club and they're doing that well.
But, of course, "Tactics Tim" hasn't had a transfer window yet to bring the guys in he wants to see.
When he does? It'll be an interesting thing to look at. Does he try and build a balanced squad, one that simply plays the game well? Guys like Fabian Delph and Christian Benteke would be great fits. Does he try and build a squad that can both counter but also press high up the pitch to win the ball back? Maybe Scott Sinclair stays on and a guy like Agbonlahor will still play a big part moving forward.
Perhaps he blows the whole thing up pretty quickly.
It's weird how cyclical football is. Robert tweeted this yesterday but you know how many guys are currently on Villa's roster that were in the first-team squad just four seasons ago?
Two. That's it. Brad Guzan and Agbonlahor are the only two holdovers.
It's easy right now for Sherwood to send the Villa players out with the best tactics for the squad as it's currently assembled; in many ways, it's his only choice.
But as we saw two weeks ago against Swansea, that's not always going to work. They're an organized side who know how to deal with the "set fire to the wind" nature of Villa lately. Other teams'll figure it out pretty quickly.
So when Sherwood starts to build his squad this summer, not Paul Lambert's squad, he'll make the biggest set of decisions he'll have as a manager.
What will the identity of Sherwood's Villa be?