The perfect football team is comprised of different, yet like-minded individuals from all walks of life. You will have young guns, hot talents, solid performers and ageing veterans as part of your squad rotation. Chemistry is built and you basically put all this different experience in a blender, with a sprinkle of spice from the manager and Voila, you have something. Hopefully.
Aston Villa, a team whose fans have rightly been calling for the youth of the team to step up for years, are finding incredible value in experience and ageing players, especially from two who have been written off for years by people like myself. Aston Villa’s own renaissance men are dragging up the table, and laying out a good platform for youngsters like Keinan Davis and Josh Onomah to develop upon.
Firstly, the recent play of Glenn Whelan must be commended. Whelan was signed to give Villa some might and technique in the middle of the park, but during the early stages of the season, Whelan went missing and at times, looked terrified to both receive the ball and deploy the sphere up the pitch! The Irishman has settled in and is now combining well with Albert Adomah and others across the middle of the park and has been essential in the build up to some crucial goals for Villa. Whelan will often be unafraid to drop back as a half-back and isn’t obsessed with getting forward, adding a heap of unfashionable discipline to Villa’s team. Where the bombing runs and work-rate of Conor Hourihane is commended, we often overlook Whelan’s simple ability to drop back and stay put - a valued attribute.
Alan Hutton is a player whom many Villa fans adopt a kind of ‘mongrel’ attitude towards. They either love him, to the brink of an adoration that is uncapable of base criticism, or there is a rank resentment for him. The truth, as it always is, lies in the middle. He’s a player with few technical qualities, but is starting to realise that and adopt his playstyle to suit it. Hutton has been critical at the back for Villa over the past few weeks and is proving flexible, being deployed on the wing or on the other side of the pitch. The cost of this is that Hutton can lose his head all too easy, which can end in silly fouls, and stupid positioning traits, but some of the tackles and clearances he has put in are smart pieces of play that shouldn’t be ignored.
Chris Samba was mocked when he came on to replace the injured John Terry against Sheffield Wednesday, and brought legitimacy to any criticism as the Wednesday side simply danced around the big man to double their score, but since then it has been a 100% turn around for Samba. The Congolese back simply launches any ball that comes near him away from the box and is a serious aerial threat, giving Villa and edge on set pieces as he usually drags players away to double up on the man-marking. This always goes for corners against Villa, where it takes a hell of a ball in to beat him. While Samba’s passing has been poor, he’s looked up for every game and is acting as an incredible safety valve for James Chester at the back. He’s shown incredible strength to hold off attackers and even some surprising bursts of pace to clear up empty balls. Samba is a delight to watch at times, and any fears that Villa fans had of him being deployed at the back are being eroded. Sometimes he is a worry, especially when he acts as the lightning rod that simply conducts and attack as the ball is bounced around him, but anyone would struggle in that situation. Villa’s own man mountain is proving incredible resilient.
Who could forget the play of Albert Adomah? The man who started off the season injured and forgotten before igniting the field of play? There’s nothing skilful or gifted about Adomah’s approach to the game - a man who plays as though he is holding the sprint button down on a video game, simply thwacking the left/right direction against approaching defenders, but the manner in which Albert pulls off this is in such an incredibly delicate manner to almost offer the illusion of world class technique. As though his boots are made of pillows, he is able to make the ball do whatever he wants. Adomah is approaching the end of his career within the next four or five seasons, but is playing with the confidence of a child who knows he is the best player in the park, the child that the coach makes play with his weak foot to create a balance in the pre-school football field.
What makes Adomah so special is what links all of these players. They are genuinely having incredible fun playing for Aston Villa (except perhaps the extremely serious Glenn Whelan, maybe). Chris Samba sprints across the entire pitch to celebrate with his team, Alan Hutton is pretty much a Villa fan, playing for the team, at this point - and Albert Adomah is acting like it’s a video game.
Villa’s very own renaissance man are making judgements about older players, has-beens and past-its look incredibly naive and immature and are clearly playing for a love of the game. The pay cheque won’t hurt, but it is such a tremendous joy see these guys have so much fun while bringing the points home. After all, that’s what it is all about, is it not?