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"Does anyone want to apologise?": Stephen Warnock reflects on Villa under Gerard Houllier & more

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Former Aston Villa defender Stephen Warnock spoke exclusively to 7500 to Holte about his career in a claret and blue shirt.

Aston Villa v Bolton Wanderers - Premier League Photo by Neville Williams/Aston Villa FC via Getty Images

Earlier this week, 7500 to Holte sat down with Stephen Warnock to discuss his time at Aston Villa. The 37-year-old spent just over three years at Villa Park, after joining from Blackburn Rovers in 2009.

In the first part of his extended interview, the former left-back spoke about the decision to sign for Villa, the club’s 2010 League Cup run, his fraught relationship with Gerard Houllier and much more…

Joining the Villa

“I was at Blackburn at the time and I got a phone call from my agent the previous summer saying that were Villa were interested and wanted to try and sign me. Blackburn didn’t want to sell me at that point, but Villa stayed around - I think they bought Nicky Shorey at the time, but I still got a phone call from my agent saying ‘Villa still want to do the deal next year’. It was one of those moves where I knew Villa were pushing for Champions League places and going for the top four.

“They were putting a lot of money into their squad and were buying players - you could see they already had a strong squad. I’d also been spoken to by Fabio Capello leading up to the World Cup, saying that if I could move to a club like Villa, who were competing at the top of the league, it would give my chances of getting in the World Cup squad a boost. Then, the bid got accepted by Blackburn from Villa and that was how it unfolded.”

The MON Squad

Portsmouth v Aston Villa - Premier League Photo by Phil Cole/Getty Images

“It was brilliant. When I joined, Richard Dunne and James Collins joined as well, and they already had Luke Young and Brad Friedel, so I knew the back four was going to be a great one to play in. In front of you, you had Ashely Young, who was a jinky winger at the time, not the full-back he is now. And you had Stewart Downing, who joined the club as well, Stiliyan Petrov, Emile Heskey, John Carew, Gabby Agbonlahor - all of these players were flying at the time and they had an exciting squad and an exciting manager in Martin O’Neill.”

09/10

“When I joined Villa, maybe the first six months or so were probably the best football I ever played. Then I picked up a bit of an injury just before Christmas time - I had a problem with my shin and I just couldn’t get rid of it. I didn’t want to come out of the team and maybe my form suffered a bit because of it, but I got it back around March time. But, overall, I think there was disappointment that we didn’t break into the top four. I think we just fell away in April time and dropped off. Overall, it’s a season I look back on fondly.”

That semi-final vs Blackburn

“I’d say it’s the best game of football I’ve ever been involved in. We came back to Villa Park [from the first leg] with a 1-0 lead and suddenly they went 2-0 up. The atmosphere didn’t drop, it got even more electric because I think they knew we needed the fans. Then we got back into the game. I scored against my old team and I sort of threw my arm up and celebrated and then thought ‘I don’t really want to celebrate’, so it was a bit of a strange feeling.”

Soccer - Carling Cup Semifinals 2nd Leg - Aston Villa vs. Blackburn Rovers Photo by Sam Bagnall/AMA/Corbis via Getty Images

“That game was just phenomenal. It was one of those games where we came into the changing after and just went ‘what has just happened there?’. We’d just reached the Carling Cup final but we all just felt drained because of everything that had gone into the game and the effort it took to win the match. I thought it was a hell of a game of football.”

The final

“Well, we were hard done by with a bad refereeing decision - that’s probably one of the main things that stands out in my mind. When Gabby went through, I’m thinking straight away ‘he’s gone, he’s got to go’. And then the referee didn’t give it.”

Soccer - Carling Cup - Final - Manchester United v Aston Villa - Wembley Stadium Photo by Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images

“Even though we scored the penalty there was almost a feeling of ‘is that going to come back to haunt us?’, even though we’d gone 1-0 up. That was the most disappointing thing because our mentality should probably have been a little bit stronger because we were good enough to beat [Manchester] United. We had a squad that was more than capable and had players on the pitch who could make things happen. We had a really good defensive record at the time - I think we were one of the best in the league. I think they just had that experience of playing finals more than we did and we probably just succumbed to that pressure a little bit too much. It’s one of those moments where you look back and think it was a bit of a missed opportunity and one, unfortunately, that I never got to correct in my career.”

Martin O’Neill’s Departure

James Milner was sold and I don’t think he was happy with that. There was talk behind the scenes that Randy [Lerner] was wanting to pull his money out and didn’t want to carry on investing in the team. Stephen Ireland was brought in as part of the Milner deal. I thought the was really good signing because of what he’d been doing at Manchester City. The ability Stephen Ireland had was unbelievable, he was one of the best trainers I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Incoming Houllier

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - West Ham United v Aston Villa - Upton Park Photo by Rebecca Naden/PA Images via Getty Images

“Kevin MacDonald was put in temporary charge and there was a feeling that we should just have continued the way we were. We didn’t have to change that much. Kev was always at the club as well and in and around training, and we knew him. Things were going really well and then we go to Newcastle and in the first 20 minutes we were battering them. But then we get a penalty and John Carew sky-ed it and we end up getting hammered 6-0. It was the worst feelings ever because I think everyone felt we’d let Kev down, but it was one of those moments where if we’d have scored the penalty, we could have won the game comfortably. Then Kev doesn’t get the job and Gerard Houllier comes in.”

10/11

“When Gerard Houllier came in there was feeling that it was a going to be a tough season. We needed players to come into the squad and freshen it up. There was a feeling when Houllier got the job that he was going to bring his own players in. I think the players were gutted when Martin had left and that Kev hadn’t got the job. My relationship with Gerard wasn’t great anyway from my time at Liverpool - I knew it was going to be difficult for me and I found myself out of the team. It was strange, I played for England in the November and a couple of weeks later I found myself sitting in a reserve team changing room. It was a strange season for me.”

“I had a young family who were still living in the North West and I was in Birmingham a few nights a week. He [Houllier] told me to move up immediately and I told him I couldn’t do it just yet. We came to an agreement where he pulled myself, Emile Heskey and Brad Friedel - they were travelling in from Manchester - and he said ‘when we go to a North-West game you don’t have to ask me to go home, you can just go home’. We played Manchester City away and we didn’t have a great game, we lost 4-0, and after the game a lot of the players had left who he hadn’t said they could. On the Monday morning he came in and asked if anyone wanted to apologise. He asked me if I was going to apologise. I said ‘for what?’ and he said I hadn’t asked to leave. I said ‘I had a conversation with you last week, with me Brad and Emile’ and then he denied it. I just lost my head and though ‘I can’t cope with this’. He just lied to my face and I wasn’t backing down out of principle. It probably cost me my Villa career under him until Alex McLeish came in; it was just one of those things. Then he was quite awkward after that again because in the January Liverpool came in for me. I was going to go, everything was agreed and sorted, and then at the last minute Villa suddenly wanted a loan fee which was pushed though the roof. Liverpool then said no and I just felt at the time they were awkward about it and could have just let it happen.”


For the second half of this exclusive interview, make sure to check back with 7500 to Holte tomorrow…