Caretaker manager Kevin MacDonald has seen his stock rise immeasurably in the last four days – in guiding Aston Villa to an opening day 3-0 victory over West Ham, MacDonald essentially rid Villa of the immediate worry since the loss of former manager Martin O’Neill. This win should not mask the problems that losing a man like O’Neill will inevitably entail but it does give Villa fans an indication that all is not lost without the Ulsterman. What is perhaps more galling for the Midlands club is the current saga involving James Milner. His prospective club, Manchester City, given their wealth, have yet to reach an agreement with Stephen Ireland that would see the two midfielders swap clubs. It has been intimated by various sources that Milner is beginning to grow in frustration at City’s reticence to pay Ireland a £2M leaving sum and could even make himself available for Europa League action on Thursday, effectively ending any chance City have of signing him.
Whilst in the main, Villa fans recognise that Milner is a valuable asset for their team, the general consensus has been that for the benefit of the club, this transfer is happening at the right time for everyone involved – Milner wants to move and Villa will never be able to get such a fee for him again, given the precarious nature of his contract. Were they to miss out on this amount of money now, they would be missing a fantastic business opportunity. But, should money and business come before the football? In all likelihood, whoever is in charge of Villa’s transfers currently will not be allowed to spend the majority of the Milner money and for the short term at least, keeping Milner has its obvious benefits. He is after all, still a very good footballer, as he showed last Saturday. But nonetheless, there is still a strong feeling around Villa Park that the Milner deal needs to go through soon.
Elsewhere, last Saturday saw the emergence of 20-year-old winger Marc Albrighton – as A Different League predicted pre-season (http://adifferentleague.co.uk/p6_2_3819_club-focus-aston-villa-201011-season-preview.html), Albrighton has already shown that Villa have talent in their youth set-up and could become an important player this season. Whilst one swallow does not make a summer, his performance against West Ham was indicative of what many around the club see from him all of the time. Club captain Stiliyan Petrov said of Albrighton: “He’s got a fantastic attitude, wants to play for Aston Villa and wants to play football. He’s got fantastic pace and fantastic desire to try and get crosses in. Albrighton demonstrated all of those commodities on Saturday and would be one of the biggest beneficiaries of Kevin MacDonald’s time in charge, should the caretaker manager see his time in charge extended – MacDonald showed faith in Villa’s younger players against the Hammers and along with centre-back Ciaran Clark, Albrighton immediately justified such a display of trust. Of course, it is too early to suggest that the young winger has become a regular, or that he will have the consistency to perform to such a standard often but as first games of the season go, last Saturday was about as promising as could be expected of Albrighton.
Meanwhile, Villa are preparing for their Europa League tie against Austrian outfit Rapid Vienna, the same club that knocked Villa out at the same stage last season. John Carew has already signalled his intent: “It’s very important for us to do well in Europe. We didn’t make it last year and we definitely should make it this year.”It’s a beautiful competition for us to be in and we can play European football and get good experience as a team.” Carew’s comments, given his experiences in Europe already, indicate that he is determined to experience another good run in Europe but perhaps more-so than that, he is keen to give young players like Albrighton the chance to see the pressures that come from knockout stage competitions. Albrighton and Carew had a brief time in Europe last season before being beaten by Vienna and it is more than likely that should they progress through this round, much more time will be given towards their European exploits – O’Neill was a proponent of the reserve team for European matches which angered many Villa fans, frustrated that all the efforts of the season before to get into the top six had been diminished by O’Neill’s selection. However, MacDonald has already shown he is prepared to bring in the new at Villa Park and Thursday may show that once more.