Managers have changed, players have come and gone but the fans are still here hoping for a bright future
In July of last year we spoke to three Villa fans to get their overall feeling about the club at that time. It was a wonderful summer. England were two days out from playing a Euro 2020 final. Jack Grealish still played for the Villa and many fans felt he wasn't going anywhere. Dean Smith was reflecting on a fantastic season in which he guided the club to an 11th place finish. Emi Buendia and Ashley Young were through the door and there was a lot of optimism in the air about those signings and more to come. It was a fantastic time to be an Aston Villa fan.
What a difference six or seven months can make, not necessarily for the worse mind you. Yes Jack Grealish did leave the club, and that was never going to be easy to take. The team struggled to adapt to life without their talisman just as much as the lifelong Villa fan struggled to get acclimatised at Man City. Villa had a poor start to the season, signings failed to integrate properly, and ultimately Dean Smith lost his job. Many fans were outraged at his sacking at such an early stage in the campaign but it's difficult to look back and argue with the decision having seen what's happened since then.
He was quickly replaced by Steven Gerrard, who left Rangers mid season to come south and take over at Villa Park. Results began to pick up and a potential relegation dogfight has since been replaced by, in all likelihood, a comfortable mid table finish. A large part of this renewed optimism has been the new players acquired in January. Two huge statement signings from the club have put them in a strong position to build on the good results already achieved under Gerrard and push for a top half finish. Much of the praise for attracting such names as Phillipe Coutinho and Lucas Digne has rightfully gone to Gerrard, with neither player shy about saying their main reason for coming was to play under the former Liverpool captain.
The boardroom staff seem to have pulled off a fantastic piece of business in bringing Gerrard into the Premier League, whose pedigree from his time in Scotland speaks for itself, and there are surely very few doubters remaining among the ranks of the Villa fans. It's perhaps not quite been the season many would have hoped for going in, but supporters must now be very excited about the rest of the campaign and the years to come, mustn't they?
We decided to ask a few of them, the same few we asked before. Cole Pettem, Editor of 7500 to Holte, Daniel Craythorne AKA The Villa Vision, and Regan Foy, Founder and Editor of Under A Gaslit Lamp have all been kind enough to once again share with us their thoughts about the past six months and what's to come. Here are some of their responses:
1. What was the reaction among yourself and the Villa fans in general to the departure of Dean Smith?
Cole: The news of Dean Smith’s sacking definitely brought on some mixed emotions for many Villa fans given the fact that he’s a Villain, got the club promoted, and stabilized in the Premier League. Those emotions bring along a fair amount of sentimentality when it comes to the former Villa boss, but I’d like to think that all Villa fans wish him well.
2. Prior to his first game in charge, how optimistic were you that Steven Gerrard could do a good job?
Daniel: With respect to Scottish Football, I don't watch it at all. My knowledge of Gerrard's style of play was pretty much through third party sources or other fans who'd seen Rangers under him. I was confident he would attract higher calibre and higher reputation players to the club and that can only be a massive positive!
3. How impressed have you been with him as a manager thus far?
Regan: There's been visible changes to the way we play - especially in restricting space and keeping the distance between players tighter. I think we won't see the best of Gerrardball for a while yet - but he's impressing so far.
4. To what extent do you attribute the signing of Phillipe Coutinho to Gerrard, and could other high profile signings follow?
Cole: I believe that the signing of Phillipe Coutinho is completely down to Steven Gerrard and his history with the Brazilian to be honest. Although Villa were ambitious prior to the appointment of Gerrard, I just can’t see players of Coutinho’s calibre joining the football club under Dean Smith, with all due respect to the former gaffer. Gerrard brings a contact book filled with world class players and personalities, which will only benefit Villa going forward in my opinion.
5. What do you expect from Coutinho on the pitch? Are you positive about him being a success at the club?
Daniel: I'm very confident in him being a success. Gerrard knows him inside out and knows how to get the best out of him. He's desperate to play in the World Cup for Brazil so I'm hoping we'll see the best version of Coutinho.
6. What's a realistic target for this season? What would make fans happy?
Regan: A top ten finish is a realistic target - but judging by Coutinho's arrival and rumoured transfers for the window, I think a lot of fans would be disappointed if we didn't at least sneak into the Europa Conference League.
7. How do you see the future of the club unfolding in the coming years under Purslow and Gerrard?
Cole: Like any football club in the modern era, I think everything is rather short-term. Ultimately, if Gerrard is a true success at Villa and gets the football club into Europe, it’ll most likely mean his eventual move to Liverpool will be realized once Jurgen Klopp calls it a day. However, with the investment throughout the academy and the infrastructure of the club, I think we’re in good hands regardless of who is calling the shots on the football pitch. With that in mind, I think Villa are finally in a stable place and that’s the most important thing.
Villa are next in action tomorrow (Saturday 15 Jan) in the 17.30 repeat of their FA Cup tie from Monday against Manchester United. It would be pretty hard for anyone, even the most biased thick-headed Man United fan, to argue that Villa weren't robbed in that game. As has often been the case at Old Trafford this season, the visitors were much the better side but Rangnick's men came out on top, this time in large part due to the VAR officials. Some terrible calls were made and the use of the technology was once again thrust into debate as Villa fans were rightly outraged by the decisions that went against them. This weekend they will welcome United to Villa Park in the Premier League in search of revenge, and perhaps with their two new star signings in the starting lineup.
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