As one of the founder members of The Football League in 1888 and the Premier League in 1992, Aston Villa remain one of the biggest clubs in English football, covered with a rich tradition and history. Without a major trophy in 13 years, the Birmingham club are in the process of building a successful club that can challenge for not just domestic, but European honours as well.
After a barren spell at Villa Park under John Gregory, Graham Taylor and David O'Leary, Martin O'Neill has created an impressive squad with a mix of youth and experience that has taken them to third place in the Premier League, just three points behind leaders Manchester United. It has been an amazing turnaround considering the club were fighting relegation just three seasons ago under former manager O'Leary.
Villa have a rich history, winning seven league championships, seven FA Cups, five League Cups, and most notably a European Cup in 1982. Therefore, it is strange that a club with such a pedigree should only win one league title in the last 99 years. Together with Randy Lerner, the new multi-millionaire owner, O'Neill has built a side with pace going forward and a steely midfield and defence.
Some of his key signings include Ashley Young, John Carew, James Milner, Stilian Petrov, Brad Friedel, and O'Neill has now been reunited with his former Leicester City striker Emile Heskey. The £3.5 million acquisition feels he can help take the club into the UEFA Champions League next season. "People work their socks off, defend well and chase everything. I think we have the squad here with the right qualities to break into the top four this season," he said.
We’ve got a winning mentality at the club this year.
The England striker is someone O’Neill has followed throughout his career and the Villa manager is determined to get the best out of him. "Of course, I have kept an eye on Emile's career. I know confidence is always a big thing with Emile. When his confidence is high, he is always a player and I know he will do well for us."
Another factor in Villa’s success this season has been the decision of influential midfielder, Gareth Barry to remain at his one and only club, despite a summer-long chase from Liverpool. With 418 appearances and 50 goals to his name, Barry has established himself as the heartbeat of Villa’s team.
Making dreams come true
It was reported that Barry was desperate to leave Villa Park in order to pursue his dream of playing Champions League football, but under O’Neill the England international is well on the way to achieving his personal goal. "We’ve got a winning mentality at the club this year and we’re trying to keep it going, even when it’s tough to keep going, we believe we can get three points," he said.
His views are shared by Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, who believes Aston Villa have what it takes to win their first League title since 1981. The Frenchman claims: "There are five or even six teams who can still win the title and you would have to include Aston Villa in there; it will be much tighter than most people think."
Wenger knows more than most that O’Neill’s men are a serious threat this season, after Villa defeated them at the Emirates and then came from two goals down to force a draw just six weeks later. In fact, the Villains have faired well in all of there games against the so-called 'big four' this season, with just one defeat in five matches; a considerably better record than Manchester United or Chelsea can boast.
Undoubtedly the excellent relationship between American owner, Lerner and manager Martin O’Neill has been an important factor in the side’s success this season, but the efforts of the players should not be downplayed. Already in the last 32 of the UEFA Cup and going well in the FA Cup, Aston Villa are well positioned to claim their first piece of silverware since a 3-0 League Cup triumph over Leeds United in 1996. For the Villa fans, it will be well worth the wait.