4109: Transfer Reaction; O'Neill St
by : Stephen Orford
Since it is January, Martin O’Neill had to do something about Aston Villa’s recent slide down the Premiership glass mountain.
Victory over Watford on Saturday (January 20) lifted Villa up to 14th in the standings, but until then there had been real fears of a tumble towards the festering pit that is the relegation zone. The Villa Park club failed to register a win in 11 league clashes before Saturday, and were also knocked out of the FA Cup by Manchester United early in the month. Villa managed just nine league goals during this desperate run, four of which came from defender and occasional midfielder Gareth Barry. Three of those were penalty kicks.
With little time to deal in the summer following his August appointment, O’Neill has thus far had to work with last season’s under-motivated rabble. This has been especially difficult given the financial impetus now afforded to the club by new owner Randy Lerner. O’Neill has done a reasonable enough job under these circumstances, even sparing the team from defeat for the first seven league outings. Yet January was always going to be a time for the manager to perform some much needed repair work.
Among the hard yakka was the £9.6million shelled out for Watford star Ashley Young. The fee (initially £8million but rising to a possible £9.65million with add-ons) represents the largest amount splashed out on any player by O’Neill during his managerial career. His critics have always questioned his ability to prosper at a club with healthy resources, and they were out in force after learning of the Young deal. At 21 and with very little top flight experience behind him, Young may represent something of a gamble by the Northern Irishman.
The price tag adds yet more pressure not only on the manager, but also on the Stevenage-born England under-21 international. Though he has shown glimpses of his talents during Watford’s dismal Premiership campaign to this point, he is far from proven at the highest domestic level. To expect an immediate impact from a man who scored 22 goals in 80 appearances for the Hornets would be sheer folly. Like poking a shark in the eye perhaps, or taking a job at the Channel Four complaints department. Villa fans may have to be patient with their new man.
All of which makes the swap deal involving Milan Baros and John Carew all the more intriguing. Baros headed for Lyon to kiss and make-up with Gerard Houllier, while Carew made Birmingham his sixth European footballing destination. The 28-year-old has also had spells at Beskitas, Valencia and Roma aswell as Rosenborg and Valerenga in his native Norway. He lasted just six months in France, but has a reasonable record internationally with 14 goals in 58 appearances. Potentially, he could form a formidable big-man-little-man front pairing with Young, but it might be that O‘Neill has a rather different tactical vision.
O’Neill has shown a liking for pace out wide in attacking areas, often deploying a solitary central striker. Baros never adjusted to this role, but Carew could well be made for it with Young perhaps best utilised in one of the wide areas. With Gabriel Agbonlahor also offering a speedy wide option and the forgotten Luke Moore still to return from injury, the future looks significantly rosier than the present for the Villains. Consolidation of a mid-table position is the very least that O’Neill needs to achieve in order to see his long term plans bear fruit.
Young will have to wait for his debut, with Villa’s next assignment not until January 31 when they visit Newcastle United. Home games with West Ham United and Arsenal lie either side of a trip to Reading on February 10, by which point all talk of the ’r’ word needs to be banished. If it is, Young will have time to ease into his new surroundings before O’Neill gets his hands on yet more of Lerner’s fortune in the summer. If not, he may find that his move from Vicarage Road has been a distinctly sideways one.
By Stephen Orford
24 January 2007