When looking at Premiership sides, there are plenty of players and managers who are easy to dislike. Aston Villa are one of the few set-ups that I find totally inoffensive. Martin O’Neil is a good manager, doing a good job. They’ve got some handy players who go about their business in a respectable way. Of all the teams trying to break the top four, I really hoped they were the ones to do it, but if the last couple of seasons are anything to go by, it’s not going to happen any time soon. In both games against Spurs last season they were entirely defensive, rather than going for the kill. At their place they should have taken the game by the balls after Nani got sent off so early, but they were content with just stopping us. Their mentality has to change if they want to get amongst the top four.
Damian Dugdale from The Villa Blog has taken some time out to talk to me about his feelings about last season, what Villa can hope for next season and the League Cup finals they’ve played against us.
Scott the Red: Were you happy with your team’s performance last season?
Damian Dugdale: All things considered I suppose the answer would be no. Sixth three seasons on the bounce in this league, with the money we have spent, doesn’t make me happy.
STR: Particularly considering Spurs and City have improved. That being said, what are your aspirations for this season?
DD: My aspirations are simple; win the league. There is nothing else worth aspiring too. If you had asked what I expect or think will happen, I would have answered 7th is our realistic place with Martin O’Neill but I will hope for better.
STR: Well you came pretty close to winning a trophy or two last season, so that might be something you were aiming to improve on. Talking of O’Neil, how do you rate his ability to take Villa club forward?
DD: I’m one of the few that think O’Neill has taken us as far as he can at Aston Villa unless he gets a serious amount of money. I think if he had a significant amount of money to play with, we could get better, but the club is now in more debt than it ever has been, is paying more in wages than it ever has done and while nobody has said specifically we need to sell players before we can buy – it has been implied.
A football pundit called O’Neill’s football one dimensional last season and it is, but it can work. However, to work, you need much better players and the better players these days don’t want to play retro football, they want to win and they know to do that, the football has to be different.
STR: Of the players you do have though, who do you expect to be most important to you in this season ahead?
DD: Me personally, I expect that Ashley Young is our most important player this season. He has it all to be that player but we didn’t see that much of it last season. Like I said, I hope it is him this season – it really can be him.
STR: What’s your favourite chant you’ve heard sung at your ground?
DD: Holte Enders in the Sky – my favourite
STR: Yeh, we heard that once or twice at Wembley in February. Where do you think United will finish this season?
DD: United will either win it or come second. If I had to put a bet on, I’d say win, only because it is Sir Alex and Manchester United, but I’m not convinced.
STR: If you could have any two players from United’s current squad playing for you, who would they be?
DD: Most would say Rooney and I think I have in the past and there is no doubt he is special, but I lost respect for him after his outburst after that game in South Africa and I know that shouldn’t be a reason not to pick him, but this is just a game so my rules apply. The two I’d pick are Darron Gibson for what he is and for what he could become and Rafael, for the exact same reasons.
STR: I suppose that’s where we’ll disagree given how pathetic I find England fans booing the team they’re meant to “support” whenever they can. Gwan Wazza! Anyway, what are your thoughts on United’s debt?
DD: I think you are a massive club, turning over huge amounts of money and the debt is just part of how business is done these days. It isn’t nice but show me a club without debt and I’ll show you a club not challenging for honours and isn’t football about winning things.
STR: We’re getting on a roll with disagreeing now! Chelsea make a loss every season because they can’t live within their means and still be a success. But the debt is hindering us at United, not making us what we are, and we’d be far more successful without it. Still, Randy Lerner seems like a pretty sound owner. What do you think of him?
DD: As of today, we can’t have any real complaints against Lerner. He has made available a lot of money to O’Neill and O’Neill has spent it. In twenty years time, when Lerner has made his money and gone and we are sitting in the pub talking about the good old days of the Premier League, we might look back at it differently, but as of today, not knowing what will happen during the rest of of this transfer window, or the one in January, we can’t have complaints. I hope he has saved some money – because I think we will need it next summer, if none is made available this and in January, but for now – he has done what he has to do and that is provide as much money as he can to the manager to make the football team better.
STR: Moving on, what is your favourite game your club have played against United?
DD: Favourite game has to be the League Cup final in 1994. We were not expected to win, but we did and it was fantastic.
STR: And the worst?
DD: There are so many games but I’ll pick the League Cup final last season. It is still fresh and it was important.
STR: Not to rub salt in the wounds, but what do you think of Gareth Barry?
DD: Gareth who?
STR: Indeed! Cheers mate and best of luck for the coming season.