Archive for the ‘Aston Villa’ Category

“In England, Italy and Germany being a homosexual is no big thing, at least not in the dressing room. I was never ashamed of being who I am but it was not always easy to sit on a table with 20 young men and listen to jokes about gays. You let them get on with it as long as the jokes are somewhat funny and not too insulting. Being gay is a topic that is ‘ignored’ in football and not ‘a serious topic in the changing room’. Fighting spirit, passion and winning mentality are.” -Thomas Hitzlsberger

Just when you think you’ve overcome the petty partisan loyalty that defines being a supporter, news breaks about a former player and memories—good ones, which come few and far between for Villa fans these days years—come flooding back.

Thomas Hitzlsberger to me isn’t just a name, a memory from a highlight reel, a person known for something that doesn’t directly involve football. Der Hammer, along with a team with players like Nobby Solano, Ollie Melberg, Darius Vassell and my hero Martin Laursen, helped me through difficult mornings in Montreal in the cafes along St. Laurent Boulevard that were nice enough to put the game on at 7:45 AM, sometimes even with the sound on.

Watching Villa in those days was a lonely experience. I took ownership of those teams because I watched them by myself over an unread newspaper, bad coffee and dry bacon, while the snow piled up in a city that was smart enough to stay in bed. In a moment in my life marked by uncertainty and change, that 2003-2005 era Villa, in their not-very-fetching Hummel kits (so many chevrons), were my team, more than any that came before or after.

So when Hitzlsberger left with his head held high to Stuttgart, it came as an honest shock. Der Hammer for me would always be a Villan, in the same way that Mellberg never really left, even though there he was playing for Juventus. I followed his career with interest for a year or so after, and then like we all do, I moved on.

When news broke this morning that Hitz, who retired this past September, had come out as gay, familiar social reasoning kicked in among all the congratulatory Tweeting. “It’s a sad state of affairs that a man’s sexual orientation is news.” And I suppose that’s true, but it doesn’t explain the immense pride I feel in the man, nor does it explain why no top flight player in the major European leagues has come out as a gay despite constant public reassurances from clubs, players that they would be welcome.

None of us know what it’s like to be an elite footballer, only as valuable as your last performance, playing each and every week in front of tens of thousands of fans, often hostile by default. It may not be a hard life—these are people paid gobs of cash to kick a ball after all—but it can be a difficult one. Players know that while clubs, managers, fans and players say one thing out loud about homosexuality, things are different when decisions are made about who plays and who doesn’t and who to buy and who to sell. Behind football’s smiley face on gay rights, things are starkly different within the confines of a very conservative club culture.

This is why news that footballer has come out publicly matters. If you think we live in a post-homophobic world when it comes to elite sport, explain FIFA’s president Sepp Blatter advising gay and lesbian supporters to “refrain from sexual activity” while in Qatar for the 2022 World Cup, or the remarks from a Russian judge over a refusal to allow a Pride House in the Olympic Village in Sochi, because “The aims of the organization contradict the basics of public morality and the policy of the state in the area of family motherhood and childhood protection,” or PSG’s Alex explaining today that “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Yves,” This is before we even approach the bile that shows up routinely in comments sections the world round or in articles like this from respected writers.

As for Hitz, in the interview he mentioned he grew up in a Bavaria in which homosexuality was considered “unnatural or even criminal.” He made it through the sport and could have retired quietly as countless others have before him, as a respected Villan fondly remembered by fans from a certain era. Instead he’s subjected himself to the weird, obituary like tributes from the papers and bad, tired jokes, more homophobia disguised as “having a laugh.” But it matters because that’s one more example for another to look to in making a decision neither you or I know what it is to make. It’s one more step toward the tipping point.

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Poor Aston Villa. Poor, desperate Villa. What now?

As I’m forced today to write on my football club, full disclosure: yeah. That said, I think there is reason to peer past the veil of tears in the proper part of the Midlands as Christian Benteke—in utterly cynical, predictable fashion—put in his transfer request a single year into a four year contract.

Here’s the Guardian:

Villa issued a statement on Monday confirming Benteke’s transfer request, although the Midlands club are adamant that they will not be bullied into selling a player they bought for £7m last summer. With Benteke only 12 months into a four-year contract, Villa have insisted they will sanction his departure only if their valuation is met. That figure is believed to be in excess of £25m for a player who scored 23 goals in 39 appearances last season.

Last week, I went to some trouble to carefully explain how football pundits were often guilty of ignoring or misunderstanding the crucial concept of means regression. As measurement increases, a variable will tend to move closer to the average. That’s tend to; Benteke is 22 years old; this may be an actual improvement in form, rather than a lucky season with a flagging club.

A quick look at Benteke’s career statistics reveals a very talented, consistent striker. His breakout season with a loan to Belgian side KV Kortijk, where in 2009-10 he scored 16 goals in 38 appearances. He went through a relative lull in both appearances and goals (I say relative as it was still fairly impressive) until his 2011-12 regular season with KRC Genk, in which he scored 16 goals in 33 matches.

While we don’t have access to the data, one would have normally expected a drop-off in production following a move from the Belgian Pro League to the Premier League. However, Benteke managed to score a very credible 23 goals in 39 appearances with Aston Villa, effectively saving the club from relegation.

This is a good thing, but the crucial question is whether this past season alone justifies Villa’s £25 million plus valuation. If we refer to the CIES Football Observatory’s 2013 Annual Review for example, which includes a breakdown of the economic value of Europe’s leading lights, this would put Benteke in a class with Jordi Alba, Manuel Neuer, and Luka Modric.

But there is at least reason to question whether Benteke’s numbers will remain consistently high following a transfer. Let’s just say that a) I wouldn’t make that punt and b) if Villa sell for that price, they should be applauded. Again, he’s young, and he will almost certainly remain a consistent, productive striker. But £25 million is a risky investment indeed.

Norwich City v Aston Villa - Premier League

Aston Villa has been dealt quite the blow, as star striker and Belgian international Christian Benteke has submitted a transfer request.

The most obvious landing spot for Benteke is Tottenham, who lost out on David Villa earlier today. The Sun reports Spurs chairman Daniel Levy offered 20 million pounds for Benteke, who scored 19 times last season. In shocking news, Spurs would jettison Emmanuel Adebayor in their bid to land Benteke. Absolutely stunning.

Don’t forget about Chelsea. With Edinson Cavani heading to PSG,  Jose Mourinho could be in the market for another striker. Offloading Fernando Torres and Demba Ba, however, may be difficult.

In the end, are we really surprised Benteke wants out? Villa stands to make a nice profit after getting him from Genk for 7 million Euros. Unfortunately, that won’t provide much solace for the Villans.

Goal
Expecting the officials to see this is insane and unfair. Either way moments like these will not happen next year. To the future. Also worth noting is the amazing clearance by Ashley Westwood.

Image via TheJawbone

Ummm, wow. Robin Van Perie has scored twice early at Old Trafford. His second goal was something else (what a ball from Wayne R). A 70 minute waltz to title number 20 for Manchester United is on the docket. Ho hum.

Gif via @FeintZebra

Sure he scored the match winner after Luis Suarez drew a clumsy challenge from Nathan Barker, but Steven Gerrard’s effort at the other end of the pitch was just as important. Liverpool’s captain ensured three points for the Reds at Villa Park with this goal line clearance, leading Liverpool to a 2-1 victory. It was a game worth watching, one that featured more excellence from Christian Benteke and a goal from Jordan Henderson of all people.

Villa slips back into the relegation zone with the loss. Six points separate 10th from 18th. It’s going to be a crazy few weeks.

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Game in a sentence

It wasn’t pretty, but Aston Villa secure three points at Reading and move to 17th place in the table.

Observations

  • Reading Goalkeeper Stuart Taylor made his first appearance in five years. Taylor’s first game since 2008 was a massive one, as both Reading and Aston Villa found themselves in the relegation zone heading in.
  • Brad Guzan was busy early, making a crucial save off an Adam Le Fondre header just two minutes in. Matthew Lowton had a dreadful opening 20 minutes, allowing Le Fondre to beat him for that chance and committing a reckless challenge on Jobi McAnuff moments later. Lowton received a yellow for his exploits.
  • Villa striker Christian Benteke came within inches of pulling Villa in front with a header of his own in the 11th minute, beating Taylor but not the crossbar after connecting on a Nathan Baker cross.
  • After some nervous sequences that required Guzan to be on his game, the visitors took over. A counter attack created by Ron Vlaar nearly resulted in a goal from Andreas Weimann, who found in himself in front of goal with space only to send the ball wide with a poor shot. Paul Lambert’s side would fall behind five minutes later. Read the rest of this entry »