Ex-pros and their opinions, eh? Sure, you can’t begrudge them giving an honest answer to a question they’ve just been asked, but maybe sometimes it would be better for everyone if they judiciously kept their counsel so as not to sully their hard-earned ‘legend’ status.
Dennis Mortimer, captain of Aston Villa’s 1982 European Cup-winning side, may just be one of those legends if his comments about current Villa skipper Stiliyan ‘Stan’ Petrov are anything to go by. Today’s Express & Star quoted him as saying:
“To be honest, I’ve never been a fan of Stiliyan Petrov – I think he is just a ‘Steady Eddie’ as it were.
“I, personally, wouldn’t have him in the team. I don’t think he has the right capacity or the right style that I would want him in my team.
“At the top level, you need someone who is a bit more than a ‘Steady Eddie’ and especially as your captain.
“To me you need to generate momentum in games by the quickness of play and of mind and, for me, Petrov takes half an hour to pass the ball.
“OK, so that is an exaggeration, but you get my point.”
Now, Petrov has clearly never caught the eye to the extent that saw fellow midfielders Gareth Barry, James Milner, Ashley Young and Stewart Downing prised away from Villa Park for various eight-figure fees. In fact, we do not necessarily disagree with Mortimer’s assertion that the Bulgarian’s ponderousness in possession can slow down Villa attacks, especially given that the idea of passing the ball forwards seems to be some sort of anathema to him.
But, with the start of the Premier League season less than two weeks away and Villa having endured enough upheaval as it is, is this kind of talk really helpful in the slightest? Petrov may not be spectacular but, since his 2006 arrival from Celtic, he has been one of the club’s most consistently professional performers, going about his tasks of breaking up opposition attacks and keeping possession in a manner so understated that it might not seem to be all that important. But, as anyone in football will tell you, it is.
Martin O’Neill has his faults as a manager but he led Celtic to the UEFA Cup final and Villa to three consecutive top six finishes – and, of course, Petrov was a valued member of both of those sides. What’s more, and as much as this statement might elicit groans from sections of the Villa Park faithful, Petrov is likely to be very important to Alex McLeish’s side this season.
The squad at the new manager’s disposal dictates that the tried-and-trusted O’Neill methods of getting it out wide and subsequently into the box as quickly as possible may not be the best way to go about things anymore. A young side will need a calm, old head – a “Steady Eddie”, if you will – in their ranks if they are not to flounder badly under the pressure of turning out for this famous old club and, with Nigel Reo-Coker having been allowed to join Bolton Wanderers, Villa’s only other viable central midfield options are Jean II Makoun, Fabian Delph, Barry Bannan, Gary Gardner and Stephen Ireland (remember him?).
Whereas Petrov has turned out for the club on 188 occasions, Makoun, Delph, Bannan and Ireland have made comfortably less than half that amount of appearances between them. Experience is a prized commodity – scoff all you like but those in football circles wouldn’t keep banging on about it if it wasn’t. It lends guidance to young players and new arrivals alike and that is what Villa’s engine room is mostly comprised of now.
What’s more, there’s a good argument to be made that the various playing styles of those other aforementioned midfielders necessitate the presence next to them of a holding player like Petrov. Perhaps Makoun will in time be able to step up in that role but, having only made seven appearances at the back end of last season, the Cameroonian still has some acclimatising to do before he can be entrusted with such an important role.
If Villa were to recruit the services of a state-of-the-art defensive midfield player then things might be a little bit different but, as things are, the esteemed Mr Mortimer might want to think more carefully before publically condoning the exclusion of the club’s current captain with a new season under a new manager so close at hand.