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‘Big Clubs’ and The Glory of the Cup

Aston Villa Blog’s Ollie Scrimgeour explains why the significance of a run in the cups is crucial to McLeish and Villa following last night’s 2-0 win over Hereford.

People often suggest that the magic of cup football is for the smaller teams, but it is also hugely important for the ‘big clubs’ as well. It’s hard to know what makes a club a ‘big club’, but a winning attitude is key in creating defining success.

Admittedly, beating Hereford at home in the second round of the Carling Cup is not necessarily what was in mind when the term ‘the glory of the cup’ was coined. While that might seem disrespectful to our opponents, it would be wrong of me to pretend we didn’t expect to win the game, a point which I will come on to later. However, progression was achieved at Villa Park on Tuesday night after two late goals. Eric Lichaj opened the scoring on 80 minutes, with his first goal for the club, and Nathan Delfouneso completed the result with just two minutes of normal time remaining. 2-0 is nothing more than a comfortable scoreline, but the inspired performance of the Bulls’ goalkeeper prevented it from being an emphatic one.

There were a number of good performances from men in claret and blue as well, which adds to the positive start to the season that the Villans have enjoyed under Alex McLeish. The midfield was key, with the diminutive figure of Barry Bannan proving an imposing figure with his passing. Stephen Ireland also illustrated his class, with a solid performance. While still looking a little short of game time, Villa fans will be hoping the man who was once key for big-spenders Manchester City can become the player he once was, and be the architect of our attacking football. This will only add to the chances, and goals we get through the likes of Darren Bent.

The Bigger Picture

Still, last night’s victory was not the principal subject on my mind after the game was over and we had booked our place in the third round. Instead, I was considering the bigger picture – the concept of cup football and how important it is that Aston Villa enjoy a strong cup run this season.

We all remember the memorable day in May 2010 at Wembley, where we lost to Manchester United in the League Cup final. Needless to say, the result was not the reason this was such a considerable day for us Villans.

The reason for its significance was that we had reached a cup final – albeit the ‘you only care if you win it’ cup. It was painful to watch the United fans pour out of the national stadium at the full time whistle, many of them not even bothering to stay and celebrate the lifting of the trophy with their players. It was a symbol of how little it meant to United, for me, and how accustomed to success they are – not to mention a clear and unsavoury signal of arrogance. They may have won the game and the trophy, but I think the claret and blue half of the arena took more from the experience than the Red Devils.

The excitement before and the disappointment at the end was a demonstration of how long it had been since there had been an opportunity for us to compete for a trophy. It had been ten years, since we played (and lost) to Chelsea in the FA Cup final in 2000.

Just yesterday, I became involved in a debate with someone on Twitter about whether Villa was a big club. Stating that the size of a club is largely down to its history and the magnitude and loyalty of its fan base, my argument was firm and obvious – there is no doubt Villa are a big club. The other person in the discussion suggested that to be such, a big club must measurably and consistently compete for trophies. I shan’t concede that I am entirely in agreement with this opinion, but perhaps in the modern climate of high expectations and results-orientated football, there could be some truth in it.

That said, challenging for trophies is something we should be aspiring to every campaign, no matter what it is. Evidently, without serious investment in the team, and perhaps a considerable loss of identity, we are unable – save a miracle – to realistically win the Premier League. Therefore, progressing in the cup competitions, European and domestic, is vital if we are to consolidate our status as a ‘big club’.

Respect in Cup Football

Going back to my point about showing respect to your opponents in the cup, be they in a lower division to us or not, there is a key point here, for it has strong links to the attitude shown by Man United after the Carling Cup final in 2010. If you consider all of the successful teams who reach the latter stages of cup tournaments year after year, and who measurably and consistently compete, you will realise one thing is common amongst them – they expect to win, which doesn’t mean they show no respect. There is a difference.

There is an air of self-belief and assured confidence surrounding the so-called ‘big clubs’ in the cup, so much so that the managers of these clubs now regularly adopt a policy of playing a youth team – or certainly a weakened one – in the first few rounds. There is a school of thought that criticises this tactic, accusing what could be seen as arrogance of damaging the meaning and importance of cup football.

However, just like I was not showing disrespect to Hereford in my opening sentence, these clubs who field weakened teams are not demonstrating a lack of regard for the cup when they field a far-from-full-strength team. The situation is this – the ‘big clubs’ play a lot of games between August and May, and aim to win all of them, while encouraging their youth players with first team experience. The message is still the same, whether it is a team of teenagers or of seasoned veterans who have lifted the trophy numerous times before – you will win.

Attitude and team spirit are essential to the success of any football team, and the cup offers an opportunity to bleed this through the entire squad, for the ‘big clubs’. A strong poise is the reason for which big clubs are feared by opponents, and indeed why they are given a great deal of respect on and off the pitch. It is important to expect and respect high-achievement when you are one of these clubs, and it is what Villa must aspire to.

We are Big

Aston Villa Football Club is a big club, of that I have no doubt. With a fan base to rival any club in Europe, 138 years of history and a regular position in the upper echelons of one of the best leagues in the world, it seems a little unfair to suggest otherwise.

Nevertheless, it is important that a mentality of winning is once again instilled in the team, and throughout the team. Cup football can be exceptionally useful in achieving this and it is clear that Villa should target these competitions as opportunities to collect trophies, and build an undying attitude of success.

We have made an encouraging start to the season, and as I highlighted before the Blackburn match, all of our outings in August are winnable. We have done two-thirds of the job, and while Mick McCarthy’s Wolves look strong as well, if we approach the fixture positively, we shall end the first month of the season very well.

Villa need to grasp the triumphant outlook, because we are a big club and it’s been too long since we were properly recognised as such. A run in the cup can do wonders for a football club’s attitude and could be positive for all aspects of our campaign.

The glory of the cup is a great thing, and long may it last.

Up the Villa!

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