In most industries, when someone leaves their position there is usually an overlap of time whereby they work in unison with their replacement, to usher them into their new role. The ‘handover’ is seen as sensible process to ensure the efficiency of the company and for 85 minutes at Villa Park on Saturday we were witness to a handover in the Villa midfield, as James Milner passed his baton on to Marc Albrighton.
Clearly, replacing Milner will be tough for anyone and it will take time, but making only his eighth competitive appearance for the club, the 20-year-oldAlbrighton was a catalyst in a liberated team. As good a manager as Martin O’Neill is, and as bad as West Ham were on Saturday, Villa looked at ease with a freer flowing game under caretaker manager Kevin MacDonald. The reserve team coach had no qualms about drafting in Albrighton from the reserves, where he has been a regular for MacDonald, as well as the defender Ciaran Clark who admirably stepped in for the injured James Collins, as both slotted in to the side seamlessly. Where O’Neill’s Villa were a potent counter-attacking side with the pace they have at their disposal, MacDonald ensured his team went out and suffocated a poor Hammers side with wave after wave of attacks – it should have been so much more than three, and maybe if John Carew hadn’t been still on holiday, it might have been.
Albrighton gave the likes of Herita Ilunga and new boy Winston Reid a brutal introduction to the new season as he ran them ragged all afternoon. Creator of Villa’s first and third goals, the winger played fearlessly in what has been a heady week for the club and its fans. The step up from reserve level has done little in the way of fazing Albrighton, and he looks more than ready to contribute regularly to the first-team’s midfield. While Kevin MacDonald rudders the ship on a temporary basis, it is more than likely that Albrighton will be given more chances to portray what he is capable of. Whoever is to take over the managerial position for the long term will surely be unable to ignore the talents of the young man.
Although Milner was booed with his early touches of Saturday’s games by some sections of the crowd, Villa fans put any grievances aside as they remembered how much they actually love Milner and what he has given to the club during his time there. When he was withdrawn five minutes from time, Villa Park was up on its feet with its impeding goodbye. Along with Ashley Young and Agbonlahor, Milner epitomises a type of player that has become synonymous with the club; full of pace and relentless energy. Albrighton looks as though he is of a similar ilk, hence his apparent effortless transition into their starting line-up.
If the Randy Learner and Martin O’Neill fall-out was based on financial headbutting, with the American owner trying to reign in the spending at the club, then the majority of the money recouped from the potential Milner transfer to Man City will have to be saved rather than spent. Going out and spending £15m on a replacement for Milner may not be on the cards for O’Neill’s replacement, we will have to wait and see. If this is the case, then it may not be the worst thing for the club, and based on what Albrighton showed this week, it appears they have a cut-price, ready-made, younger model, itching to be given the chance to prove his worth.
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