The European Championships, eagerly anticipated by football fans deprived of club competition for the last month, begin today. Some of us are lucky enough to be going to France while some of us will be following the action on the television. Wherever we are watching, we will be hoping for a tournament of excitement, thrills and, of course, an England win!
Even though those in the know say players should not be signed off the back of a good tournament, international competitions are a chance for players to put themselves in the shop window.
I am looking forward to seeing a lot of players I have never heard of before and, with any luck, there may be a few gems for whom a move to Villa would be a tantalising prospect.
We have only one representative from our squad at the tournament, Ciaran Clark. The fact that the number of Villa players at the competition is so low is probably not surprising considering the season we had.
I hope Clark puts in a good show and gets some form back, as it is likely he will feature heavily in Villa’s future plans. If he plays well and transfers that confidence to Villa’s Championship season then he will be almost like a new signing.
I have tried to think about new signings down the years who have featured in European tournaments and how they performed for Villa. Unfortunately, the two players who came to mind straightaway had disastrous Villa careers so anyone coming to us after this year’s competition will hope to do much better.
The first player is Luc Nilis. Nilis has 288 goals in 503 league appearances in his career. That is a fantastic record and he played over fifty times for Belgium. John Gregory secured his signature before the Euro 2000 tournament and when he arrived at Villa Park people expected much. Tragically, he only played three times in the league before ending his career with a horrific broken leg against Ipswich in the 2000-01 season. He clocked up one superb goal and could have been a great player for us; however, it was not to be.
The second name is Milan Baros. He was fantastic in the Euro 2004 competition, leading the line for the Czech Republic – a team many had tipped to win the tournament. A year later he won the Champions League with Liverpool in the final to end all finals before he came to us that summer. With only 9 goals in 42 league appearances in claret and blue, he disappointed. The best thing he ever did was be the makeweight that brought John Carew to Villa Park.
So there are two examples of Euro players who didn’t quite do it at Villa for one reason or another.
Here’s hoping we may be able to find a player at this year’s tournament who can help us get back to the big time. Failing that, I’ll take an England win!