LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02: Richard Dunne gets a good look at what a world-class player looks like. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Rafael Van der Vaart's excellent performance in Tottenham Hotspur's come-from-behind victory over Aston Villa led me to contemplate the nature of the "star player." Now, it would be a substantial leap to call Rafael Van der Vaart one of the best players in the world. However, he is a top-class international (he was in or around Holland's starting XI during their run to the World Cup finals) who is on a remarkable run of form. And you have to admit, just as much as Villa lost the game by replacing the resurgent Emile Heskey with the floundering John Carew (remember when those names used to be reversed?), Spurs won it on the strength of a Van der Vaart double. The Aston Villa backline, particularly Richard Dunne, seemed to be utterly flummoxed by Van der Vaart after he shifted in behind Peter "I'm still taller than you even when I" Crouch. So here's my question: does Aston Villa have anyone with the quality of Rafael Van der Vaart? A man with the ability to take over a game, and the confidence to actually step up and do it?
When I ask myself that question, Ashley Young is really the only guy on our squad at the moment that jumps to mind. Maybe Albrighton or Delfouneso will come of age, and we'll manage to hold on to them, but that's just speculation right now. And I would even be hesitant to describe Young as at that level. I think that he needs to step up in a big way to be able to dominate a game, rather than provide maddening flashes (Wa-hey!) of brilliance from the fringes. So, if we don't have one right now, when was the last time we did? Was it Milner? No, I don't think so. I think it could have been, in a couple of years, but now that he's traded in regular playing time for a better chance at winning (oh, and bucketloads of cash), I'm not so sure.
This is who I came down to. Paul McGrath. Now, I don't think less of you if you don't recognize that name. I can't say I have a perfect read on our audience here, but I'm not sure how many of us followed Aston Villa during the early 1990s. I certainly didn't, because I was too busy being a child. Fortunately, like any good Johnny Come Lately, I've done my research. So, here's your starter's guide to one of the last Villa legends:
- Read Paul McGrath's award-winning autobiography, Back From The Brink. This is not your ordinary puff-piece stretched into a book, as so many sports bios are. This can be incredibly dark, because let's face it, McGrath went through some seriously tough shit in his life.
- YouTube. It's your friend, you've always known that. But I bet you don't go there to watch defensive performances. Paul McGrath v. Italy 1994 will change all that. Your life will never be the same again, and it will probably ruin how good you thought defenders like Richard Dunne are. Sorry.