Top Bins Talk is excited to announce our new column “From The Fans,” a dialogue between ourselves and the most passionate of supporters from teams around the globe. We ask them a whole host of questions regarding the current state of their side, their favorite memories as a fan, and their hopes for the future of their team.
Today we are joined by American Aston Villa fan Mason Davis (@mdavis5217). Read on to see what he has to say about the Claret and Blue!
Hi Mason. Tell us a little about yourself. How long have you been supporting Aston Villa and what is your best memory as a fan? How and why did you become a fan of Villa?
My name is Mason Davis, and I am an Aston Villa fan. I’m 27 years old, a corporate trainer and football coach. I even have my own private training company called Insight Soccer Training (social media love is much appreciated!) I have supported Villa since 2006. I’m from the United States as you can probably tell from the name of the company.
You don’t find too many fans stateside, but we have a great network here. The reason I became a Villa fan in the first place was because I wanted to support a team that I thought could break into the top four. In the Martin O’Neil era, that was a real possibility. Villa were certainly pushing for a Champions League spot and their style of play was so fun to watch – especially compared to American soccer. And while I am not old enough to remember the days of League Titles, FA Cup wins, and a European Cup win, I have met plenty of fans who do remember those times and enjoy watching those highlights with me.
As for my personal favorite memory, there are several. My first game at Villa park in 2011 saw Kyle Walker hit a cracking shot from 35 meters out into the bottom corner against Fulham in 2011. I also had the unique experience of meeting the entire squad this past summer in Minneapolis, where Villa held their preseason camp. As a coach, being invited to a training session was special for more than the fact that this was Aston Villa. Firsthand experience of a Premier League level training session is a dream for coaches that support any team. And of course, our recent promotion to the Premier League was a fantastic experience. It was early morning in Colorado, and nothing could have brought me down from those heights that day.
How would you rate this current season for Villa from 1-10 and why?
Unfortunately, the high hopes I had for the season have been put to rest by a team that clearly needs a sports psychologist on staff. So I would give this current season a 4. It could be lower, but nothing could be as bad as Villa’s dismal relegation season a few years back. Not to mention, they did make a solid League Cup run and put up a real fight against a world class City side. If you look at how and when Villa have dropped points though, it becomes obvious that the side is not a technically weak side. In many cases, they have looked the dominant outfit against sides that have been in the top half of the premier league for some time now. The amount of late goals conceded and the nature by which Villa have conceded show a squad that is not technically inept, but mentally, cognitively weak. The current squad are anxious, apprehensive, and submissive in the final 10 minutes of most matches.
Who does your club need to sign this summer? Who is your dream signing?
Villa need to sign a few players. Who they are able to sign will depend on what league they are in next season. While many fans have said the club need someone with premier league experience, the horrific showings of Danny Drinkwater in a Villa shirt show why that’s not the only necessary criteria. I think Alfredo Morelos from Rangers would be an excellent signing this summer if Villa stay up. Villa would have an excellent two up top in Samatta and Morelos. Kienan Davis and Indiana Vassilev would be excellent options from the bench. As for dream signings, I’d love to see Chelsea’s Billy Gilmour, or Declan Rice come to the club. They both have the qualities that have cost Villa this season. And since both are young, they would provide Villa with future stability that’ll be lost once Grealish leaves. And yes, I have resigned my hopes of Grealish staying. He is a dream signing, but the type of player that needs other stars around him to be happy. I could go on about Jack and how brilliant he is, but Villa aren’t successful enough to keep him at the moment.
Who is your dream manager? Are you satisfied with the job that Dean Smith has done?
Pep Guardiola is my dream manager. As a coach, I obsess over his methods, his tactics, his trainings, and even his demeanor from the touchline. The style of play he implements is beautiful and the way he makes every one of his players better is admirable. I didn’t think Raheem Sterling could be an elite player, but I would argue that he has reached that elite level at City. I doubt Guardiola would ever take a position at Aston Villa, but crazier things have happened. Historically Villa are a far more successful club than City, with more passionate fans, and a demonstrably better atmosphere at Villa Park. City have extraordinary talent though and Pep is part of that.
Best all-time player and manager?
Best all-time manager for the club is tough for me since I have only been a supporter for 15 years. I could say Ron Saunders, Brian Little, or Ron Atkinson but they are before my time. In the time that I supported Villa, it would have to be Martin O’Neil. He squandered a lot of money, but he did know how to put together a remarkably consistent squad.
Best all-time player is either Peter Withe, because he scored the goal that gave Villa their single European Championship win, or Gabby Agbonlahor. Although he was a bit of a scapegoat in his last years at the club, he scored a lot of goals for the club. The speed and power he brought to the side would terrorize defenses. A close second behind those two would have to be Jack Grealish. In just these last few years, Villa have had numerous games each season where points would have been dropped without him. If you want to see the difference he can make, just look at how Villa performed last year when he was injured vs when he returned. Villa went on a 10-game unbeaten run and Grealish was the talisman behind it all.
Best club accomplishment?
The 1982 European Cup triumph has to be top of the list. I had a friend say that he liked Aston Villa because they have a great history like Newcastle United. Of course I had to stop him right there because although St James Park is nice and they have a good fanbase, they do not have a European Cup in their trophy cabinet and their 11 major titles do not compare to Aston Villa’s 20. When I stayed in Birmingham for the first time, my hostel had a picture of Villa celebrating their European Cup championship. That had to be a sign that I was in the right place.
Favorite match you’ve been to (or watched)?
My favorite match that I have been to was the match at Villa Park against Fulham in 2011 or the match in Minneapolis against Minnesota United. I have seen Villa in person 6 times, so I do not have a lot of choices as some of my fellow fans do. I watch just about every match live though, and the best match that I watched on television had to be against Everton in 2008. Ashley Young scored in the final minutes of the game to win 3-2 in a highly dramatic series of goals. My friend is an Everton fan and I have never taken so much pleasure in watching someone else’s devastation.
Even though I have only seen Villa 6 times, I have travelled 24 hours by car to watch them in Philadelphia, another 12 hours to follow them to Chicago before going back to Denver, and then this last summer my fiancé and I drove 30 hours round trip to see Villa in Minneapolis. I’d love to go overseas again to watch them as soon as I have the money for plane tickets. Each of the past experiences have been a blast.
What is Your Ideal Starting XI?
Right now it would have to be a 4-3-3:
Guilbert, Mings, Engels, Targett
McGinn, Luiz, Trezeguet
Vassilev, Samatta, Grealish
Now I know a lot of Villa fans that would say these guys have had their chance and have failed, but I am reiterating that each of these players just need some cognitive techniques and some better situational awareness to finish out the matches where they would normally drop points. In some cases, I would put Hourihane in for Trez because of his free kick abilities. And I included Vassilev because of his potential. The kid is quick and if he could link up with Grealish, we’d be in for some magic.
Who, in your eyes, are Villa’s three most exciting youngsters?
I will stick with 3. Indiana Vassilev, Callum O’Hare, and Louie Barry. Louie Barry played at Barcelona before coming back to the UK and even though he is only 16, I bet he will get a debut with the first team soon. Cal O’Hare is doing really well on loan at Coventry in League One so I really hope he decides to sign a contract with Villa so that he gets his chance in claret and blue. As for Vassilev, I don’t simply like him because he is American, but I have seen him play at the Academy level and I can tell he will bring a level of dynamic movement that Dean Smith can’t seem to get out of Wesley.
Who is a player from your rival that you secretly admire and wish you had in your team?
Probably Adama Traore from Wolves. I am quite bitter about his success at Wolves because he played for Villa 5 years back and delivered no end product. I understand that he was probably coached incorrectly and that he played with an unmotivated squad that had no belief in staying up. But Villa could have utilized his pace and power in far more situations than they did. I wish we had kept him. And while I would not call Leicester a direct rival, I am also bitter that we let Marc Albrighton go on a free, and he ended up being an important player in a league winning Leicester side. I’d love him back in a Villa shirt.
Which player from your team do you think would survive the longest on a deserted island?
Tom Heaton. What a leader. He is an absolute rock in the back even when the rest of the team loses their heads. As a goalkeeper, he can also command with a level of authority that you rarely get in other positions.
Where do you see Villa in five years? What do you believe your clubs short/long term goals be?
That really depends in Villa stay up this season. The ownership is finally where it should be though. Wes Edens and Nassif Sawaris have a net worth of over 10 billion between them so I’d imagine they are willing to spend big money to get Villa to the top levels of English football. If Villa stay up, I’d like to see them breaking into the top 10 in the next few years and the top 6 in the next 5 years. The funds are there, but Christian Purslow, the chief executive there, has to play his cards right.
Staying in the PL is obviously the best short term goal and the long term goal has to be developing an identity that includes consistently breaking into the top 10 and competing with other clubs who have historically be successful. Playing in Europe would be another excellent long-term goal and Villa Park is worthy of the occasion.
What have you been doing during this quarantine?
I have been training kids from ages 10-17. Insight Soccer Training has one other coach besides me, but I run the marketing, the Online Program, the social media, and just about everything else. I also coach two club teams so trying to keep their soccer development going during this quarantine is not easy. They are allowed outside but all of our team trainings are through video chat. Of course I have also been watching old Villa matches. Right now they are running Full 90 Fridays where you can see classic Villa games through the team video website.
Who is the most underrated/overrated player on your team?
Hourihane has to be the most underrated player. He makes a difference every time he is on the pitch and his freekick ability is second to none. He does not deserve to start every game, but he should certainly be playing more than Dean Smith has played him.
The most overrated player is probably Anwar El Ghazi. I like El Ghazi, but he does not have the mentality of a champion. Too often he is timid, unwilling to defend, and will disappear from games. He scored a nice goal in the playoff championship against Derby but the lack of consistency really hurts the team.
How do you think the current season should be resolved? Should it be voided, resumed once the pandemic is over, or completed behind closed doors?
I think the current season should be voided. It just isn’t fair to ask players to return without the fans and without the training that was normal a month ago. I do think Liverpool deserve the title and even Manchester United fans will admit that their title seemed inevitable.
I would be demonstrably upset if Villa were relegated because they have a game in hand. The game in question is at home against Sheffield United. While the last game against the Blades was dismal for Villa fans, a match at Villa Park has the potential to be entirely different. So I say scrap the season and start again in August with the same teams.
If you could spend an hour with one player or coach (past/present), who would it be? And what would you ask them?
I would love to spend some time with Jack Grealish. I have already met him, but I was not able to have a kick around with him, which would be the ultimate dream. I played University level football so I can’t imagine he would be too upset with the quality of my touch! I would ask him all kinds of questions about what its like being a professional footballer. I’d ask about what he struggles with most and how he finds the desire to continue working for a team that has continually let him down this season. I’d also ask him if there is anything that would keep him at Villa next season or whether he is set on leaving no matter what.
I did have the chance to interview James Chester during my time in Minneapolis and ask him a few questions. I will share one question that I asked:
Me: For young players, what is one piece of advice that you have for them if they want to be a captain in the future?
James Chester: Well I never saw myself as someone who would be a captain, but I would say my number one bit of advice is to enjoy playing. Soak up every little bit of knowledge from other players and coaches that you can learn from and take that into your own game, learn from the good and bad, because they can help you leave your bad habits behind and pick up the good ones.”
As for coaches, I have had a short conversation with Richard O’Kelly, an assistant head coach and I told him that he had my dream job. He just responded that it took him a very long time to get there. As a coach myself, I could ask endless questions about the game, training sessions, tactics, player personalities, the club, etc. We would have to meet over 40 pints or so to go over the questions I have as a coach who aspires to be at that level.
What are your predictions for next season in the PL? Who wins, who finishes in the top 4, who gets relegated? Where does Aston Villa finish? (Might be a difficult one to answer at the moment).
Liverpool will win again next season. I think they have what it takes to reach the level of consistency that they did this season. The top four will be Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham, and Chelsea. Manchester United may get close if Bruno Fernandes plays well, but even if they sign Grealish, I don’t see them making a top four spot.
So who gets relegated? Norwich, Brighton, and West Ham. West Ham will be the biggest surprise because they are a big club as well, but I do think that there are better teams. IF the league plays out, which is still up in the air, I think Villa have the quality to beat out teams like West Ham. I will even be as bold as to say that Villa could sign someone like Declan Rice to protect their back four if that happens.
This is difficult to answer in quarantine of course, but one of the few ways to feel normal is to continue to talk about football, even if it doesn’t feel as significant as it did a couple of months ago. Continue to stay safe, value life over football, and hopefully we can unite in that love of the game. That matters far more than where Villa finish this season.