Joe Cole Signing for Aston Villa Recalls John Gregory Style Villa Signings.


Can Joe Cole be Aston Villa’s New Magic Man?

MOMS once labelled Joe Cole a potential ‘panic buy’ two seasons ago in Paul Lambert’s first transfer window in charge. While some of that sentiment remains, under the current climate of Lerner’s stuttering attempts at selling the club, signing the injury-riddled Cole now is something of gamble worth taking.

While Cole’s agent will be happy to find Cole a club in the Premiership, there’s no doubt that the ex-West Ham player would have taken a pay cut from his previous employers. His two-year deal will mean Villa get a ‘name’ without breaking the bank.

One of MOMS favourite words in the footballing lexicon ‘mercurial’ has been a missing quality from the Villa squad in recent years. Certainly a a decent mercurial talent in midfield would go a long way to improving fortunes at Villa Park in terms of home form. Cole certainly has it in his locker, or at least used to have.

It was only four years ago that England captain Steven Gerrard said of Cole: ‘Anything Messi can do, Joe can do as well, if not better’. Those words though proved to be nothing more than a kiss of death.

If Villa are a club in limbo, then Cole is a fitting match. Since moving to Liverpool in 2010 as a free agent from Chelsea and commanding £90,000-a-week, his career has been in freefall with injuries constantly haunting him. Understandably, his success at Chelsea was always going to difficult to be matched. Three Premier League titles, three FA Cup finals, two League Cup finals and a Champion’s League final at Chelsea show his pedigree, that he’ll never again match,  but can he at least recapture some of that form?

While Paul Lambert has characteristically acted quickly at the beginning of the transfer window and Cole marks the latest in the Villa boss’s new trend of free transfers, Cole’s signing is the type of transfer John Gregory used to relish during his time as Villa manager, namely giving a naturally-gifted talent one more chance at the big time.

David Ginola, Benito Carbone, Paul Merson and Luc Nilis all came to Villa Park and were greeted  by an equal measure of excitement and cynicism from Villa supporters, who saw the signings as  either a chance to see a true footballing talent grace the Villa Park turf, or nothing more than a mercenary come to pick up one last pay-day.

We’ll look at those player’s contribution to Villa below, but in hindsight, whatever you thought about them at the time and whether they were successful or not, it’s perhaps better to have had the experience of such players wearing the claret and blue than not. That even applies more recently to Gerard Houllier drafting in a 37-years-old Robert Pirès.

Cole showed in his loan spell at Lille that he’s still got something to offer and Sam Allardyce’s West Ham isn’t the same type of Hammers team that Cole used to thrive at in his first spell there. At the very least, you’d expect Cole to score the odd goal for Villa, add more dimension to the midfield and also be a decent impact player from the bench.

At most, he could become Villa’s new ‘Magic Man’ ala Paul Merson. UTV


John Gregory’s Aging or Mercenary Mercurial Signings




The tempestuous Benito Carbone was the kind of player you’d enjoy as a neutral watching highlights of on Match of the Day playing for another team, than having the frustration of watching him for 90 minutes for the team you support. While at 28-year-old, the Italian was in his prime, he seemed to be playing out his career as an over-30’s mercenary journey man. During his short stay, the alice band-wearing player was never dull. While he scored four goals in 24 league games, Carbone will be best remembered for his FA Cup roadshow, where he bagged five goals in six games, including a memorable hat-trick against Leeds in a 3-2 win. He pretty much took Villa to Wembley on his own shoulders, but then like the rest of the team, failed to turn up at the Twin Towers in the final.

A 33-year-old David Ginola coming to to Villa for £3 million (add to that £3 million in wages) was an ego trip gone wrong for Doug Ellis, who was widely criticised for  the transfer. Yes, Ginola had nice hair, but he was hardly a real presense for the Villa team. His three goals in 32 games career (many as sub) at Villa ended with the Frenchman threatening to sue Villa due to Gregory’s comments about his fitness. Ginola was past his best, but he can lay claim to scoring in a European Cup final for Villa. Well, the Intertoto Cup…

The other 33-year-old that John Gregory brought to Villa Park, ended on a sad and sour note. Belgium international Luc Nilis, who had been Ruud Van Nistoy’s prolific wing man in the Dutch League during his time at PSV, scored a wonder goal against Chelsea and had Villa fans thinking that Gregory had pulled off an unlikely masterstroke by signing the aging forward. After two goals in five games in all competitions, a horrifying double fracture in the fourth minute away at Ipswich ended his career. Pictures of the injury aren’t for the faint-hearted.

Paul Merson was 30-years-old and coming from a Middlesbrough team he’d joined in the Championship, because they’d offered him twice the wages Arsenal offered, when the London club presented him with a new  two-year deal. Merson had mercenary pretty much tattooed on his head, plus there was his former drink, drugs and gambling problems.  It didn’t look good on paper. But in a world of manufactured players, talent is talent (see George Best), Merse rolled back the years and experienced some of his best form playing for the Villa. The ‘Magic Man’ became a fast fan favourite playing in 101 games and chalking up 18 league goals. If Cole can do half of that, then it would have been a good free transfer gamble by Lambert.



  1. Good signing. The Villa cannot pay transfer fees till we get a new owner, but players with talent even when their legs are going always offer something if their head is in the right place. Ginola’s was never in the right place, and Carbone had too much of the prima donna. Merson was a star, really fitted in and complemented Ian taylor who had half his talent but flourished with Merse because Paul M loved playing football. If Cole can bring on younger players like WEstwood and Delph and even may I hope for Garder and Grealish, he will be worth it. We need experience and class and someone to give the kids a lesson in work ethic. Cole won’t play every game, his age is against him. But he could be a really good influence in the dressing room. Its a positive signing,.

    trevor fisher

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