By Abigail Davies
“It could be the year Villa go down!” – Jeff Stelling
Jeff Stelling Interview
The day after the 3-3 draw with QPR at Villa Park, as Villa supporters licked their wounds and tried to take comfort in Christian Benteke’s late equaliser, MOMS happened to interview Sky Sports’ Jeff ‘Unbelievable’ Stelling. Here was a chance to chat with Jeff exclusively about the Villa without any interference from the likes of Phil Thompson and Matt Le Tissier…
The Villa bosses’ infamous win ratio may be dramatically dropping, but Jeff Stelling insists that Tim Sherwood was the right appointment for Villa, regardless of whether they remain a Premier League side.
Speaking ahead of the Birmingham regional heat to find the ‘People’s Pundit’ championed by Carlsberg, the official beer of the Premier League, Stelling was keen to praise the Villa boss for the work he has done so far:
“Look at Tim Sherwood and Garry Monk at Swansea, both bright young managers, both opinionated. Tim Sherwood has been a revelation. Whatever happens, Sherwood has been a really, really good appointment. You look at the way they play the game now, it’s so much more vibrant than they were under previous [recent] regimes.”
Casting his thoughts to Villa failing to beat QPR the night before, Stelling is ultimately undecided about Villa’s fate.
“It could be the year Villa go down,” warns Stelling. “You wonder how important Christian Benteke’s free kick was on Tuesday night. I know Villa fans will have been disappointed to have drawn at home to Queens Park Rangers but that point could make all the difference.”
The result was perhaps typical of a relegation battle that’s becoming increasingly difficult to predict.
“I’m finding it impossible to call at the moment because the clubs down at the bottom of the table have got such a horrendous run in. It’s that stage of the season, and in this league, anybody can beat anybody. Who would have thought Leicester could beat Man United 5-3!?”
“Tim Sherwood has been a revelation”
FA Cup Chances
Whilst Stelling thinks that Villa have a chance of winning the FA Cup for the first time since 1957, he warns that it could negatively impact their Premier League survival chances.
“When you are in the last four, regardless of who is left in the competition, you have a great chance. Looking at the teams that are left, you have to say, especially considering the draw they have got, Arsenal have to be favourites but all you have to do is look at teams like Wigan Athletic and believe that anything is possible.
“Villa are a Premier League side so why can’t they do it?”
Wigan have been mentioned by some concerned Villa fans as a club that Villa could emulate by triumphing in the cup, but also being relegated in the same season. While Villa don’t have the same chronic injury list or fixture backlog as the Latics endured, Stelling admits, the danger is still there.
“I just hope for their sake that it doesn’t get in the way of their battle for Premier League survival, like it did with Wigan.”
Dublin Under the Hammer
Talking to Jeff, he projects the same enthusiasm for the beautiful game that makes him such a well-respected and loved character on Soccer Saturday. He explains how his love of football helped him during his time on Countdown and even though it’s not one of the Sky Sports Super 6 predictions, he is tipping former Villan and People’s Pundit judge, Dion Dublin, for Homes under the Hammer success!
“I didn’t know Dion was doing that, is he really!? It’s certainly going off on a tangent, isn’t it!?” Jeff says, laughing. “Footballers over the years have had a ridiculous reputation for not being the brightest. I know plenty of them, including Dion and I just know that that’s not the case.”
Typical of Dublin’s adaptability to play both centre-forward and centre-back during his playing career, Stelling sees this versatility continuing in the ex-Villa man’s media career.
“I think Dion is the kind of guy that can turn his hand to anything. I don’t mean to sound condescending but he’s a very intelligent bloke and he’s got the charisma about him as well, so good luck to him!”
Stelling speaks from experience.
“When I did Countdown, I was staggered to find myself on the show, especially as someone who barely passed his O Level Maths, but for three years I absolutely loved it and hopefully he [Dublin] will as well.
“I was lucky when I did Countdown because I knew the producer was a big football fan so we could talk football when we weren’t doing the show, which made life a bit easier! I enjoy talking to people and I think football tended to crop up on the show a lot more than it did while Des O’Connor was doing it and indeed Richard Whiteley. The only difficulty for me is that I lived four hours away and in the end the travelling was just too much.”
Jeff is preparing for tonight’s People’s Pundit heat in Birmingham which will see contestants battle against each other to win the incredible prize of becoming part of the on air talkSPORT team, live from a Premier League ground on the last day of the season.
The remaining competitors are now being put through their paces in a bid to reach the Bootcamp in London with Mark Saggers. Jeff says it’s great to see fans being given such a prestigious opportunity: “Every football fan has an opinion and this competition gives them the chance to voice it and have people listen to it. I have an opinion and people often say ‘what do you know!? You’ve never played the game!’ and I reply with: ‘I’ve watched it for 50 years, I think I know enough about it!’
In terms of what makes a good up and coming pundit…
“We want people to be pundits not parrots! We don’t want them to be repeating what the commentators say. Try and find a different angle, be opinionated. Find some sort of turn of phrase that might make you stand out from the crowd.”
The mission of the Carlsberg fan squad is to make football better for fans. That’s why, If Carlsberg did Pundits…they’d probably be just like you. Carlsberg and talkSPORT have joined forces to give one fan their big break on national radio and tonight sees the potential pundits face off in Birmingham. If you fancy watching our pundits take each other on, head to the Snobs Nightclub, 51 Smallbrook Queensway, Birmingham, West Midlands, Bristol B5 4HX at 7pm.
Follow MOMS on Twitter – @oldmansaid