When I was a youngster, Villa were languishing in mid-table under David O’Leary. No real star strikers, nothing to shout about. Most of my heroes were world-beaters. The likes of Thierry Henry, Roberto Carlos and Ronaldinho were amongst my favourites.
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However, Aston Villa had a few brilliant centre-backs who could have bossed it at any level. The main one being Olof Mellberg.
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Firstly, I’d like to mention Martin Laursen. He was an incredible talent who could’ve slotted in at any Premier League side. He had a sensational stride and a hunger for the ball which went unrivalled at the time. The sole reason I can’t call him my hero is because he was plagued with a knee injury during large chunks of 2004-05 – the season I got into football. His Scandinavian partner, Olof Mellberg, was just as good though.
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Mellberg, who Zlatan Ibrahimovic called Sweden’s best defender of all time, joined the club from Spanish side Racing Santander in 2001 and went on to spend seven seasons with the club. His versatility made him an instant hit, appearing at both centre-back and right-back across his 200+ games at the club and continuing to switch between both roles at Juventus. Nothing could stop the Swede from putting in exertive, high-energy performances and that’s part of the reason his appointment to captaincy early in his spell in the Midlands.
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The first goal ever scored at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium was netted by Mellberg from a corner in 2006. The defender pulled off a number of sublime headers during his time at the club, including crackers against big boys Arsenal and Manchester United. He had an ability to power past opposition defenders and climb above them to power goals in off his head from all angles.
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The man also had a dislike for local rivals Birmingham City, claiming “I just don’t like them” and admitting he would never consider playing for the
club.
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After seven strong years at the club, Mellberg left to link up with the likes of Del Piero, Nedved and Buffon at Italian giants Juventus. The rock of a defender could have made this step-up to Champions League, title-winning football at virtually any point during his Villa tenure, so, in a way, I’m surprised he didn’t leave earlier.
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Although Villa are a magnificent club with a colourful history and had some great successes during Mellberg’s time, it’s a surprise he didn’t leave for a higher calibre club earlier on. Along with Laursen and Barry – the latter of which left for newly-wealthy Manchester City – he would’ve been a regular at a huge club.
Aston Villa haven’t seen many solid centre-backs since the departures of Mellberg and Laursen. Leaky lines led by Knight, Davies, Collins, Dunne and countless others have left a lot to be desired.
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Ron Vlaar put in some solid performances during his time at the club. However, maybe the arrival of England and Chelsea hero John Terry will contribute to an inspirational promotion back to the Premier League and our defenders will get better and better from then on.
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TO CELEBRATE THE NEW SEASON, WE’RE GIVING AWAY A NEW ASTON VILLA SHIRT – DETAILS BELOW
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