ASTON VILLA are one win away from ending a 19-year wait for a major trophy and it’s all getting a bit too much for the second in line to the throne.
“I’m nervous now. I’m terrified,” said Prince William – who has supported Villa since he was a schoolboy – in an interview with Gary Lineker for Football Focus.
The Duke of Cambridge, who is also the FA president and will present the trophy to the winning side, won’t be the only famous name cheering for Villa in today’s FA Cup final against Arsenal at Wembley. Hollywood star Tom Hanks and Prime Minister David Cameron have also previously pledged their allegiance to the Midlands club, despite the fact that the glory days of the early 1980s, when the European Cup took pride of place in the trophy cabinet, have been replaced by a seemingly perennial battle against relegation rather than competing for silverware.
This year, though, Villa have done both. Following the sacking of Paul Lambert in February, Villa have been revitalised by Tim Sherwood in his three months as manager and avoided dropping out of the Premier League on the penultimate weekend of the season. A surprising cup run that included wins over West Brom and then Liverpool in the semi-finals also propelled them into today’s showpiece where Arsenal stand between the Villans and a first trophy since they lifted the League Cup in 1996.
Ever the optimist, Sherwood is showing a lot more confidence in the team than their royal supporter.
“This is an opportunity to pick up another trophy for this fantastic football club and for the players to put themselves in the history books,” Sherwood said. “There’s a hero in that dressing room somewhere.”
When Sherwood replaced Lambert, Villa had plunged into the bottom three on the back of a ten-match winless run. A paltry total of 12 goals in 25 games to that point was the lowest in the Premier League’s 23-year history. Relegation beckoned, only for Sherwood to breeze into Villa Park and shake things up.
The former Tottenham boss hasn’t reinvented the wheel – he has just played to the team’s strengths.
Like getting the ball up quicker to striker Christian Benteke, who has scored 12 goals in his last 12 games.
Like telling Tom Cleverley, a player low in confidence after being loaned out by Manchester United, to start getting forward more from midfield. Cleverley has scored in three games in a row, increasing calls for a recall to the England squad.
Like giving Jack Grealish, one of English football’s most highly-rated youngsters, regular starts in the playmaker role. The 19-year-old is now on the radar of England boss Roy Hodgson.
Sherwood gained a reputation as a lively if erratic figure on the touchline in his only previous managerial role at Spurs. In what proved to be his last match in the job – ironically against Villa – he plucked a heckling supporter from the crowd, handed him his sleeveless jacket and sat him down in the manager’s chair. “That guy is an expert,” Sherwood said at the time. “Every week he tells me what to do, so I gave him the opportunity to have a go.”
Sherwood was sacked after five months at White Hart Lane, even though he had a good record and helped Spurs qualify for the Europa League. He was linked with a number of top-flight jobs but it was Villa who finally took the chance – something the club are not regretting now.
Sherwood, who once acknowledged being an Arsenal fan, knows his team are the underdogs today when they face a side which finished third in the league following a highly impressive second half of the season. Sherwood describes Arsenal as “probably the best football team in the league”.
But don’t mistake praise for his opponent as a lack of faith in his own players. Sherwood firmly believes Villa can win the cup for the first time since 1957.
“The older generation [of Villa fans] have seen a lot of history and they remember good times,” Sherwood said. “Their sons and family members are probably fed up of listening to it and they want to see some themselves. So I’m just praying I can give them that.”