MacDonald ready to take a £30m gamble and play Milner today
Villa caretaker manager says midfielder 'is in right frame of mind' to face West Ham despite impending City deal
Saturday 14 August 2010
Kevin MacDonald last night protested he was "not a big enough name" to turn his temporary manager's role at Aston Villa into a permanent post.
That will not prevent the Scot taking the big decision of playing James Milner against West Ham today, despite the England midfielder's desire to complete his move to Manchester City and the possibility of Villa fans turning against him.
MacDonald, the former Liverpool midfielder propelled from the anonymity of reserve-team coach into the Premier League front line after Martin O'Neill's resignation on Monday, will have no qualms about using Milner and risking an injury to the player until the £30m deal that will involve Stephen Ireland moving from Eastlands to the Midlands is actually signed.
"James is in the right frame of mind to play," MacDonald said. "He's very fit, talented and one of the toughest, temperamentally, I've come across in recent years. He doesn't accept there's any problem. I hope, if he does play, the Villa supporters will get behind him and appreciate what he's done for this club. I'd love to see him out there. He's an old-fashioned footballer who wants to play every minute of every game."
The 49-year-old Highlander said there had been no pressure from Randy Lerner, Villa's American owner-chairman, or chief executive Paul Faulkner, to hold Milner back. "The only instruction I've had from the board is to get a team on the pitch, and Paul has asked me to be ready to do the same for Rapid Vienna [in the Europa League next week] just in case. From there, you've got to try to pick the best side and James is one of our best players."
Nor did he believe that picking a player who is expected to leave imminently would send out the wrong signal to those Villa players are committed to staying. "If you're selecting a team at whatever level, and your best players are fit and playing well, I don't think it will affect the others. If it does, they need to toughen up. He won't be looking it as a farewell appearance. He wants to get on the pitch and do what he does. That's what drives him on."
MacDonald, who will be assisted by youth coach and former Chelsea captain Tony McAndrew, cut a laid-back, modest figure as he stepped into the spotlight for the first time since his days as part of Liverpool's Double-winning team of 1985-86. Asked whether he had felt the pressure, he replied: "I'm grey and bald already, though I must admit I've been waking at four in the morning and picked 40 different teams before dropping back to sleep."
Did the loyal servant and great survivor, who has worked under five managers since joining Villa in 1995, view himself as a candidate for the vacancy? "No. I just don't see myself as a big enough name at the moment," he said. "A few good results would probably change my thinking as to whether I want to be a manager or not. It will depend on whether I wake up on Sunday and feel I've enjoyed myself. I'll try to. If the supporters cheer the team and we win, that's all that matters. The fans will have a better week, starting Monday, if Villa win this match."
Fifteen years spent developing reserve players does not suggest a fierce ambition to enter management, but MacDonald is steeped in the values of Joe Fagan and Bob Paisley, themselves unsung backroom men before graduating from the boot room to European glory at Anfield.
"Joe was a wonderful football man with vast years of knowledge," he recalled. "When I was badly injured, Bob took me for extra work. He used to say, 'Football's a simple game, spoiled by players'. Hopefully not."
West Ham are also under new management, Avram Grant having succeeded Gianfranco Zola. Grant will give Milner's England colleague Robert Green his first competitive outing since his handling error in the World Cup match against the United States. Meanwhile, West Ham have raised £4m for their transfer kitty by selling shares, with former chairman Terry Brown among the investors.
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