Blog: Tough at the top but nice guys do finish first
Paul Brown on Villa's amicable aces.
21st Feb 2011
Blog: Tough at the top but nice guys do finish first


Kill or be killed. Only the strong survive. Nice guys finish last. It's tough at the top.

How many times have you heard those phrases when you've been looking to make something of yourself? Usually the words of a best friend, a mentor or a parent.

Basically, the mantra is that to make it good in any walk of life - whether it is sport or business - you have to be ruthless and not give a damn about anyone else.

Not so I would argue - and evidence is to be found in the claret and blue universe.

I got thinking about the whole subject when Martin Laursen popped into Villa HQ to meet up with his former colleagues at the end of last week.

Laursen won the Champions League in 2003 and Serie A in 2004 with AC Milan. He was capped 53 times and scored two goals for Denmark from 2000 to 2008. He was named 2008 Danish Football Player of the Year. He also represented his country at the 2000 and 2004 European Championships as well as the 2002 FIFA World Cup.

He skippered Villa to a very successful sixth place finish and also slammed home one of the most iconic goals of the past few seasons, with a brilliant headed finish against Ajax at Villa Park in the UEFA Cup.

He achieved all this yet still always behaved like a gentleman - with total and utter dignity. Always willing to sign an autograph, never shy to give an interview after a defeat, desperate to wish the fans well on the final day of the season against Newcastle to make sure they were rewarded for their support. A class act.

From a media perspective, he was - and always will be - a dream to work with.

Getting players to talk to the press after a defeat can sometimes be difficult, given the annoyance at the loss and the feeling of devastation after three points dropped. But Laursen was always the man to call upon when you were struggling. That sense of responsibility was only heightened when he was named captain.

His behaviour on the press day to announce his retirement was humbling. He answered every question, even though he was choking back unbelievable emotion and even thanked all the journalists in the room for their time in covering the event - and writing so glowingly about him over the years.

The man oozed class and he's still the same now. He always answers his phone or texts back immediately when he's needed for a weekly blog on the official site and when he popped into Bodymoor Heath the answer was an immediate 'yes' when asked whether AVTV could do an extended interview with him.

Here's a man who has achieved plenty in his career but who managed to do it his way - with kindness, consideration and humanity.

Laursen openly admits he was lucky to play for a great club like Villa but the claret and blue army were genuinely privileged to have a upstanding man in Laursen playing for them.

In saying all that, however, I equally don't want to paint a picture of a football world devoid of men of honour. There may be a few bad eggs in the game but there's a host of amiable aces too - and many of them have donned the claret and blue of Villa.

So to end this blog on a good note and give you an 'inside' view of the hospitable heroes, here's my Nice Guy Villa XI, based on my media experiences. Enjoy!

GK - Jake Finlay: Jake helped me pass my driving test at the fourth attempt after countless lessons on the streets of Kingstanding. To not raise your voice, not swear and also stay sane in the face of my ridiculous road skills took a very congenial character. [Disclaimer - I am now a first-class driver.]

RB - Mark Delaney: Very down-to-earth guy. Not stuck up. Not aloof. I have played many a round of golf with buds and 18 holes with MD at the Belfry for a magazine feature was a privilege. Engaging, funny and a shark off his inflated handicap!

CB - Martin Laursen: For all the reasons above.

CB - Olof Mellberg: Santa Claus sports a beard and he's seen as benevolent, charitable and charming. Mellberg has twice the beard of Claus so that must make him twice as caring. But, just in case, you doubt my words, Olof's gesture of free shirts to away fans at West Ham must give him plenty of appeal. And jumping off the team coach to give me an interview he'd promised me and forgotten about earnt him plenty of 'Brownie Points' too.

LB - Alan Wright: Sometimes you got the feeling Alan wasn't a household name in his own household. Very quiet, very reserved but a top guy - and very funny when he got going. Usually players give guarded answers with the Q&A style quizzes that sometimes appear in the programme - what's your ideal holiday destination etc - but Wright really opened up when I interviewed him for one of those very pieces for the 2002-03 Villa News & Record. His answer for the question 'do you have any strange dreams' still amazes me.

RM - Marc Albrighton: Marc brought me two tins of Diet Coke when I was penniless and gasping for drink on the golf course in Portugal pre-season, with the sun baking down on us. Need I say more?

LM - Gareth Barry: Controversial choice I know, given that he now plays for Manchester City. But he provided brilliant copy for the captain's column I did with him for the matchday programme in the season before he left. He even handed me a signed and framed 'Barry 6' shirt for helping him script the notes each week. The note on the shirt read 'Thanks for all your efforts with the column.' An amazing gesture and one I appreciate to this day.

CM - Ian Taylor: No hesitation when asked to do a live chat with fans for an hour one Wednesday evening from 7-8pm. Great company for the hour too. First player I interviewed when I joined Villa - nervous as hell but he calmed me down and made me feel right at home in the corridors of Bodymoor. He's a first class tweeter too - something I aspire to on AVFCOfficial.

CM - Mark Kinsella: Villa's head of media at the time, Phil Mepham, was too busy to interview me for the post of football writer when I came in for an interview because he was taking care of Kinsella's move from Charlton to Villa at the time. Mark's kindness at distracting my soon-to-be gaffer put me at ease as the questions were fired at me by the number two. I believe that helped me get the job I still love to this day.

FW - Juan Pablo Angel: Dedicated professional but always cheery at the training ground. His promise of an AVTV interview when he's back in England will definitely be taken up - and his stint of blogging on the official site after his departure was engaging.

FW - Gabby Agbonlahor: One of the biggest jokers around when it comes to dressing room pranks but a real gent too. Came through the ranks as a raw teenager but has really developed into a man - physically and emotionally. Didn't hesitate when a young fan asked for his hat at a community event two weeks ago. "I couldn't say no," he said after. "That sort of thing makes a fan's day." Class act.

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