First off, I’m thrilled to be writing a blog for the official website – it’s a great way for me to connect with the fans of Aston Villa, who I have a special affinity with.
I’ve been gone now for 10 years but the reception I received – alongside Juan Pablo Angel – when I made my return for the Blackburn game last season was an amazing moment.
I think it’s so fantastic that the supporters here remember the players of yesteryear and it was a special feeling for me to walk around the ground and hear those cheers again – as well as the ‘Martin Laursen' chant, of course.
Thank you for that.
We’re back in the Premier League and it’s great. I am really delighted.
It’s been some tough years, no-one can deny that, dropping into the Championship.
I think it’s right to say that there are many people who will be happy to see Aston Villa in the Premier League – one of the most famous clubs in English football and a giant of the game.
I think Aston Villa belongs in the Premier League, it’s a big team, big history and it’s located in a big city, the second biggest in England.
Hopefully, now as we begin our journey, we make a good start and all the new players will feel good, perform good and make a big impact for the team.
I am just so happy we are back in the top-flight. It’s been too long.
Not many fans may know this – but I was there when we were promoted!
I thought it would be great to support the team for such an important game. It felt right.
The kids know that I played for Aston Villa – and they support Aston Villa, too.
They followed Aston Villa before that match against Derby but afterwards they told me when we left the stadium ‘We are now really Aston Villa fans!”
I thought it was an amazing atmosphere on the day. I had never been to Wembley before! I had never played there. It was incredible.
The result turned out good and the fans were unbelievable. There were so many of you saying hello to me, asking for a photo with me, asking for my autograph. It was a nice feeling for me. I really felt appreciated. That was wonderful for me.
I have been a footballer in the Premier League. I have played in the World Cup. I have played in the European Championships. But on that day, I was a proper fan. I felt it like a fan.
The last few minutes were way too stressful and exciting.
Obviously I support Aston Villa but because I have had that management education – with some of the courses – I tend to watch matches as a coach, too – how they play, how they perform, some tactical information, how they act together.
But in reality, I was a fan on the day and an ex-player who has so much affection for the club where I felt so good for five years.
We head to Tottenham this weekend for the start of our Premier League journey – and we go there in good shape after an impressive pre-season.
We have signed 12 players and the key is for them is to settle quickly into the team.
One of the main factors that I think is very important is that we have kept the spine, the core of the team together – the likes of Jack Grealish, John McGinn, Tyrone Mings.
They understand what the club is all about and they will help the new ones to get used to their surroundings on and off the pitch. To have them is very important.
As an ex-centre-half, I obviously like to look at the defensive area of the team – and one player I really like is Tyrone Mings. He’s a good player.
He reads the game well. He is big, fast, left-footed, plays the ball well too.
He made a great impression on me when I came to see the team against Blackburn – and he made a big impression on the kids, too.
They wanted me to try and get his shirt after the match and I managed to do that which made them very happy.
Tottenham is a fixture that means a lot to me.
I scored the winning goal on New Year’s Day 2008 at Villa Park and that started one of the very best years of my career.
I played in every game, I won Player of the Year, we finished sixth in the Premier League, we had some amazing results in big games. It was just a great spell for me in the claret and blue.
And who can forget the game at White Hart Lane when we drew 4-4 earlier in that same season?
If you watch the goals back now, you would say they were lucky goals.
But I was feeling at that period that I should be scoring more. It was something I was working on at that time.
I didn’t just want to be thinking ‘I’m going up for this corner and I must get back then as quick as possible’. I wanted to go up there and really believe that I could score a goal – have that positive mindset that this would end in me scoring.
I didn’t want to just be a physical presence at set-pieces – I wanted to score!
It worked that evening, definitely. They didn’t look beautiful. But what was important to me was that my mentality was good and it’s always nice when something comes off for you when you are working hard on it.
The game finished as 4-4 away from home at a difficult venue. I had scored two. But we had been 4-1 up with just 20 minutes to go.
Martin O’Neill didn’t have mixed emotions, let me tell you. He was very angry in the dressing room after the match. He thought we should definitely have won the game.
When you score four goals away from home, you expect to win.
Obviously, looking at the opposition, you can’t see past Harry Kane.
He’s very good with both of his feet – left and right. He is a good header. He’s physically strong. He works hard.
He is a not a nice player to play against.
If he doesn’t score, he still tends to impact the game. He always helps the team. He is always dangerous.
The key is for our players to be focused for every minute of the match with him.
It’s the first game and it’s so important that this season – year one – we maintain our status and establish ourselves in the Premier League. It’s one of consolidation.
That’s why I am so happy the owners have backed the club. They have bought good players.
We all hope we have a good start. Tottenham are a very good side but you never know on the first day of the season. Teams have yet to find a rhythm.
Hopefully it’s a good day on Saturday. It’s so unpredictable that opening day. I know the season is long but it’s always nice to have a good start – and a good game.
Let’s hope that is the case for us! UTV!