THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Savo Milosevic never made the grade at Aston Villa, but David Wangerin thinks he didn't have a fair crack of the whip

This was the season Savo Milosevic was supposed to come of age, the year Brian Little’s most obscure signing stepped forward and justified his manager’s faith in him. Needless to say it didn’t happen, and as I write Savo seems to have kicked his last ball, or tuft of grass, or cubic metre of air, for Aston Villa. Few players can expect much else after spitting at their own supporters.

I wasn’t at Ewood Park to see just how awful it really was against Blackburn, or what part he played in the debacle. But it was hardly surprising to hear Savo’s name heading the list of fall guys. It happened with such regularity that it seemed the only way the kid was ever going to exonerate himself in any match was with a hat-trick – and one where he scored once with either foot and the third with his head.

Yet some of us found it hard to develop much antipathy for Savo. Call us softies for being patient with a young man thousands of miles from home; chide us for failing to understand that players who wear the number nine shirt are supposed to score goals. But don’t forget that for all his faults and technical shortcomings, he scored one of the best goals Wembley has ever seen, and this season he’s saved our European bacon on more than one occasion.

Over the past fifteen years at Villa Park, few things have been more predictable than big-name strikers going bust. Those who have been most successful – David Platt and Dwight Yorke, for example – joined us rather inconspicuously. You need to go back to Peter Withe to find one who arrived squinting in the media spotlight and departed several seasons later with full honours. Since then, the likes of Stainrod, Aspinall, Cascarino, Saunders, Whittingham and Atkinson have come and gone, welcomed as saviours only to disappear a season or two later in ignominy. It is a perpetual source of frustration at the club, something fingers are sure to be pointed at whenever we come up short in the League.

As a result, each successive arrival finds himself with bigger hill of expectation to climb, to the point where an unknown Serbian, signed for an eyebrow-raising fee after allegedly banging in half a million goals in Yugoslavia, is staring at a mountain.

What burdened Savo – and will no doubt continue to burden Stan Collymore – wasn’t just the legacy of Little, Gray, Withe et al. at Aston Villa but the legacy at the other clubs Villa aspire to: Rush and Fowler at Liverpool, Hughes and Cantona at Manchester United, Wright and Bergkamp at Arsenal. Villa fans are still waiting for their equivalent.

Comparisons between Savo and Wright seem appropriate at least in terms of temperament. But where Wright’s often inexcusable behaviour is usually dismissed under the guise of one man’s rage against racism, or some fiery competitive streak, Savo’s was seen as the manifestation of a crap continental striker frustrated at being in over his head. Granted, he has not scored 180-odd goals for his club. But I can’t help wondering how much more tolerant Villa fans would have been had he stood on the Holte End as a boy, or come up through the youth teams.

Supporters of Spurs and Newcastle will appreciate the level of frustration Villa fans have suffered from this season. Laugh if you must, but many of them beheld Collymore as the missing ingredient in a championship-contending team – and expected Milosevic to be off before dinner time. They were proven wrong on both counts, they didn’t like it, and they probably needed an outlet for their frustration. And no one made an easier target than the target man, a lumbering, one-footed foreigner who fluffed his chances and sulked a lot. Sure, he may not have boxed his weight, but he was hardly alone.

I suspect I won’t miss Savo any more than I missed, say, Alan McInally or Gary Penrice. But I can’t help but think the odds were stacked against him. He was just a kid, two months younger than Ryan Giggs, somebody we should have picked up for chicken feed and brought along slowly and sold on the sly if it didn’t work out. It’s enough to make you spit. Or make someone else spit, at least.

From WSC 133 March 1998. What was happening this month

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