Our weekly feature picks out a club’s best XI from the Premier League era
Goalkeeper - Nigel Spink
Peter Schmeichel may have played a season at Villa, but by then his powers were waning and he was on his way out. Spink, on the other hand, is a Villa legend with 362 league appearances for the club between 1977 and 1996. His most famous moment came in the 1982 European Cup final when he came on as an early substitute for the injured Jimmy Rimmer and kept a clean sheet in a 1-0 win over Bayern Munich. Started in goal for the majority of the 1992/93 season - Villa’s best in the Premier League.
Right back - Olof Mellberg
Villa’s first club captain from outside of Britain or Ireland, for what it’s worth. Formed a key part of the defence that helped Villa to a sixth-placed finish in David O’Leary’s first season at the club, although the next three season were not so flash. Picked at right back here, because it was a position he often filled when the team required it.
Centre back - Steve Staunton
Marked his Villa debut with a goal, and went on to form a mean pairing with Paul McGrath in the centre of defence. Played just about every minute of the 1992/93 season, and even scored against Manchester United to keep Villa’s noses in front in the title race. Even when Villa’s form dipped in subsequent seasons Staunton’s standards remained high, and he helped them to two League Cup trophies and a UEFA Cup quarter-final.
Centre back - Paul McGrath
A tough upbringing in an orphanage created a tough-as-nails player. The type of defender who opposition strikers never forgot in a hurry, and a man who put his body on the line despite persistent knee problems, McGrath holds a special place in Villa fans’ hearts. His contribution to the 1992/93 run was acknowledged with a PFA Player of the Year award - arguably the highest honour, given that it comes from fellow players. Seven years at Villa translated into 252 appearances in all competitions.
Left back - Gareth Barry
A bit of a touchy subject for fans who saw Barry leave for Manchester City in a protracted transfer saga, but such is modern football. Having transferred from Brighton & Hove Albion as a youngster, he spent 12 years at the club and was even awarded a testimonial at the age of just 26. An excellent passer of the football who could play at left back, left wing or in the middle of the park, few English footballers in the Premier League era have matched Barry’s versatility. Although he was unceremoniously stripped of the armband for his response to Liverpool’s advances in 2008, he had already led Villa with distinction for several seasons.
Right wing - Darius Vassell
He wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but Sven Goran Eriksson was a big fan and Vassell certainly had his moments. More than anything he had pace, which allowed him to play up front or as a winger who enjoyed cutting to the byline, and he famously never finished on a losing side in a game in which he scored. A Villa fan as a child, Vassell came through the club’s School of Excellence and scored a record 39 goals for the youth team in a single season.
Midfield - Gordon Cowans
The prodigal son, Cowans just kept on coming back to Villa no matter where he ended up going, to the extent that he’s currently the reserve team manager. As such he’s a bit of a nostalgic pick - his best football was played outside of the Premier League, be it at another club or in helping Villa to the European Cup and the European Super Cup. But he cracks the nod nonetheless.
Midfield - Kevin Richardson
Richardson certainly got around in club football, but he played more games for Villa than anyone else. Having won the old First Division with both Everton and Arsenal, he nearly completed a rare treble after Ron Atkinson brought him to Villa in 1991. After taking over the captaincy, Richardson took them to the top of the league with six games to go. It didn’t work out, but the diminutive midfielder had two more good seasons at Villa, winning the man of the match award as they beat Manchester United in the 1994 League Cup final.
Left wing - Ashley Young
Arguably the most naturally talented footballer in this line-up, Young struck up an excellent understanding with Gabriel Agbonlahor that created several purple patches. His blinding pace down the wing made him an assist machine, and he was generally at the source of Villa’s attacking moves as they finished sixth for three seasons running between 2007 and 2010. Although he sometimes struggled for consistency over the course of a season, he became the first player to win three FA Premiership Player of the Month awards in the same year, and he forged a strong relationship with Martin O’Neill during Villa’s recent ill-fated revival.
Forward - Dean Saunders
Deano scored goals at the best of times and the worst of times for Villa - he was their top goalscorer in the 1992/93 season when they finished second behind Manchester United, and hit 17 in the 1994-95 season as they came one place short of relegation. Arrived as a club record £2.5million signing at the start of September 1992, and struck 13 league goals in Villa’s best Premier League campaign, but was offloaded when Brian Little replaced Atkinson in 1995.
Forward - Dwight Yorke
He’ll always be remembered for his exploits with Manchester United, but his record at Villa was excellent - in nine years at the club he made 232 appearances and scored 73 goals. In 1992/93 he linked up well with Saunders, and if there is a regret it will be that the goals dried up at the end of the season, when Manchester United were able to overhaul Villa in the final six games. The manner of his departure grated at the time, but reviewed in these modern times it looks pretty normal really.
Substitutes: Shay Given, Gareth Southgate, Paul Merson, Dion Dublin, Juan Pablo Angel.