Aston Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan chats with Sulaiman Folarin about Villa’s relegation battle, Christian Benteke’s difficult second season, and his own World Cup dream...
How do you define Aston Villa’s season so far?
It’s been good. Obviously we want to now try and finish the season on a high and we want to finish as high as we can. From building on last year, this was always going to be the year that was important in terms of us coming together as a team - that’s obviously easier said than done.
I think we’ve made some strides but there are definitely areas where we need to try and continue to grow and get better.
What do Villa need to do to push on and become a top-half side now?
It’s important that we’ve got teams that are either around us in the table or right below us coming up [Crystal Palace, Southampton, Swansea and Hull]. We have to make sure we win these games. The thing about football is that it can change so quickly; you can go on a run of two or three games and find yourself moving up six or seven places. It’s important that we try and get positive results in the coming weeks and hopefully that will push us up the table.
What's Paul Lambert like to work under? How does he let you know when he's not happy?
He’s a good manager to work under. He gives confidence to the players and obviously he has given me a chance to go and play on a weekly basis. Aside from that, he gives the outfield players a sense of confidence and belief to go and enjoy the game and not be afraid to make mistakes. I think that’s important
But when you’re not doing your job or working as hard as he or the staff thinks you should be, he’s sure to get his point across to let you know.
There are lot of young players in this Villa team; how good can this team be if you keep your best young talent?
I think that’s important. Yes we have to stay together, but it is also important that players continue to push themselves individually and ultimately that is going to push the team. I think we can continue to grow and get better which is always the case in football, but you have to help each other and push each other to do that. If we continue to do that, then good things are ahead.
How important is Christian Benteke to Villa?
He’s a part of what we are about as a team, but he’s not the only part. We’ve also got guys like Gabby [Gabriel Agbonlahor], [Andy] Weimann, Ashley Westwood, Fabian [Delph] - these guys have all chipped in and scored big goals for us too.
Christian has found it a little bit tougher this second year, but even when he doesn’t get on the score sheet, there are some things that he does that go unnoticed from the outside, but as team-mates and guys on the team we see what he puts into a game and into every training session. I think the sky is the limit for him.
Unfortunately, he’ll be out for the rest of the season with a torn Achilles - how big a loss will that be?
He is a big player for us and it is unfortunate that he has picked up this injury. Although he may not have been scoring as many goals as he would have liked compared to last year, he brings so much more to our team. It’s going to be a big loss for us. It will give another guy the opportunity to step in and do the job, and hopefully Christian will recover as soon as possible.
I was actually on the other side of the field, so I didn’t see exactly what happened, but from talking to the others guys it seems they could hear it snap or pop; it wasn’t a nice injury that’s for sure.
Beating Chelsea wasn't a fluke result - we were the better team...
Have you spoken with him at all?
I spoke to him afterwards. I know he’s having the operation sometime this week. I will drop him a message or two in a few days after he’s settled a little bit. We know injuries happen; that’s part of sport. Now it’s about coming together to pick up some vital points. Nothing too much has to be said [by the manager], because we’re all professionals and there is a job to be done so we have to go out and do it.
Some people have called Villa a long-ball team this season - what do you make of that?
I wouldn’t say that. With any team in the Premier League, you have to be able to stretch teams out. You can’t just sit there and play five, 10, 15-yard passes, you have to be able get behind defenders, run at them and make them face their own goal. So I definitely wouldn’t say we are a long-ball team – not by any stretch of the imagination.
How satisfying was the win and clean sheet against Chelsea recently, having been gubbed 8-0 by them last season?
It was a huge result. At the time they were at the top of the table, so we wanted to win, especially after the result in August down at Stamford Bridge where we felt we should have gotten something out of that game [Villa were narrowly beaten 2-1]. We knew if we put in the right effort we would get something. It wasn't a fluke result - we were the better team. We kept control of the ball and created chances, and when you do that, good things happen. Fortunately for us we were able to get a result.
The Chelsea win was the second of back-to-back victories for Villa, but since then you’ve lost three in a row – to Stoke, Manchester United and Fulham. Is this team inconsistent?
That just speaks volumes about the Premier League in general. You know the quality and standard of the teams is so strong from the top to the bottom of the table. In the Stoke game, we knew we were not good enough; there is no denying that, we were the second-best team on the day. We just didn’t apply ourselves in the way we know we can. When you do that in games, you get punished.
Obviously the Manchester United game was sort of the same thing. We had a really good start going up 1-0, but then we slipped and when you give teams in this league half an inch, they are going to punish you.
Against Fulham we looked to rectify the previous results, because we knew from our standards they weren’t good enough. We wanted three points. Every time we step on the field, we plan to get a positive result. I thought we just didn’t finish our chances against Fulham - you have to take your chances when you get them. But credit to Fulham too - they are going to be fighting for their lives as are a lot of teams that are down there at the bottom of the table. Regardless of where they are on the table, we know they are a talented team with talented individuals that can hurt you and score goals.
Anytime David Beckham associates himself with anything it seems to turn to gold, so it’s going to be interesting to see how the team in Miami develops...
In the summer of 2012, Villa released you before quickly re-signing you. You then had the season of your life in 2012/13 - what do you put that turnaround down to?
I just wanted to be given the opportunity to showcase my ability and help the team. When you’re given that chance in professional football, you might not get a second or third chance, so you have to take it with both hands and that’s what I tried to do.
What do you make of what’s going on in club football back in the US right now?
First and foremost, the league has improved – it’s growing every year. You can see the talent that they’re producing – you just need to look at the US men’s national team; there are a lot of guys that play in MLS in there now, which wasn’t the case five or six years ago.
It has changed on so many different levels; the improved salary cap, the Designated Player, the competitiveness. Before, if you were on a good team you could probably count maybe 10 quality players, then there was a drop off in the standard. Now you have 15-20 guys on each team that could take the field, do the job and do it well. That’s very important because you want the quality of the league and the individual to continue to rise.
For myself, as a fan, it’s exciting to watch the games and the highlights, as well as follow the growth of the league. It’s an exciting time. Anytime David Beckham associates himself with anything it seems to turn to gold. So it’s going to be interesting to see how the team in Miami develops. You also have Orlando coming into the league next year, so that will be a nice rivalry for the league down in Florida.
Returning to MLS is something I want to do at some point. I don’t know when, the timing has to be right. I still feel like I have, hopefully, a few more years in the Premier League with Aston Villa to continue to push myself against the best players in the world. Football is a crazy game. You never know how long you can go or if the end is around the corner. So when the time is right I will know and look to go back. But right now, I’m happy here with Villa.
Brad Freidel, Kasey Keller, Tim Howard and Brad Guzan, there is a trend here. Why does the USA produce so many top keepers?
I get asked this question quite a lot. I don’t know if it is the American sports growing up; basketball and baseball with the hand-eye coordination. The guys that you mentioned ahead of me; I’m just trying to follow in their footsteps and hopefully continue to have a long and prosperous career as they did, and hopefully keep that streak of American goalkeepers performing well in Europe. If I can do that then I will be a happy man.
This summer’s World Cup in Brazil will be your second - how desperate are you to feature this time, having sat on the bench in South Africa?
Any footballer’s dream and goal is to play in the World Cup. In 2010, I was fortunate to be a part of it, but didn’t play. At the same time it’s not about individual performances at the World Cup. In the group that we’re in, it’s going to take everybody to be on the same page to help each other and push each other. It’s a pretty cool feeling to be part of the team, regardless of whether you play or not. When you’re at a World Cup and advance out of your group, it’s a special feeling and bond that cannot be broken. Hopefully the team will be able to do that gain.
How on earth can you displace Tim Howard as USA's No.1?
I just have to continue to play well for my club team here at Villa. That’s up to the manager [Jurgen Klinsmann]. There is an understanding among goalkeepers that only one guy can play. Tim’s been fantastic for the team [USA] year in and year out for so long now. For me, it’s important that I try and push him to keep him sharp and get him better. He does the same for me. I just try and make it difficult for the manager to make a decision come team selection time, so if I’ve done that then I’ve done my job.