Hyder Jawad on why Milan Baros may be a boon for Kevin Phillips...
Much has changed since Milan Baros condescended to update the personal message to fans on his official website, www. milanbaros. net, in early summer of 2004.
He was top scorer at Euro 2004, he won a European Cup winners' medal with Liverpool, he fell behind Peter Crouch in the pecking order at Anfield, and now finds himself on the brink of a move to Aston Villa.
Time waits for no man, it is true, but it seems to be playing funny games with the life and career of this likeable Czech.
How did we get here? How did a man who should be one of the most marketable in the game become the subject of a bidding war between Schalke 04 of Germany, Olympique Lyon of France, Everton of England, and Aston Villa of England?
Schalke have pulled out, Everton is now an unlikely destination for a Liverpool player, Lyon will only sign him if he is eligible for Uefa Champions League football, all of which makes Villa the favourites to sign Baros. The fee will be between £6 million and £7 million but this is no bargain signing.
Lyon's best hope is that their manager, G>rard Houllier, signed Baros for Liverpool from Banik Ostrava.
But times have changed. Liverpool, in need of money after a summer of buying almost everything on the High Street, would welcome a sale at £7 million. Villa have offered £6 million but that was rejected. Liverpool bought him for £3.6 million in December 2001.
You see, Baros is not what one might call a natural goalscorer. He is fast, hardworking, difficult to mark, but prone to falling over at inappropriate times.
Nineteen goals in 66 Premiership appearances is a record that, to some, particularly the European giants, casts doubt on his reputation as a world-class striker.
And yet David O'Leary, the Villa manager, sees Baros as the ideal partner for Kevin Phillips and there are good reasons for such thinking.
Here are two players who might fit perfectly into O'Leary's dream of hightempo football. Juan Pablo Angel, the darling of the supporters, prefers the slower pace and, after a wretched season, is unlikely to carry the same significance at Villa Park.
The problem for O'Leary is that he is putting all his faith in Phillips being the prolific striker that Villa have needed for some years. Baros is not that - or, at least, not at club level - but his presence could ensure that Phillips will reach that important landmark and deliver European football.
It is a safe bet that Phillips will be the most relieved man at Villa Park if Baros does sign.
Baros is at his best when playing the foil role. His most effective work is usually unseen, but it allows other, more illustrious players to flourish and find space.
Ostensibly, Baros did not enjoy the best of nights for Liverpool against AC Milan in the European Cup final last May - he cut a lonely figure for the most part - yet closer examination will reveal how his relentless running helped to unsettle the Milan defence, paving the way for the Liverpool recovery.
Good forward play is not just about scoring goals. John Toshack was never prolific for Liverpool in the 1970s but Kevin Keegan was at his best when playing alongside the Welshman.
And would David Platt have scored 19 league goals for Villa in 1989-90 without the unselfish forward play of Ian Olney?
Balance is the key and Baros will provide that for Villa. Liverpool do not need him because they are doing different things. Villa need him because, apart from Phillips, they have nothing that resembles a striking force.
Last season was a nightmare for the Villa forwards. Angel, Darius Vassell, Carlton Cole, Luke Moore scored just 13 in the Premiership between them - just one more than Peter Crouch, who had a tougher job up front for the worst Southampton team in living memory.
Crouch, sold by O'Leary to Southampton for £2 million a year ago, has since joined Liverpool for £7 million - meaning that Baros is free to join Villa. Nice symmetry, perhaps, but time will tell if O'Leary will enjoy the best of these deals. Rafael BenItez,
the Liverpool manager, will claim to be the happier. Baros does not necessarily bring goals but he does bring hope. At least now Villa can say that they do spend big money to buy big players and they are prepared to pay big wages. Baros will earn about £30,000 a week at Villa Park, which seems to suit him and his prospective new employers.
Baros was born in October 1981, early in what was to become Villa's finest season. It is rare for Liverpool to sell a proven player so young and still with so much to offer. Does BenItez know something O'Leary does not? After all, the cream of Europe, always keen for world-class strikers, were not queuing up to sign Baros.
The facts are these: Liverpool are not as rich as is widely believed. Villa are a striker short after the sale of Darius Vassell to Manchester City. And Villa are trying to win a public-relations battle. With Doug Ellis, their major shareholder, still two weeks away from a return to work, the club is trying to show supporters that it means business. Baros will ease concerns. For now.
But reputations count for nothing. If Baros and Phillips fail to hit it off, O'Leary will feel the pressure in much the same way as he did with Leeds United towards the end of the 2001-02 season.
This is a results-driven industry like never before and O'Leary would never get away with spending the whole of the 2005-06 season complaining about a shortage of money and patronising his players by telling them they are an honest bunch of lads.
By signing Baros (if, indeed, the deal takes place), Villa enter a world of greater expectations. The time for excuses will end the moment the player autographs the appropriate documents and flashes his film-star teeth to the waiting press.
Patrik Berger, the new Villa midfield player, appeared alongside Baros with Liverpool for 18 months and, as a fellow Czech, knows the striker better than most.
"He is a handful and will always score goals," Berger said. "He causes problems for the opposition defenders. I have spoken with him a few times. I asked what he was going to do, but he is young and it is not easy for him.
"It is never easy to leave Liverpool, believe me; it is a huge club. Let us hope Milan will make his mind up and wants to come here."
Auguries are good but Berger, like everybody at Villa Park, knows the Biblical saying: to whom much is given, much is expected.