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Aston Villa icon Shaw recalls career's highs and lows

Confident Villans can break into top four this season

Gary Shaw shows his medals yesterday.

Gary Shaw shows his medals yesterday.

At the height of his career, Gary Shaw attracted a great deal of attention from the media as his scoring prowess propelled Aston Villa to the summit of English and European football in the early 80s.

His impact on Aston Villa suggested that Shaw was on the threshold of a glittering career but a serious knee injury derailed his progress.

"The best and worst moments of my career are two extremes," Shaw observed while addressing a news conference at the Phoenicia Hotel yesterday.

"Making my debut for Aston Villa at the age of 17 was a memorable occasion. Winning the European Cup in 1981/82 with Aston Villa, the club I supported as a boy, was the ultimate achievement.

"In fact, I'm disappointed that that team didn't go on to establish itself as a major force in English football. By 1984-85, the side that won the league and European Cup had virtually broken up.

"I guess, the worst moment for me occurred in 1983-84. At the time, I was about to break into the England squad but I suffered a terrible injury and was never able to recover from that."

Now working as a football pundit for a Midlands-based TV channel, Shaw took time out of his schedule to spend two days in Malta after accepting the invitation of the local Aston Villa Supporters' Club (AVSC).

Founded last year, the AVSC (maltavillans@gmail.com) wanted to announce themselves by luring to Malta a name synonymous with the club. Shaw fitted the bill perfectly.

That Shaw and the AVSC had a common friend in Maltese referee Adrian Casha, himself an Aston Villa fan, helped in no small way to make the former's visit possible.

The opportunity to meet a former European Cup winner certainly appealed to local sports journalists as well as Shaw who admitted to being positively surprised at the media interest generated by his visit to Malta.

"Although it's been a short visit, I've had a fantastic time here," Shaw said.

"I thought I was coming here just to meet the fans but the guys at the club have done a great job in organising this press conference. Now I have an idea of how Premier League managers feel when they are addressing reporters.

"It's been quite an experience sitting here in front of you. I remember the first time Ron Saunders allowed me to attend a press conference was after my debut against Bristol City but this was way back in 1978.

"I'm very happy to be here and I want to thank the club and the sponsors for providing me with the opportunity to visit Malta."

Before the start of the news conference, which was also addressed by AVSC officials David Borda and Ray Pace, TV cameramen and photographers focused their lenses on Shaw as he glanced at three precious medals. the English league title in 1980/81, the European Cup and the Super Cup.

Lifting the European Cup (Villa beat Bayern Munich 1-0 in the final) represents the "ultimate achievement" for Shaw but his eyes glistened as he reminisced on Villa's success in winning the league in 1980-81.

"From a personal point-of-view, being part of the Villa team that won the league made me very proud," Shaw enthused. "As I said, winning the European Cup was also one of the main highlights of my career. it's difficult to decide which was the best."

Shaw was the only Birmingham-born player in the Aston Villa team that finished top of the standings.

In 1981, he was voted PFA Young Player of the Year and was also named in the 40-strong preliminary England squad for the 1982 World Cup finals but he failed to make the final cut.

His growing reputation at the time was such that two European heavyweights were linked with Shaw but his hopes of a big-money move were dashed by the knee injury he sustained away at Nottingham Forest.

"There was talk about me moving abroad when I actually got my injury," Shaw said. "After winning the Super Cup (against Barcelona), a move to Italy or Spain would have helped to secure my financial future.

"Juventus were interested and I was also spoken to by an agent who was close to Real Madrid. Had I stayed fit, I think I would have joined one of those two clubs."

Aston Villa have not been crowned English champions since Shaw and his team-mates went all the way in 1980-81. For much of the past two decades, Villa have had to play second fiddle to the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal but optimism is high this season that Martin O'Neill's exciting team can break into the top four.

"Villa have surprised a few people this season," Shaw said.

"If they strengthen their squad with one or two players this month, I think Aston Villa will be in a better position to challenge for a top-four position."

Shaw tipped Manchester United to retain their Premier League crown.

"United are the favourites," Shaw remarked.

"They have got strength-in-depth and experience. They are the team to beat. As far as Villa are concerned, if we don't get United in the FA Cup, which has been a common occurrence in recent years, the league match at Old Trafford will be a good test for the team."

Asked for his opinion on Malta forward Michael Mifsud, the former Villa striker said: "I saw Mifsud play for Coventry City last season. I haven't really followed his fortunes lately but when I saw him against Wolves, his performance was good. He's quick and dangerous and he went on to prove this in the League Cup match against Manchester United.

"I think that Mifsud needs to establish himself in the Coventry team and score goals regularly to make progress in his career."

Not one given to boastful comments, it was left to Pace, the AVSC treasurer, to narrate a little-known episode from Shaw's career.

"In 1983, after the Super Cup match, Diego Maradona sent his agent to the Aston Villa dressing room and requested Gary's shirt," Pace said.

Shaw, who turns 48 next Wednesday, continued to play for Aston Villa until 1987-88.

He later had spells with Austrian club Klagenfurt, Walsall, Kilmarnock, Shrewsbury Town and Hong Kong based club Ernest Borel FC. He retired in 1990-91, aged 30.

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