- Associated Press - Friday, May 29, 2015

Aston Villa is one win away from ending a 19-year wait for a major trophy and it’s all getting a bit too much for the second in line to the British throne.

“I’m nervous now. I’m terrified,” said Prince William, who has supported Villa since he was a schoolboy.

The prince won’t be the only famous name cheering for the central English club in Saturday’s FA Cup final against Arsenal at Wembley Stadium. Hollywood star Tom Hanks and British Prime Minister David Cameron have also previously pledged their allegiance to Villa, which was European champion in 1982 and has won the English league seven times.

The club has fallen on harder times in recent years, though, and is more likely nowadays to be battling against relegation from the Premier League than competing for trophies.

This year, Villa has done both.

Under vibrant new manager Tim Sherwood, Villa avoided dropping out of England’s lucrative top division only on the next-to-last weekend of the season. And it has reached the final of world football’s oldest club knockout competition by embarking on a surprising run that has included wins over West Bromwich Albion and Liverpool in the last two rounds.

Arsenal stands between Villa and a first trophy since winning the English League Cup in 1996. And Sherwood is showing a lot more confidence in the team that the prince.

“This is an opportunity to pick up another trophy for this fantastic football club and for the players to put themselves in the history books,” Sherwood said. “There’s a hero in that dressing room somewhere.”

Ever the optimist, Sherwood has revitalized Villa in his three months as manager.

He took over a team that had plunged into the Premier League’s bottom three on the back of a 10-match winless run. Villa’s paltry total of 12 goals in 25 games to that point was the lowest in the Premier League’s 23-year history.

Relegation beckoned, only for Sherwood to breeze into Villa Park and shake things up.

“It’s been an interesting season for Villa,” Prince William said in an interview with the BBC that will be broadcast on Saturday. “The guys have battled through. They’ve done seriously well, and I’m really excited about Tim’s leadership - he’s doing a really great job with them.”

Sherwood hasn’t reinvented the wheel - he has just played to the team’s strengths.

Like getting the ball up quicker to striker Christian Benteke, who has scored 12 goals in his last 12 games.

Like telling Tom Cleverley, a player low in confidence after being loaned out by Manchester United, to start getting forward more from midfield. Cleverley has scored in three games in a row, increasing calls for a recall to the England squad.

Like giving Jack Grealish, one of English football’s most highly-rated youngsters, regular starts in the playmaker role. The 19-year-old local talent is now on the radar of England’s national team.

Sherwood gained a reputation as a lively if erratic figure on the touchline in his only previous job in management, with Tottenham. In one match - which was against Villa and actually proved to be his last in that job - he plucked a heckling supporter from the crowd, handed him his sleeveless jacket and sat him down in the manager’s chair.

“That guy is an expert,” Sherwood said at the time. “Every week he tells me what to do, so I gave him the opportunity to have a go.”

Sherwood was fired after five months at Spurs, even though he had a good record and helped Tottenham qualify for the Europa League. He was linked with a number of top-flight jobs but it was Villa which finally took the chance - something the club isn’t regretting now.

Sherwood, who once acknowledged being an Arsenal fan, knows his team is the underdog on Saturday. Arsenal finished third in the Premier League and was arguably the top team in the second half of the season. Sherwood describes Arsenal as “probably the best football team in the league.”

But don’t mistake praise for his opponent as a lack of faith in his own players. Sherwood firmly believes Villa can win the cup for the first time since 1957.

“The older generation (of Villa fans) has seen a lot of history and they remember good times,” Sherwood said. “Their sons and family members are probably fed up of listening to it and they want to see some themselves.

“So I’m just praying I can give them that.”


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