What a refreshing change. An interesting new manager. A summer transfer window that has already produced some early and seemingly prudent moves. There’s even a dashing of optimism amongst Villa supporters. The only thing in doubt is the dubious use of the word “summer” in the above.
A little optimism can, after-all, go a long way.
Last season many Villa fans became disenfranchised not only with the football, our manager and a borderline mythical owner – but the very direction of the football club. In a footballing sense we lurched from disaster to disaster which culminated in Alex McLeish having to count himself amongst the UK’s unemployed.
In pure footballing terms the club suffered from a disastrous policy of cost cutting that resulted in the acquisition of players of the standard of Alan Hutton. A policy bringing some hope that one day any one of us could yet pull on a shirt for our proud old club. The releasing of players of the calibre of Downing & Young – whilst unavoidable – was not countered by any moves in the market to work solutions.
Those decisions, largely taken at a higher level than McLeish, were irrational, ill thought out and almost our demise.
McLeish cannot and should not escape blame. And whilst this blog backed him to do the best he could; dour performances, wilting team morale and the absence of any plan to address abysmal relegation form, rightfully ensured he was shown the exit. Alex might look back and point to cursed luck losing key players in Bent and Petrov. Equally one could reference pure fortune in the shape of beating Fulham in the 95th minute or shambolic displays as witnessed against Bolton et al.
And so a new regime under Paul Lambert has been sworn in. It feels positive, it feels solid and whilst PR noises can be deceptive; those noises and the first transfer actions appear steady.
Indeed, as this piece was being written it’s worth reflecting on the choices available to Villa. It was not a difficult job to sack McLeish, but finding a replacement who could reasonably steady the ship and take the club on was a difficult remit to fill. It is worth some reflection that with candidates like Mick McCarthy, Alan Curbishley and Steve Bruce ominously circling in the marketplace – matters could have taken a far more unpredictable turn.
Intriguingly Liverpool having a vacancy quite possibly assisted Villa in coming to a quicker and more practical decision. As Anfield’s owners courted unrealistic targets and bizarrely Roberto “skin of our teeth” Martinez, they ultimately honed in on Swansea’s Brendan Rodgers. A decent first season in the Premier League he certainly had, but easily one of the least charismatic figures in modern football management; Rodgers makes Andy Murray look like a motivational speaker.
Villa’s appointment of Lambert appears at first glance shrewd. Experienced and having delivered measurable success and improvements at the clubs he’s managed, his skills seem ideal to address Villa’s listing. And first impressions have been good.
It’s reassuring that Lambert has immediately identified and sought to rectify weaknesses in the Villa squad. El Ahmadi was promptly snapped up, and whilst a complete unknown to most fans that are honest, has been acquired to address the gaping hole left by Petrov’s enforced absence. The purchase of 23 year old right back Matthew Lowton also does much to reinforce a position injury plagued (Lichaj) and talent bereft (Hutton) position.
So the initial signs are positive. We are not all wondering who’s next out of the door. There will hopefully be no mad scramble for the Djembe-Djembe’s of this world as transfer deadline rears its ugly head. And speaking of ugly heads, a reduced chance of having to cover the children’s eyes when Harry Redknapp delivers sound bites from a Range Rover.
And this new positivity is the attitude that must be embedded into the clubs support. As, too often the negatives have been driver of fan focus, adding little to the discussion and more often than not fishing for website hits. Indeed, the ludicrous McLeish out “campaigns” provided a window into the medias interest in crackpots – and more specifically those intent on making the football club we support look small time.
Our club made poor decision, but it is time to embed a sense of positivity back into our team. This will only come from supporters, filling our ground, backing the change and by renewing their love for Aston Villa.
So here’s to a new era and rightful step in the direction of the bright future.