The writing has slowed at Vilr Towers of late. This is because the writer ponders the words that you take the time to read, never rushing for fear of publishing on a whim. Great willpower is used in resisting the urge to vent, searching for the positives or at the very least looking at the bigger picture. The latter being something that we as football fans are as guilty as any of remembering to apply when voicing our opinions.
It would be improper, indeed, delusional to suggest that all is well at Villa Park as we approach the latter stages of the season. This has seen Alex McLeish come in for some reasonable criticism of late. Reasonable because there have been occasions where his selections have been at odds with our current teams ability, the opposition we have faced or the erratic (arguably abject) form of some of our key players.
However, this blog firmly backs our current manager Alex McLeish. This is not because he is doing a fantastic job; he must try harder to get the very best out of some very talented players. This backing is because he is largely in the position he is because of two glaring factors. We do not have the funds to compete with the top clubs in the Premier League and we must repair the devastation still being afflicted to our bank balance from endeavouring to break into the Champions League in the Martin O’Neill era.
This is not to say that one should be happy with the current situation we find ourselves in, but we are in it. There is no sense and no benefit that can be gained from constantly voicing our disapproval at who is currently managing Aston Villa Football Club. It makes our football club’s supporters appear completely out of touch with reality. Alex McLeish is the man charged with steering the ship through what could turn out to be incredibly testing financial waters. It is surely wise to offer the man some encouragement?
Retaining some objectivity is key to making sense of our present slide. The Blackburn game is as good an example of any this season of the problems, so let us look there.
The game featured glaring missed chances. Paul Robinson is being touted as being a challenger for the number 1 jersey for England following our trip to town! World class goalkeeping? Rather, decent saves from otherwise golden, glaring opportunities. This is not confined to the Blackburn game, our wastefulness in front of goal for the entire season has been nothing short of criminal. For this, it is only plausible to hold individual players to account for their misses, not the manager.
The inability to cope with set pieces. Blackburns equaliser came through the entirely predictable set piece scenario. Our defending continues to be error strewn, casual and at times completely unprofessional. This is not something that can be levelled necessarily at our manager, rather our millionaire defenders who have consistently underperformed. Professional footballers who go to pieces at any and every ball into the penalty area? Unacceptable.
The question is how to rectify a squad of average / coasting professional footballers? One imagines that’s difficult to address at the best of times without having to worry how to fund competent replacements. Herein lies the problem. Aston Villa have sold their best, most creative and most threatening players. This has resulted in the remnants of the O’Neill experiment, the Houllier patch up job and the hasty dealings of Alex McLeish. It really has left Villa unbalanced with a mix of inexperienced youth, aging stars, average Joes and unpredictable individual temperaments.
Indeed, the only person at any risk of the chop is the guy who’s supposed to make this into a winning unit each weekend. So, is this of any surprise to those of us still sane enough to try to work out the next step?
Predicting a next step for Aston Villa is like trading shares with Carson Yeung; risky business. The reason for this is because there are so many variables now that football and business have fused together. It is difficult to interpret where football results and business forecasts relate to one another. Fortunately as fans we try to ignore reality and merely shouting “Off with his head!” seems to suffice if there isn’t a victory. But thinking of the bigger picture, football has changed so much, that chopping managers does little in the modern game to alter anything that really irks us as supporters.
No new manager could swoop for the silky playmaker we all crave. Nor could he resolve the volume of the Villa Park tannoy. He will be handed the same players and remit that Alex McLeish is likely regretting agreeing too. Which brings us neatly to Randy Lerner.
For it seems that Randy, for all of the clever PR moves, got in way over his head financially with Aston Villa. It is clear, painfully clear, that the financial management at the football club entirely disregarded the prospect of the club not winning a single thing. An astonishing fact for an apparently diligent businessman who surrounds himself with presumably very intelligent, knowledgeable folk, to advise him on appropriate courses of action.
Therefore we find ourselves with impressive turnover with staggering losses largely attributed to our player costs. We adopted the McDonalds model, serving up delicious tasty burgers that no-one could resist, but we foolishly agreed to pay our average tossers a fortune for the privilege. The example is crude, but you get the picture.
It is therefore time to be honest. Realistic as well.
Our great football club finds itself drawing with absolute relegation fodder in the shape of Wigan and Blackburn. Two teams so bad that we will likely draw three quarters of our league games and remain ten points clear of danger. Indeed, it’s amazing we lie 15th in the form table. In another season, where there was the hint that someone below us could muster a win there would be cause for concern. As it stands, we will probably set our lowest points total and live in complete denial that this year ever existed. This is depressing and it might be something that we will have to get used to.
This honesty needs to extend to our transfer policy. It will not be glamorous, excite the fans or make transfer windows much fun, but the club needs to go into overdrive producing talent from the academy. There can be no more repeats of Djemba-Djemba, no more painful “prising” of the N’Zogbia’s from the Wigan’s of this world. There are surely, surely, 11 kids within 50 miles of Villa Park who can play as well as the current squad given the best coaching and facilities money can buy. That money would likely be a fraction of that spent on players and agents with no attachment to our great club. For the survival of our football club in the modern era we need to become more realistic about our options, starting with making a genuine attempt to recruit and develop Premiership footballers for the sole purpose of bettering Aston Villa. Sustaining is a good first step, but bettering, that has to be the objective, as to date the products of our system have either been promising or distinctly average at best.
The club also needs to redefine the vision. The honeymoon period for Lerner is obviously a distant memory and we have a vision that sits completely at odds with what we are actually doing and can reasonably hope to achieve. A realistic vision, with attainable goals would do a great deal to restore some credibility for the owner and give any current or future manager an achievable target to be measured against. A reasonable goal would be to win the League Cup, ludicrously derided by many who think we should be winning European Cups still. The trophy cabinet at Aston Villa is a wondrous tale of footballing dominance, it is a disgrace that it has not been added to in recent years; a League Cup should be our first principle aim at the beginning of next season.
A major problem we face, as a number of clubs, will be the apathy of supporters. The golden years of multi-million pound signings, outrageous contracts and the hope of imminent glory are gone. There are many reasons for this, but as fans we should remember why we go to watch our club. The purpose is not to deride our manager at every opportunity, delude ourselves into believing we are world beaters but simply backing the club as it evolves each Saturday at 3pm. And only with our support will it evolve into something that we want, but without it, it will become a soulless and meaningless entity.
Our biggest influence, our collective voice, should be heard. The opinion of everyone is there to be heard, but a pedestal should never be abused to voice a personal opinion as that of the majority. And many prominent Aston Villa voices can be heard dissenting in print and web media; an action that does nothing to enhance the reputation or help advance the club they allegedly “support” in any way.
So if you have read this far, I offer my sincere thanks for your time. I can also promise to be on the Holte End through thin and thinner, supporting our team, with the firm belief that with a common purpose, a reality check and some reasonable goals, Aston Villa will be the greatest football team in the the land once more.
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