Thoughts and issues regarding the past and present of a great football club by "The Chronicler".

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Is The Boot The Best Answer?

"Out, out, out ..." is the cry. But how many times more must this cry be heard in my lifetime! Although there are plenty of reasons behind this latest call I find it all so sad.

In fact, the one such call from previous eons that stands out in my mind is that against Joe Mercer in 1964 - which happens to be exactly 50 years ago. The poor feller was massively unwell after his conscientious efforts to carry on when the board were doing things like selling the training pitch to find cash. Mercer was ignominiously sacked, yet when he recovered his health he became manager at Manchester City, got them promoted and then won the League Championship (1968). In the 1970s he managed the England team for a spell when we saw some of the brightest football they have ever played.

In 1964, just as now, the Villa board was composed of people that seemed to believe that being gentle people in business was the most important aspect of running a football club. Well, yes, that is a desirable aspect, but, just as now, that simple approach failed to bring Villa back to the top. Worse, their approach led to a dismal relegation (1967) followed by the old Third Division (1970) as it had been too late by then for the new hierarchy to salvage the situation.

So, what I believe I am saying is that it's so easy to shout for the exit of the manager. I am not denying that he has faults, but perhaps (like Joe Mercer) some of those faults have developed from the framework within which he is obliged to work. Maybe - just maybe - Lambert guestimated wrongly in his efforts to please his boss's grand strategy (which, to me, looks understandable but highly questionable in its approach).

Can we keep on having new managers? And in the current set-up at VP, would such a change make any real difference? Who is the new manager that will be able to achieve what we ask?

O'Neill's exit in 2010 led to a caretaker appointment that I believe nearly morphed into a full appointment, which then led to Houllier with health problems that caused his exit by the end of the season.

Immediately we then tasted the leash of McLeish and Lambert soon followed.

Lambert has been in the job for less than two years and the common factor that he and McLeish possess (apart from being Scots) is that they have had to work to an austerity plan. It is interesting that Villa's awful home form started with McLeish and has been carried on (with new personnel) under Lambert. Is this just coincidence? I don't know how to explain it.

But, despite all that is happening - and even if relegation does occur - I don't see any way in which matters will improve at the club with simply a new manager. The whole edifice needs to transform in my view - not just the manager.

I sense a deja vu from eons past.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Where's Home?

Remember that football folksong of a decade or two ago? … ‘Coming home… Coming home…’?  But the thought of being home has officially been declared anathema by the Villa manager – he wants to play away. I’m beginning to wonder whether the Villa’s owner might do a Wimbledon and settle the club somewhere else in the country. Wimbledon became MK Dons; perhaps Aston Villa could become Cirencester Villa, a name that might appeal to the owner’s interest in history.  But that’s the only way Villa’s owner is ever going to get close to Mr. Roman Ivanovic!

But let’s be serious; never in the field of football conflict have things ever been so serious as the lack of form at Villa Park.

Poor home results as we have experienced these last 3 seasons have never before been sustained over such a long period in Villa’s history, and the way the current season is going, the home results are going in even a worse direction than over the previous two seasons.  The number of home defeats may end as being worse, as also the number of goals against column. We’ve already conceded 21 goals at home and failed to score in more than half of the matches. Yet somehow we’ve scored 3 and 4 against Man City and Albion. Take those two matches away and we’ve scored 5 goals in 11 home matches this season.

In contrast, the away form is keeping Aston Villa in with a chance of staying out of the relegation zone, but it’s not that many of us that have time or money to travel to see those games. The ordinary (home) supporter has not been fairly treated for a long time now, and the club’s management seems not to care – anyone vociferously complaining is deemed to have a screw loose, or at least that’s the impression given by the management. The ordinary supporter is now regarded as purely a consumer. But when buying any other product and it doesn’t work properly, you have protected rights to ensure that the matter is fixed. So as supporters are nor refunded after poor performances by the team we can’t actually be consumers in the legal sense at all. It’s our footballing emotions that have been hijacked – we’re made to feel guilty if we’re not entirely supporting ‘them’.

What a club to be a member of. Except we can no longer be members. So it’s not a club.

I usually have my glass half-full, and I do feel that (a) there will be no relegation and (b) the situation will improve for next season – perhaps sufficiently for the owner to sell his hobby to some entity that can (at last) make a difference.

But if Mr. Lerner does not sell very soon then I would say that despite his fine commitment to local charities, the club’s owner is very close to ‘losing’ the club’s supporters. If Paul Lambert is made the scapegoat, I can only see the next manager getting bogged down in exactly the same way. So no difference to the Doug Ellis era really (in fact, it’s probably worse) – then, each manager had three years at the helm and then found he couldn’t get any further. 

Aston Villa seems to have developed its own form of a New Millennium Bug. It’s going to take a big change in performance by the owner and the manager this summer and next season to stand a chance of curing that bug. 

Sunday, 2 February 2014

An Example in Consistent Management

Having gone through poor form, Villa were a revelation at Liverpool and that was followed by the 'stormer' against the Baggies on Wednesday. After all that I was quite prepared for something like a 4-4 scoreline at Goodison.

Four goals? Villa couldn't even find 4 shots! One shot on goal the whole game, with Everton and Gareth Barry showing the so-called Villa youngsters a thing or two in patience and build-up. A Gabby-less Villa seems to mean that defend and hoof is the only answer.

Well, we've gone through nearly three seasons of major ups-and-downs and many barren matches, and I'm beginning to wonder whether something basic is being missed by Villa's management - like commonsense. And to illustrate that I'm going to turn the clock back to the first season after World War One (as we're this year remembering the start of that same war), when Villa's stalwarts returned from the front line to get back into some sense of normal life.

In the opening game of 1919-20 at Sunderland, Villa's team was (age in brackets, showing an average of 29 years):
Hardy(age 36); Blackburn(27), Weston(29); York(20), Harrop(35), Moss(24); Wallace(34), Stephenson(29), Hampton(34), Humphries(25), Edgley(27).

Just a couple of youngsters, note (both of whom later became 'greats'), but this side didn't work. Bad results continued apace, and the selection committee (as it was then) changed the team around to no avail. In fact, the Villa were
bottom of the First Division and had suffered 8 defeats in 10 games when they decided 'enough was enough'. Giving up on trying to prematurely bring through youngsters, they went out and bought a couple. And the couple they bought were not big names - they were simply assessed as having the right go-ahead qualities.

The two players they bought that made such a difference were inside-forward Billy Kirton and the player who later became regarded as one of the greatest players ever to done a claret and blue jersey - centre-half Frank Barson. The rest is history. Villa won 10 games out of the next 11 and at the end of the season they
finished a safe 9th in the league and not only that but
had the FA Cup in their hands, partly thanks to a new young player (called Billy Walker) being introduced midway through the season.

So that was the formula in those days. Try youth for as long as was safe, and if that didn't work then go and buy players that would make the difference while bringing on the youth at a safe pace. That approach served Villa well from the time the league started (1888) until 1928, when the new Villa management decided that the cheque book was always the best approach - an approach that had an ill-fated end. The reverse (relying essentially on inexperienced youngsters of not-great talent) has proved not to work either. And do we have to keep buying good centre-backs (like Laursen and Vlaar) that are injury-prone?

Doesn't it tell us that some commonsense and flexibility to heed changing needs has been lost down the years?