The arrival of a new manager brings with it, of course, a fresh perspective that rather depends on the personality and reputation of the person appointed.
The entrance of Tim Sherwood caused a variety of reaction, some clamouring that he is not experienced enough, others that he’s going to wind up the players the wrong way and others exclaimed relief that we now have a manager who has an attacking philosophy behind his strategy and will put behind us the tedium – nay, stress – we have felt over the past 4 years or so. Well, we shall soon see: no matter what his style, the primary hope is that Villa avoid relegation.
In the fact that Sherwood has come in after the midway point of the season, I thought it might be interesting to see how Villa have faired before when a new manager has come in mid-term or later.
1950, December – George Martin. The Villa had, amazingly, been without a manager for 17 months and had been supervised directly by the board, the method used before the club’s first permanent managerial appointment, in 1934. Martin came in when Villa were 18th of 22 (2 for relegation in those days) and gradually got the wheels moving again with an end-of-season unbeaten run of 9 games, starting with a win at Wolves in Billy Wright’s heyday, and finishing with the demolition of Stoke, 6-2. Villa’s next season (1951-52) proved to be Vila’s best season in the 32 years between the War and 1976-77 with young stars Danny Blanchflower, Tommy Thompson and Johnny Dixon showing their flair. Martin walked out in August, 1953 after realising he was not getting the support he wanted from the board.
1958, December – Joe Mercer. A generally popular appointment, Mercer started as being an affable man but left in 1964 with broken health. He could not prevent relegation in his first (half) season, but Villa enjoyed a magnificent run to the FA Cup semi-final where they were unluckily beaten by Villa’s old legend Billy Walker and his Nottingham Forest side. From 1959 to 1962, Mercer appeared to be taking Villa to better places, but then the board’s lack of financial help, and some bad luck, caused a decline.
1968, December – Tommy Docherty. The new regime came in with a clean broom: the cobwebs of many years of neglect were swept away in magnificent style and hope reinforced by Docherty’s appointment. He saved Villa from relegation from the old Division 2 but then tried to achieve too much too quickly, resulting in his departure a little over a year after he started.
1970, January – Vic Crowe. Villa’s old skipper was not able to stop Villa’s relegation from Division 2, but quietly re-built the squad and by 1974 had built the nucleus of a side and a youth policy that would hold Villa in good stead for another 5 years. Unfortunately Crowe was not able to get the best out of those players, and with Villa seemingly stuck in Division 2, Ron Saunders was brought in with marvellous results.
1982, February – Tony Barton. The club’s former assistant manager took over after Ron Saunders walked out of Villa Park and seamlessly took Villa forward to win the European Cup the same year. Unfortunately for Barton, Doug Ellis took over as chairman the same year and Villa’s opportunities for further success were cut back. Barton stood his ground, however, but was forced to leave in 1984.
1994, late November – Brian Little. Little took over from the former popular manager Ron Atkinson who had generally raised Villa’s profile over the previous 3 years. By this December, however, Villa were in 20th position out of 22. Little was able to bring about a recovery and took Villa through a couple of promising seasons.
1998, February – John Gregory. Brian Little voluntarily departed even though (at 15th place) Villa were not greatly in trouble, and with the same squad Little’s former assistant Gregory motivated the side to only two defeats for the rest of the season. Villa finished 7th.
2002, February – Graham Taylor. John Gregory, tired of disagreements with Doug Ellis, unexpectedly walked out when Villa were in a comfortable position in the league table. Graham Taylor took over for a second sojourn at Villa Park but also became discontented and vacated his post in the summer of 2003.
The omens for a mid-season incoming manager are generally good. Apart from the years 1958 and 1970, a mid-season change of appointment has been successful.
The appointment of Billy McNeil in September 1986 enhanced a disastrous season, however, and I am grateful his arrival does not qualify as a "mid-season" appointment.