"Results have gone awry! We must sack the manager!" That has been an all too-common cry of frustration from fans for the last 50 years, often egged-on by the media. I remember very clearly a certain Villa manager who was thus axed after nearly 6 years in the job, frustrated by the Villa board's inability to get to grip with the modern game then emerging in the early 60s, and was so conscientious he took the blame on his own shoulders and made himself very ill. The board immediately sacked him. Four years later, having become the manager of Manchester City, he took the cheers when City won the league championship with players of the ilk of Colin Bell, Mike Summerbee and Franny Lee. Six years after that, the same manager was temporarily in charge of an England team which produced some of the finest football seen from an England team in maybe 10 years. That manager's name was Joe Mercer.
So when the fans cry to have a manager sacked I always think back to the time of Joe, the manager who always had a smile - except when things went wrong in his last days with Villa. And I think and wonder whether the 'fault' of the manager that the fans want out is his - or is it the board's - or is it something else.
In fact there was a time, of course, when Villa did not have a team manager. The board and the club's secretary ran all the affairs of the club and thus maintained a continuity that sustained the club well for 50 years. If results went astray, the board got together and decided what had to be done - and did it! Like the beginning of the 1919-20 season when Villa found themselves bottom of the league after 10 games. At that point Villa went out and signed a mammoth of a player from nowhere (Frank Barson - said to have been one of the hardest players to appear in a Villa shirt), brought in a certain youngster called Billy Walker ... and the rest was history. Villa finished in mid-table and won the FA Cup!
Right, those times have been long gone. But the need for continuity hasn't. Somehow over the last few years we have lost sight of what Villa is, in my opinion. I for one have a different feeling about the club than I had ten years ago - vastly different, in fact. At times I struggle to see why I continue to take an interest.
Having said all that, in Dr. Xia I see some tangible recognition in him that he has a sense of reality, apart from the nature of the club's history and expectations. But what I also see in Dr. Xia is an ambition that rules over sensibility; when Di Matteo was appointed I had my reservations (as I think others did) but I honestly did not think we would see too much of a problem in this league with him in the job. That appointment is well and truly down to the good doctor.
But what seems to be overlooked (and the cause of some games being given away) is that some of the symptoms of last season have re-appeared. The almost impossible-to-understand defensive errors have again appeared, and yet with a new set of players who are supposed to be leaders in their own right! Also the failure to score ... again very prevalent last season.
Yes, we can try to put the blame on the manager and the midfielders, but in my view, there is something awry with the aura at Villa Park and that it is not the manager that should take the can. In fact, if he goes and is replaced, I fully expect the same symptoms to continue or re-appear - until the cause of this miasma is fixed.
The cause of the miasma? Oh, the previous owner, of course, was its instigator. But in my view it's up to the doctor to now re-vivify the club with a real understanding of what the club is about. He must take off that weight of expectation that seems to be on the players backs and which is making them 'leggy'. Sacking an above-average and mostly faultless manager is not the answer in my view.
What is needed? Being Chinese the owner in all seriousness ought to apply some Feng Shui to get harmony back at the club.