This Premier League season has been a memorable one, with the title race again going down to the wire and potentially being settled by a Manchester derby, the new arrivals Norwich and Swansea reminding everyone that the gap in class between the Premier League and the Championship actually isn’t all that great, and the relegation battle is probably one of the tightest battles there has been in the Premier League since it’s inception 20 years ago.
With all of this going on, there has been one club that has really caught my eye this season, and most probably not for all the right reasons, that club is Aston Villa.
As a Birmingham supporter, this would probably seem a little bit strange. I mean, I always like to keep one eye on the Villa scores, and find myself quite often supporting anyone that they are up against. We all know that this is a little bit immature, but I like to wind up my Villa mates anyway. No harm done really.
But the connections between the club, and I don’t just mean the geographical proximity of the clubs, has naturally led me to follow them with avid interest for most of this season. Now that they are embroiled in a serious relegation dog fight, myself and other Birmingham fans have our Bluenoses pressed firmly up against those Villa windows, waiting to see what will come of their season.
This tiny obsession began when Alex McLeish scurried across no-man’s land, and was appointed as the Villa manager. I’m going to be really honest and say that at the time I was a little disappointed by his departure, even more so that he wanted to go to our rivals. I thought that he’d given us Blues some great times. Granted he got us relegated twice, but the first time I wouldn’t pin the blame firmly on him alone, and last season I accepted the bitter pill of relegation, even if I did call some his tactics and selections into question, with the sweet taste of the Carling Cup win, and the chance to go and play in Europe.
Trouble is though, I don’t know of any Villa fan that was happy to see him arrive, and after speaking to a few of them, it wasn’t just the Blues connection either.
Many Villa fans associated McLeish with a very dour brand of football, where his style of play wasn’t based around technical passing, using wide men, and playing attractive football, but more of a percentage game, and very quick to get the ball into the danger areas. It was about getting players to the ball, not the other way around.
This is not the Villa way, I’m told.
I also get told that his managerial record did not install a sense of belief either, and that when he managed Rangers, he was credited with one of their all-time worst league performances. I’m not sure if I should take this with a pinch of salt, because during his time at Rangers he also achieved a fair few major successes also. Not to mention that before Rangers, he’d had some success with Motherwell and Hibs.
Then I get reminded that McLeish had relegated Birmingham twice. Which in all fairness, you can’t really defend, he did.
Some of the football and tactics we saw at Birmingham were questionable when we were languishing in the drop zone of last season, and now I can see all of those symptoms and characteristics happening over at Villa Park. It’s almost like some foggy flashback! The only difference is that he made Birmingham quite a tough team to beat, it seems that Villa don’t even have that small bit of safety.
But what should Villa do? McLeish is on a 3 year deal that will cost a club that is already trying to cut its cloth accordingly, a large chunk of cash to pay off. Or, do they stick with a manager who is proven in getting relegated clubs promoted? Just in case?
It seems that there is no real strategy at Villa, no communication of what the plans are. The only real plan they seem to be talking about is cutting wage bills. I think that they thought that by offloading a few players, saving a few pennies, and taking the hit to sit mid-table for a few seasons before mounting a serious push for the top 6 as they enjoyed under Martin O’Neill.
What has actually happened is that they massively underestimated the impact of the wage cuts and player sales, and are now stuck fighting for survival. If the club is so strapped of cash-flow and investment, if they did go down, I can’t see them coming straight back up.
The board also, with their track record of managerial appointments isn’t exactly filling anyone with belief either. They wheeled out an old, ill, quite obviously past it Gerard Houllier, and then looked across the road at McLeish and conducted a relatively messy managerial transfer? This is a cause for concern.
I’m not defending McLeish with this piece, far from it. All I’m saying is that before you make McLeish your scapegoat, take a closer look at your club, and what is happening because after McLeish goes, if he goes, and you find yourselves with yet no more improvement, you will have no-one else to blame.
You can follow me on twitter: @gianni_saw / or at my blog: onacoldwindynight.wordpress.com