I remember the appointment of Alex McLeish as Aston Villa manager last summer, full scale war nearly broke out as the Villa fans made it clear that the ex-Birmingham City manager was not a welcome appointment at Villa Park. Fans had multiple problems with his appointment; firstly the Birmingham City factor came in to it, but away from that were concerns over his managerial record and also his brand of football. When you throw in to the mix the fact that McLeish was third choice for the role, it was a bitter pill for Villa fans to swallow.
That pill has now been regurgitated as Alex McLeish’s career at Aston Villa has been terminated as Randy Lerner shows he is a big enough man to realize his mistake, but to a certain extent the damage has been done. McLeish may have kept Villa in the league (just), but performances this season were unacceptable for a club the size of Aston Villa who in the end were lucky to escape with their Premier League life. McLeish will take the majority of the blame for this, the football Villa played was negative, boring and generally poor which became reflected in the frustrations and attitudes of many of the Villa Park faithful.
Aston Villa became a side that were generally unexciting going forward and relied heavily on a solid defence to help them scrape the odd result. When injuries kicked in with around 3 months of the season to go, Villa fell in to free-fall as their lack of depth and quality became exposed. McLeish will no doubt bemoan such injuries, but he was in control of bringing new players in whilst also being accountable for the quality of those signings which arrived.
McLeish blew £16m on the trio of Shay Given, Charles N’Zogbia and Alan Hutton and we all know that the only player that hasn’t been a dud in the main this season was Shay Given. McLeish needed more bodies, maybe it wasn’t his fault that he couldn’t bring more players in, the money may not have been available, but he paid the price and could have invested the £12.5m spent on N’Zogbia and Hutton a little bit more wisely.
Whoever comes in as manager will have a big rebuilding job to do at the club and it is unknown how much Randy Lerner will be willing to make available for this to happen. The big question is who will come in? Who wants to manage Villa? We all remember last summer when Roberto Martinez turned the Villans down to stay at Wigan, maybe the warning signs were there then.
Martinez name has been mentioned again along with other names like Rafa Benitez, Alan Curbishley (surprisingly) and Paul Lambert, but after the events of the season just gone, this is an appointment that Aston Villa must get right. Rafa Benitez, Neil Lennon, Claudio Ranieri, Brendan Rodgers, Andre Villas-Boas and Roberto Di Matteo have also been mentioned already, but the search for a new manager is not going to be easy and will no doubt dominate the back pages of the newspapers for a few weeks yet.
Lerner and his directors will have to convince the new manager that Aston Villa are a sleeping giant who could be awoken. No doubt the top brass at the club will have to sell any new manager the dream, giving examples, like what Alan Pardew has done with Newcastle, to bring that dream to life. If a similar feat could be achieved by whoever takes over Villa, then they could have a top eight club on their hands. It won’t be an easy task to rebuild the squad with top quality players and it will take some very shrewd signings to get this Villa team ticking again.
As well as rebuilding the squad, the new manager will need to help rebuild the faith following a 9% drop in home attendances this season. Just the appointment of a manager of the right caliber will go a long way to helping renew optimism helped by some quality signings.
Historically and by reputation Aston Villa are an English club of good standing, they have a good fan base, but this no longer matters. You are only as good as your last season and the weapons in your arsenal – at the moment the chips are down. Some may say McLeish should have had more time, but he did nothing to earn it and has left Villa that can only be likened to the state this country was in when Labour handed over power to the coalition – Villa are in a worse place than they were 12 months ago.
At the other end of the league the gap is starting to widen, Villa fans still want to see European football at the club and watch attractive football that fashions good results, but this is getting harder and harder to produce. This last season was a waste, it is now imperative the Randy Lerner does not let this happen again by getting the right man and also by putting his hand in his pocket to back that man or the top-flight existence of Aston Villa could be in the balance yet again.
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