The Manager Now Departing (Again)
For the third close-season in a row Villa will be looking for a new boss. Dave Woodhall reports.
The most inevitable story in football (apart from Carlos Tevez making a show of himself in public) has come to pass and Villa have parted company with Alex McLeish. A parting of the ways had become inevitable over recent weeks, with the watershed moment likely to have been Villa’s home defeat by Bolton last month. The final minutes of this game were played out against a backdrop of hostility towards the manager the likes of which has not been witnessed at Villa Park for many years and the fact that club owner Randy Lerner was present would undoubtedly have had an effect as well. After this defeat the club released a statement which fell far short of the obligatory vote of confidence, talking about looking towards “the next three games” which made up the rest of the season. They looked to those games, in which just two points were obtained, and no further. Less than 24 hours after the final whistle in the third, McLeish was gone.
In the final analysis, he wasn’t good enough. Seven league wins over the course of a season is an appalling record. In McLeish’s defence Villa were missing several key players for lengthy periods, in particular striker Darren Bent. Had the England international been available throughout the second half of the season Villa may have won some of the interminable succession of draws they endured and achieved a respectable mid-table position. Then again, even when he had a full-strength squad to choose from, McLeish was unable to put together a decent run of form. Last season, throughout the tribulations of Gerard Houllier’s reign, there was always the feeling that there was nothing wrong at Villa Park that a couple of wins couldn’t put right. Such belief was absent throughout 2011-12.
The announcement of McLeish’s dismissal was accompanied by a statement from Randy Lerner which said, “We need to be clear and candid with ourselves and with supporters about what we have lacked in recent years.” It’s rare that an owner is so open and honest about his club’s shortcomings and it’s good that Randy seems accept that blame should be shared out; Villa have failed in recent years and it’s not just the manager’s fault.
In fact, Villa have lacked direction since Martin O’Neill walked out in August 2010. A club that at one time seemed to do nothing wrong, certainly off the field, has become increasing error-strewn and accident-prone. Lerner himself, the darling of Villa fans during the first four years of his tenure, has come in for criticism for his low profile and perceived lack of interest; now he seems to have acknowledged the club’s failings and is prepared to deal with them. Getting rid of an unpopular manager was the obvious start, but bringing in another and getting Villa back on track will be much more difficult.
At the moment I haven’t got a clue who the next incumbent will be. Paul Lambert appears to be favourite and certainly seems the most popular choice amongst supporters. However, there have been many managers who got their club promoted to the Premier League then did well the following season only to vanish without trace the next. Indications point to the board taking their time to bring in their chosen man, and they certainly need to get it right this time. They should also be looking at their one obvious and oft-mentioned failing, the lack of experienced football personnel in senior positions at Villa Park, and put that right as well.
The relief felt by supporters at McLeish’s departure probably means his successor will enjoy an extended honeymoon period. Villa could do well to take advantage of this and bring in a manager who may not immediately seem box office but who will nevertheless instil a philosophy and long-term strategy to serve the club well. I may be hopelessly naïve but I like to think that somewhere out there is a candidate who can work with the current first team squad – or at least those of them worth keeping – but also has the inside track on a group of promising youngsters in the same way Arsene Wenger did when he arrived at Arsenal.
The best thing that could be said about Alex McLeish when he left Villa Park for the last time was that he gave some of our young players a chance in the first team. His successor may be able to find some more, nurture them and turn them into world-beaters