Steady as she goes
So far Villa’s close-season has been unspectacular. Which is what Dave Woodhall was hoping for.
I’ve been on holiday for a couple of weeks. Of course, the miracles of modern technology meant I was able to watch Sky Sports and access the net, so I could keep pretty much up to date with what was happening at Villa Park therefore it wasn’t an entirely football-free break. I was able to follow events as easily as I could at home, which didn’t do much for my domestic popularity but I didn’t have to wait a fortnight to find out the latest news.
And waiting isn’t something Villa supporters have been doing a lot of since the season ended. In fact, full credit for the way in which the club have been making up for lost time since the final whistle at Carrow Road. Within 24 hours of the players leaving the pitch Alex McLeish had been sacked and the search for a new manager was underway. I said a couple of weeks later [here] that Villa were giving the impression that they had matters under control, but a firm decision had to be made soon. A couple of days after that Paul Lambert was announced as manager, with little fuss and none of the wrangling that accompanied the arrival of his predecessor. The story broke that Villa wanted him and he promptly accepted the job. We even managed to use a clause in the new manager’s contract with his former club to avoid paying compensation – in contrast to the millions squandered in payouts since Martin O’Neill left two years ago.
Lambert has said all the right things to supporters, but there’s also a sense that he means business and will do his talking, to coin a cliché, on the pitch. So far he’s made a good start. Two new players have arrived, and again the time lapse from Villa’s first interest in both to the deal being completed was no longer than a few days. There was time when every Villa transfer came complete with a series of negotiations that ranged from high drama to pantomime. Now it seems that when we first read of the club’s interest in a new signing the deal is all but completed.
And both new arrivals were the sort of unheralded, decent value signings we’ve not made very often in years. Karim El Ahmadi, a box-to-box midfielder from Feyenoord and Sheffield United’s utility defender Matt Lawton. Neither cost a fortune nor will sell many season tickets, but they’re the sort of hardworking, solid players Villa need. The foundations are once more being built and the finishing touches will follow; signing a central defender and striker equally promptly would be nice as would seeing Jean II Makoun getting a proper chance to prove himself. It also seems that Brad Guzan, whose contract ran out at the end of last season, will be re-signing. I don’t think he’s ready to take over as Villa’s number one yet, but he’s shown himself an adequate back-up and at 27 has plenty of time to improve even further. On the subject of free transfers, I had to smile at the news that Carlos Cuellar has signed up with Martin O’Neill again at Sunderland. After being linked with Valencia, he’s ended up making what’s at best a sideways move to a club whose manager who seemed reluctant to play him when they were previously together.
Villa are once more going about their business with the sort of assuredness that inspires confidence. As last season staggered to a halt I spoke of a chasm between club and supporters. This seems to have healed now, and both sides deserve credit – the club for taking steps to repair the damage and fans for accepting the realities of the Premier League. This time round there’s none of the expectation that heralded the arrival of Martin O’Neill, where it seemed that for some it was only a matter of time before we won the Champions League, never mind merely qualifying for it. Times have changed and an upper-mid table finish in 2012-13 together with a decent cup run should be seen as proof that Villa are making progress. Messrs Lambert, Lerner and Faulkner are doing a good job so far this summer and I’m sure they will keep up the good work. Then if we lose at West Ham on the opening day I expect them to be sacked/sell up/resign immediately.