Aston Villa: what if the problem is the club and not McLeish?

Aston Villa: what if the problem is the club and not McLeish?


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.


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  1. McLeish had a good record at Rangers considering the fiscal constraints at the time. He did finish third one season, but he had to sell some of his best players and replace them with ageing Bosman dross.

    At Scotland he achieved the impossible: he took a defensive Walter Smith side and made it more defensive. There were moments of beauty (France 0 Faddy 1, Rangers 3 Celtic 2 cup final) but overall his approach is defensive-minded, as you’d maybe expect from a former centre-back.

    I was stunned that Villa went for him, tbh, and now they’re paying the price.

  2. I hate to agree with you, but AM has done the one thing I never though possible, and thats unite the two sides of Birmingham.

    But you’re absolutely right about not just blaming AM, Lerner and Faulkner need to take a fair amount of responsibility.

    This season however has been a total disaster and the main reason is McLeish’s total lack of footballing pedegree. His tactics, style of play, inability to ever take any blame and what must be a communication issue, as he cant get his players to do what seems so obvious to everyone else, have made this season the mess it is.

  3. Villa have a good few quality experience players, admittedly Manu or City won’t be rushing out to buy them, but they’re agood average, possibly a mid table team aspiring to repeat previous glories by being motivated to strive to achieve their best at all times, except this clown appears to want to hang onto what he has at the beginning which is One point x 38 and the occassional fluke win (Fulham @ home)
    Macliesh’s style of football is distructive not defensive. thus turning average to ineffective.
    As for some people not being bothered by his previous management, well I feel absolute disgust that this blue nose who as a manager sent his Small Heath Hackers out to kick footballers off the pitch is now asking for backing from the fans he once treated with contempt.
    If you want an example of the Mcliesh’s type of players I’m talking about try Alan Hutton, probably the first of many if this idiot is allowed to assemble a team in his own image.
    He’ll never resign as he knows he’ll never ever get another top flight job, a man who is so unprincipled that he turns his back on the team he relegated isn’t going to leave, as he’s waiting to be paid off, so he can retire with a pocket full of money, that should cushion his slide into oblivion.

  4. The problem, for me, runs far deeper than the current coach. He was hired as a pragmatic choice, as the board deliberately opted for experience over potential. An unsurprising choice, given the current financial situation of the premier league means that only 9 million pounds prize money separates 4th from 17th, and Villa have little chance of European TV money any time soon. Premier League survival at the lowest cost is the best financial move for Lerner, making the EPL an increasingly non competitive league driven by money. Please read my article pertaining to this topic here

  5. Lets get one thing straight here, Villa are certainly not ‘cash strapped’…. Lerner just realised that with a £100m turnover and a £90m wage bill things were going to go pear shaped, wage bill should be 70% of income. He wants things on an even playing field and slashing £20m off the wage expenditure the club can easily sustain itself within its means meeting the UEFA FFS. THE PROBLEM IS DEFINITELY MCLEISH AND HIS TACTICS / STYLE OF PLAY !!!

  6. The problem is deeper than the playing side of course, but McLeish is a massive part of the problem because of his dour tactics and play not to lose philosophy. Villa’s statistics this season are appalling and McLeish is to blame for that. There are managers operating with a lot less than McLeish who have done a lot better.

  7. It is difficult to see Villa not improving without McLeish.

    There is no doubt about it. The team has massively underperformed this season, even with everyone fit they have been utterly shambolic. At best.

    He is the only manager I have ever known to have a 100% disapproval rating amongst his fans. Exclude the media, former players, members of the board…and you literally will not find a claret and blue soul who would keep him on for next season, whether it is in the championship or the premiership.

    If McLeish leaves, there may not be a visible massive improvement on the pitch – but the negativity, apathy and rage that totally surround the club will be lifted in an instant.

    There are CLEARLY other problems within the club. Decision making from the owner and board has been appalling and nonsensical in recent times. Nobody has any idea where they want the club to be heading.

    But remove McLeish right now and the fans would believe the team could stay up, rather than be resigned to going down. And trust me – despite being 3 points clear in 15th with 3 games to play, they are totally resigned to going down.

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