Bloody Aston Villa. Bane of my existence. Why oh why did I make the fateful decision to support them 25 years ago. All my mates supported Man Utd or Liverpool. They were smart. I was a romantic. I fell in love with the team’s storied history, their claret and blue shirts, and the fact they were just about my local team. The lush suburbs of Aston and Witton – which I always assumed were somewhat reminiscent of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon – lay just up the M5.
The first few years of supporting Villa were a joy. For every Ian Ormondroyd there was a cultured Gordon Cowans. For every Dr Joe there was a Graham Taylor. Then Big Fat Ron Atkinson arrived. The good times rolled – Cyrille Regis, Dalian Atkinson, Dean Saunders and the best player to ever grace the game, Paul McGrath.
But then it all went downhill. Brian Little initially did well but it all got too much for him. The lean years were not pleasant. Two words: David O’Leary. Honest bunch of lads. Vomit.
Doug Ellis was always lingering behind the scenes. He ran the club like a corner shop. When Sky’s money flooded into the game, and Man Utd seized the opportunity to build their global brand, Doug was out and touch and bedazzled by modernity. The world passed Villa by as Doug counted his beans.
This was probably the moment that doomed Villa forevermore. Villa were second in the league, and possibly a bigger club than Arsenal, when division one became the Premier League. Doug laughed as the money rolled in but failed to grasp that football was changing. He didn’t invest, he made bad decisions, and villa stood still while others overtook them – shoving two fingers up as they went by.
Hope was briefly rekindled when Randy Lerner, the saint from across the pond, came riding into town. He lined up Martin O’Neill before he arrived. He wanted to speculate to accumulate. He put his money where his mouth was. It was all so, well, American.
Lerner spent an absolute fortune trying to get Villa into the Champions League. O’Neill did well (usually until March arrived) but he was profligate. The wage bill spiralled as Lerner chased the dream. It looked like it might work until, fatefully, a Sheik with an even bigger wallet than Lerner turned up in the blue half of Manchester.
You had to admire City’s ruthlessness: “who are our rivals for 4th place? Villa. Ok, let’s buy their best two players by promising to double their wages”. Barry left. Then Milner. It wasn’t long before Ashley Young moved on to Utd too. The dream was dead. If you aint got the money you can’t compete. That’s the reality of modern football. It’s the reality of modern business. It’s desperately sad.
Realising that the 4th place was now impossible, Lerner refused to sanction more spending. I don’t really blame him. Would you throw your own money at a lost cause? O’Neill had a hissy fit when funds where curtailed, and stormed off in a huff on the eve of a new season. I lost all respect for him.
Unfortunately however, Randy’s efforts to stop haemorrhaging cash have been blighted by incompetence and now disinterest. He’s appointed bad people – many of them are still around – and his choice of managers has been utterly abysmal. Even the appointments that have looked good on paper soon backfired.
I was one of the few who thought Gerard Houllier was a decent choice at the time. In hindsight, however, it was daft. Villa’s squad had been playing relatively direct and physical football under O’Neill. Going with the Frenchman was too much of a culture shock.
Then came the moment when Lerner’s inexperience of English football hit home: he appointed Alex McLeish, the guy who had just got our city rivals relegated. Oh Randy you plonker. Has there ever been a more nonsensical appointment in the history of English football?
Next came the Paul Lambert years. Lambert had done well with Norwich but was forced to slash Villa’s wage bill even further. It was only going to end one way. Although Lambert bought a lot of young players (as if his budget allowed for anything else) most predictably fell by the wayside. The football became dull, defensive and about as exciting as Lamberts public persona. Ouch.
The less said about the Tim Sherwood experiment the better. I know a lot of Tottenham fans. They warned me what would happen. Sherwood lacked experience of top level management and doesn’t seem to have any sort of football IQ.
Was Sherwood a complete charlatan or just unlucky? I guess it was probably a bit of both. He didn’t seem to have a clue about tactics, but it’s hard for any manager to succeed when you lose the spine of your team: Benteke, Delph and Vlaar. Villa were rubbish before these players left, so is it any surprise we’re now rock bottom?
And so the search for the next manager continues. Remi Garde seems to be flavour of the month. This worries me. French football is nothing like the Premier League. Garde is probably a very good coach but does he know what he’s letting himself in for? He could be an astute appointment but it seems like too much of a gamble.
Villa’s relegation rivals, Sunderland, brought in a manager equipped for a dogfight. The bigwigs at Villa don’t seem to be thinking so pragmatically. Garde is a sexy choice. But my proud old club probably need someone who can get their hands dirty. Remember when Forest tried to play their way out of trouble?
Villa need a manager who can get them promoted as much as one who might save them in the short term. Things really have got that bad.