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Thursday, 12 April 2012

Aston Villa: Has your house been burgled?


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Sqf Heaney

June 17, 2011. The day the laughter died. Or, for everyone disconnected with Aston Villa football club – and especially those whose allegiance lies with Birmingham – the day the laughter began. You see, it was the day a black cloud enveloped Villa Park.

To tell the truth, the day the laughter died is a bit strong. After all, the Villains weren’t exactly laughing before Alex McLeish waltzed through the gates. They were on the back of a choppy and fractured term under the French hands of Gerard Houllier. Ninth was the finish line for Aston Villa and frightening ill was their manager, the aforementioned Houllier, who had to step down after heart problems resurfaced.

Discontent however, though it may have been prevalent last campaign, surged to the skies when Alex McLeish was appointed as the shiny new boss of Aston Villa. The graffiti on the walls was imminent. The worries demonstrable. The opprobrium laced towards the Scot was predictable – perhaps even justifiable at times. For we all knew what would happen, didn’t we? Like a fairytale; like an old joke; like the back of our hands we knew what Villa’s 2011/2012 term would resemble.

Appointed was a man whose deficiencies were clear: Birmingham were relegated for the second time in three years scoring on average less than a goal a game – netting just 37. Their play was dull, languid, uninspiring, tedious, predictable and McLeish’s apparent hatred of flowing, thoughtful football has carried exactly into the team he somehow was allowed to take over last year. So cautious; so banal; so devoid of even an attempt at attacking football when in desperate need of three points. That is the essence of the argument against McLeish; at heart he is a defensive manager, but he simply refuses to even attempt a change. His rigidity is crushing; it causes regression rather than progression and looks old-fashioned in comparison to the likes of Swansea, and even the bouncy Blackpool side from last term.

The players at his disposal may not be of the quality Aston Villa used to possess – with budget cuts and last summer a few big name stars fluttering their eyelashes at some of the bigger dogs in the league – but Big ‘Eck is like a giant hosepipe sucking dry a pond of all its nutrients (just ask the angered Ireland and N’Zogbia). Why, oh why, is he allowed to be in this position? Forget his former allegiance to Birmingham – most Villa fans would leave that small annoyance to one side if McLeish was at least a man who could motivate or wind a team together with spirit. But he cannot and Aston Villa are slowly but surely being dragged into a relegation fight.

One would expect Villa to be better than Blackburn or Bolton, but who knows? Who knows if Villa continue to be as mouldy as they have been recently? And ‘who knows’ is a far-cry from the team tipped to overcome a European obstacle of two under the guiding hands of Martin O’Neill just a couple of years ago.

How does it feel to have your house burgled? Fortunately I and no-one I know has ever been robbed in that way. But it is often said that one of the most startling things post-incident is the feeling that the family home is no longer sacred. It is no longer warm, homely or ‘together’ – one would feel, I guess, that it has been tainted. While I don’t want to infer that football is as important as a burglary, I just wonder whether Villa fans feel that way. In all honesty, what does it feel like to have your club invaded? Invaded by a man and his staff who are wrong in every way for the goodness of the club?

There are awful decisions being made by the hierarchy, a team once ascending (with a man who is now ascending with Sunderland) is stagnating with a man who once managed their bitter rivals. Oh, and the ghastly play makes the neutral’s eyes bleed.

But on top of that (and I wonder if Villa fans are in agreement) football isn’t just about league positions and winning trophies; perhaps more important – and incidentally a vital ingredient to win trophies – is the ‘right’ feeling. Like a family home, you need direction and some kind of warmth; the assurance that the right people are doing the right job. The assurance that the club you love is full of people who share your same dedication. Not those like McLeish who, even forgetting the accusations that he might just be chasing a fast buck and a heavy compensation fee, are so obviously wrong for the club that a dead man could point it out.

Sadly, Aston Villa are devoid of the aforementioned warmth. They are being sunk by a man who has no right – and no business to tend to – at the club. Apparently Randy Lerner’s motto is ‘proud history, bright future’. It’s an admirable mantra, meaning ‘we’ve been to the top before; let’s go back.’ But at the moment, Villa’s future is embarassing and wretched.

There’s this sense that a club steeped in history are being disrespected by such an absurd appointment. There’s this sense that a football club isn’t just about status and position – but cohesion, dedication, being run in the right manner and above all else, one that must possess a loving relationship with the fans. There’s also this sense that even more trouble is about to brew. We all knew this would happen. We all knew the upshot of McLeish in the hot seat would be Villa’s head bobbing slightly above water, being pulled down by such prosy, irksome football. Worse – in the form of relegation – may still come.

Melodramatic or not, the burglar Big ‘Eck is rooting around Villa’s drawers. He’s tearing up the kid’s bedrooms, hoofing his muddy boots on the carpet and sluggishly shifting as the glass in family portraits smash. In fact, with Randy Lerner appearing to ignore the consequences of his mistake, the burglar is putting his feet up on Aston Villa's prized coffee table.

Just how does that feel? We'd love to hear from you.

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