New Aston Villa chairman Steve Hollis is currently facing his first big test as Aston Villa Chairman. A chorus of voices in the game have this week highlighted structural problems as the main reason for Aston Villa’s crisis.
It is worth remembering that Tom Fox & Steve Hollis had barely cleared their throats at the Aston Villa Trust AGM before they launched into a vague description of the club’s ‘long-term vision’. It was in retrospect a slippery tactic which tried to absolve Tom Fox of any blame for his short term failings and erroneous decision-making.
“As a new manager I would have expected new faces to support my change” – Remi Garde
Fox had explained following his appointment in 2014, “We should be a club which is perennially sixth, to ninth to 10th and certainly in the top half of the league, competing for domestic cups and competing for a place in Europe.”
It might have been in error for Tom Fox to make such a claim when considering that he also said at the time, “I have spent enough time in the business of sport and now within the world of football to understand it is a game which is driven by your ability to spend on your squad.” Fox had travelled to the US in January to supposedly lobby Lerner to release more funds for the manager but the end result was nevertheless zero signings.
Financial problems are not the only issue at the club. The balance of power between the Manager, Sporting Director and the Head of Recruitment also appears to be failing.
Joey Barton said this week, “Paddy Reilly is a guy who can give you advice and numbers, he shouldn’t be heading up your recruitment policy, he is not able to do that.”
Tom Fox needed to stand and fight for his manager in January and to ensure that Garde wasn’t thrown under the bus or undermined. He failed in this duty. Does Tom Fox expect fans to believe that no promises were made to Garde when he was appointed in respect of January transfer funds? Does he expect us to believe that Garde was informed he would have to soldier on with Libor Kozak and Rudy Gestede as his main striking options for the entirety of the season?
Garde said twice in his press conference on transfer deadline day, “As a new manager I would have expected new faces to support my change,” with the implication clear that he expected an allocation of funds to play with in January. What he actually received was a the promise of a couple of loan signings and a goal keeper selected by the club’s specialist goalkeeping scout.
The most frustrating part of the whole debacle is the possibility that Aston Villa have strained the relationship with Garde to such an extent that he steps aside in the summer. He is a smart young manager with a good reputation in the game.
New first team coach Eric Black said of Garde this week, “Remi is an absolute gentleman. He’s very articulate. He’s very studious. He’s very analytical. I have found him a first class individual. He’s been a winner – and he also wants to play football in the right manner.”
In short, he’s exactly the type of manager the club short be looking to build with, not alienate.
The One That Got Away
Garde’s public frustrations have so far been mild as he did not want to unsettle the current squad. One of Garde’s targets mentioned before Christmas was Tunisia winger Wahbi Khazri.
“He’s a player that I know well because before he left Bastia for Bordeaux I was interested in him with Lyon,” said Garde. “I have more important information about him because when you work with a player for a long time in training sessions (as assistant Reginald Ray did), you know the way he behaves and could settle into another country.”
Garde did his homework in respect of the Khazri’s nature, work ethic and ability to adapt. He didn’t just consider his statistics.
Villa’s league table position wasn’t too impressive to attract potential new players, but they were only back-to-back wins away from being back in with a chance of survival. A manager can identify endless good players, but it is ultimately up to the board to get the deal over the line. If Khazri had gone to a mid-table team or above, you could understand his choice for football reasons. But Sunderland?
“The team that is in last place in the league over there is better than the side that is second or third in Ligue 1 at the moment,” Khazri told a reporter, when comparing his potential choice of Villa or Bordeaux.
This quote was reported January 3rd, Sunderland’s interest came towards the backend of the window. Why didn’t the Villa board get that deal over the line early on?
Five to Zero
It is believed that Khazri was to fill one of Garde’s five positions he had identified to be tackled in the January window but as the time drew near the priorities for January shrunk by the Villa board/transfer committee to the priorities of a goalkeeper and an on loan striker. were changed by the transfer committee. In terms of the keeper position, Kalinic failed the work permit stage. Garde’s recommendation for five new players had been abandoned which led to bitter disappointment amongst fans, the manager and the squad.
There were games in January which could have resulted in a better outcome had the club placed more faith in the new manager and backed his decisions. Khazri has a goal and two assists in three appearances for Sunderland which has helped Sunderland gain an extra four points in the Premier League. Khazri has not just added creativity and guile in attacking areas he has also exhibited an intense work ethic which is something Remi Garde identified the team needed. Carles Gil is a talented player but isn’t the sort of player to win tackles and press with intensity around the pitch. Scott Sinclair likewise has never had a reputation for being a player with a robust work ethic.
A manager can identify endless good players, but it is ultimately up to the board to get the deal over the line.
Paul Lambert hypocritically implied this week that the players worked harder for him. “The lads (Aston Villa players) at the time gave us everything,” he said. Is he forgetting that he was the manager who bought Gil, Bacuna and Sinclair, not Garde?
Lambert had the relative luxury of building Aston Villa’s squad over three summers yet each season his team appeared to decline. The balance of power at the club has only got worse since Lambert left in January 2014 with Lambert hinting the same, “Some of the things that were going on were never right.”
Tim Sherwood’s relative inexperience in signing players was counter balanced by Reilly & Almstadt last summer with thirteen new players roughly split between Sherwood’s choices and Reilly’s choices. The failings of their collaboration have badly tied the hands of Remi Garde and he couldn’t properly correct the weaknesses of the squad without new faces. The current squad lacks pace, a reliable goal scorer, a reliable goalkeeper, leadership and work ethic. Reilly and Almstadt do not appear to be in a hurry to get out of the way of the new manager Remi Garde either.
Garde’s attempt to sign Mathieu Debuchy was filibustered over the loan fee in addition to reported significant interference from Hendrik Almstadt. Most loan deals are done by managers picking up the phone to each or meeting in person. Having a network of friends and acquaintances is important when finding out if a player is available without disrespecting or upsetting other clubs. Not everything can be decided by stats, figures or looking at a computer screen. If true, Almstadt’s clumsy interference in Remi Garde’s network of acquaintances, built throughout his career in football, demonstrates a lack of respect for the manager’s authority.
Lamine Sane was also expected to sign on loan from Bordeaux until the selling club wanted to make the move permanent instead. The interest ended there with the club unwilling to finance the relatively cheap move.
Although things appear to be bleak right now, Garde did appear to give the club a second chance on 9 February 2016 when he informed French radio station RMC, “I’m prepared to stay in this club if there are (financial) means to go up.”
Right now there appears to be no sign that the club have given Garde the assurances he requires and it would be thoroughly incompetent for the club to fail to support him again. Randy Lerner isn’t a bad man (just poor in football decision making) and I do think Lerner has enough honour and integrity to realise that he owes Garde a debt of gratitude in the summer for not jumping ship and continuing to work hard for the club without complaining publicly.
It is not Almstadt or Reilly who have to appear in press conferences and explain to the fans that there will be no signings. Reilly and Almstadt do not have to pick the players up off the floor or try to rebuild their confidence after heavy defeats. Reilly and Almstadt do not have to explain to the dressing room, “Sorry lads, there won’t be any new signings” when the squad is thread-bare and in need of rotation. They don’t have to ask players to play through the pain barrier due to lack of options on the bench. The manager has to do that. The manager has to take responsibility for a squad of players he didn’t sign. Not them. It’s easy for Reilly and Almstadt to sit in the Director’s Box surrounded by minders and look on with indifference. They take little or no responsibility but they will likely keep their jobs whilst Garde and Sherwood take the blame.
Lambert knows that people like Reilly and Almstadt have assumed power beyond their capabilities at the club. Joey Barton knows too. Joleon Lescott seemed to imply the same. They add to a long list of other voices who have identified the same issue. This is a problem that is screaming out to be fixed. So why isn’t Tom Fox fixing it? Is his relationship with Reilly and Almstadt too close for him to make the correct decision and reduce their power? Is it because they were his idea?
In these circumstances surely Steve Hollis, the Chairman of the club, should step in and make a few popular decisions before the summer. Or must we lose another manager through the interference of those who know less about football than him?
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