A Villa Way
Sitting opposite MOMS at a Fans Consultation Group meeting at the end of last year, Aston Villa Technical Director Steve Round discussed his new role at the club and detailed the various things he had learnt from the clubs he had previously worked in the backroom staff of. It’s a list of clubs that includes Middlesbrough, Everton, Manchester City, Newcastle and Manchester United.
When asked what specifically he took away from the last of those clubs, the insight he offers from his time at Old Trafford is very much the reason he is at Aston Villa football club.
After Sir Alex Ferguson left United, it understandably left a huge hole at Old Trafford. The club’s identity and recent legacy was completely pinned on one man.
During his time as David Moyes’ assistant manager at Old Trafford, Round learnt there should be a through-line of continuity at a club, so no matter what manager is in place, there could be a club ethos or way of doing things.
In terms of his new role, in short, Round’s job will be to create a “Villa engine”.
“VILLA HAS ALWAYS BEEN A HARD-WORKING, TOUGH, AGGRESSIVE, FORWARD-THINKING, FORWARD PASSING, DYNAMIC CLUB” – STEVE ROUND
“Villa engine” has been a buzz phrase that Keith Wyness mentioned at both a previous Fan Consultation meeting and a more recent one this year, and seems to be part of the team Villa’s vernacular behind the scenes.
Villa Park Hiccups
The best laid plans of Tony Xia and co, were always going to amount to nothing without promotion, so it’s understandable when Round told MOMS at the time that the construction of this ‘Villa engine’ and more specifically, a defined Villa style of play, was at the time on the backburner.
The practicality of points and promotion were very much the prime focus, but it didn’t exactly go to plan though this season.
While the Villa hierarchy remain disappointed with how this season has fizzled away, there is a silver lining for Steve Round and the objective of defining Villa’s identify. With the rest of Villa’s season offering up largely deadwood contests, it effectively presents an extended preseason for Villa to focus on evolving a Villa way of playing.
The starting point to Round’s task of pinpointing what that should be comes from his own experiences of taking youth teams to play Villa over the years.
“I used to bring youth teams in the late 80s/early 90s to Villa and they’d spank us every week!” Reflects Round. “It would be the hardest game of the season. The kids were talented and hungry, I think maybe we’ve gone away from that.”
Asked to describe his overall impressions of Villa from his previous experience of being in opposition, Round expands.
“Villa has always been a hard-working, tough, aggressive, forward-thinking, forward passing, dynamic club.”
“You get that ship called Aston Villa moving forwards and fast enough – you try and stop it!” – Steve Round
Work So Far
While performances this season have largely indicated little progress has been made in developing a distinct style, behind the scenes at least, serious thought has been put into it.
When speaking to Round at the end of last year, conversation about the style of Villa’s play focused on the midfield needing to play forward and also maybe hit the strikers earlier. Ashley Westwood and Aaron Tshibola were discussed in this context and there’s no surprise from MOMS that both are now not present at the club.
MOMS offered up former Villa captain Kevin Richardson, as being an example of the type of player that has been missing from Villa’s make-up in recent years, which Round acknowledged to be a very good example.
Round agreed that Richardson’s ability to get Villa moving forward has been in lacking in recent seasons, in fact players that pick up the ball off their back four and get things going, are a dying breed in football per se, according to the Villa technical director.
Round added that he recently watched former Villa midfielder Idrissa Gueye for Everton and noticed that he couldn’t do it either. Sideways or backwards seemed to be his passing direction instinct.
Completed pass stats are one thing, but passing with purpose is another.
Moving forward, this perhaps hints at the hope that both Henri Lansbury and Conor Houihane become able to incorporate a progressive mentality into their game. With a couple of month’s worth of games left, there’s plenty of real game opportunity to work on correcting the issues with the Villa midfield that have underpinned the loss of Villa’s identity as a football club.
Then for Bruce it will be a case of working out if he wants to still implement his cherished 4-4-2 for the Championship, when Scott Hogan returns from injury or continue with the 4-3-3 that has recently brought positive results again.
By the time summer comes and and preseason fires-up, hopefully it will be a case of fine tuning, adding the odd player and picking up from what hopefully will be a productive and progressive end to the season.
In cased you missed them before, click to the next page below to see the detailed and interesting minutes of what Aston Villa Technical Director said at the Villa Fan Consultation Group meeting.