‘[Villa] finished very strongly and laid siege to the Newcastle goal in the final minutes. Nobody was talking about a lack of fitness then.’
Lets mention one fact before we continue any further… Aston Villa first team players are paid five figures A WEEK as professional sportsmen and peak fitness for their sport is key to their job.
In terms of Villa player’s fitness, as well as the health and fitness infrastructure of Bodymoor Heath, judging by their Instagram pictures and videos, most players also enlist specialist personal trainers too. For starters, the likes of Jack Grealish and Gary Gardner have the same fitness coach as heavyweight boxing champ Anthony Joshua.
After the Wolves game, the media ran with such headlines as ‘Aston Villa’s new manager questions his players’ fitness’ with Steve Bruce questioning his players match stamina, after Wolves seemingly took control of the later stages of the game.
“I think that’s an easy one and I wouldn’t like to say that against any other manager, but it’s fair to say that some can be in better condition and I think that’s only right,” said the new Villa boss.
As we’ll see later, such sentiments are something of a habit for new Villa managers.
Of Villa’s starting 11 against Wolves, yes, Mile Jedinak, for example, look far from being 100% fit. The Villa midfielder again last week had been around the world on international duty for Australia and not helped by the fact he’s 32. The ex-Palace player currently seems to be in a permanent state of jet lag when he plays for Villa, which when you consider his international duty requirements puts a question mark on him being a sensible buy.
The fitness issue could also perhaps be applied to Micah Richards simply from the point of view of him not having many first-team matches under his belt this season. Although Richards is naturally athletic and actually looked ok before he left the match injured.
But is it really relevant to the rest of the players?
The Wolves game showed little of the intensity shown by Villa players in the home against Huddersfield, for example. In that earlier game, Villa were impressive in their pressing and work rate. After a committed first 70 minutes or so, they understandably lost a little intensity and Huddersfield also adapted and made changes to impose themselves more on the game.
Against Newcastle, the Villa team were largely clueless in the first 70 minutes or so, but finished very strongly and laid siege to the Newcastle goal in the final minutes. Nobody was talking about a lack of fitness then.
Against Wolves, the team seemed lacklustre and clueless from the time they came out for the second half. This was not necessarily a fitness issue. This was both an application issue by the players and tactical deficiencies.
Of course, the manager is obviously new to his team with only two full days training with the squad under his belt. Yet, it is far too simplistic to solely focus on this. What about the players? Most of the players of this Villa team have played together for 12 league games now, yet they looked like strangers at time in the last few games.
This fitness excuse is dubious, something that some fans then go on to repeat in parrot-like fashion, without looking at the bigger picture.
In recent years, this ‘fitness excuse’ has alarmingly been used frequently by previous Villa managers. It’s a kind of neutral excuse that allows the manager to not directly blame the players (and thus not upset morale), but subtly lay the blame at the feet of the previous regime for the current state of the team.
Houllier Fitness Excuse
For example, the first thing Gerard Houllier did when he came in was raise the fitness issue, despite the previous Martin O’Neill team being one of the best in the Premier League at picking up points from losing positions, which suggested they had good stamina and were up for the fight.
October 23rd 2010 in the Daily Mirror
Houllier’s double training sessions caused players like Richard Dunne, James Collins and Gabby Agbonlahor to rebel and effected player morale.
McLeish Fitness Excuse
Ironically, despite this new intensive fitness regime, Alex McCleish who followed the French man in the Villa hot seat, seemed unimpressed by the fitness of squad he inherited, publicly challenging players to shape up in pre-season.
It didn’t end there.
Garde Fitness Excuse
If you want more evidence of this trend, in came Remi Garde pointing the finger at the fitness of the squad he inherited from Tim Sherwood.
Surely the penny would drop, if player fitness was a real issue at Bodymoor Heath?
This trend would suggest new incoming managers are simply buying themselves some time, because surely Aston Villa players can’t be perpetually unfit!
It’s time for players to take responsibility for the effort and desire shown in games and managers for their tactics and motivation.
If the players truly are not fit enough, it’s becoming so laughable that supporters should be entitled to their money back, because we pay top dollar to see professional players at the top of their game and fitness.
Come on. Bar injuries, all players should have appropriate fitness and stamina levels to last 90 minutes. Why is it in an age of increased sporting science and technology, the populist excuse of players not being fit is used more and more?
A squad of just 14 Villa players, who had none of this technology and support, who enjoyed a beer after games and weren’t paid silly money to stay at peak fitness, managed to win the league in 1981 without much fuss.
It’s time for managers and players to cut the cr*p, man-up and take responsibility for what is happening on the pitch.