‘Villa fans can prepare themselves for a turbulent summer as Bodymoor Heath looks set for another summer transfer window of bloodletting.’
Last summer, hidden amongst the managers market updates, ‘ITK’ boasts and twitter rows between Aston Villa and Norwich fans you may have missed a simple, if fitting, description of the incoming Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert. Football correspondent for the Telegraph, Henry Winter, described Lambert in the following manner,
“Paul Lambert is tactically smart & a mixture of charming & scary. He can inspire people & instill discipline. He’s just what #AVFC need.”
By now, most Villa fans will have a pretty good idea what the Paul Lambert’s ‘project‘ is, but in terms of the man himself, Lambert is still something of a mystery. Witness for example his press conferences where familiar and positive sound bites are regularly heard such as the prophetic, “.…we’ll be fine”. Lambert’s sound bites are delivered in a respectful way, like a politician politely asking you for your vote in the general election.
Lambert has furthermore given the impression of a man totally in control of his emotions, calm, reasonable and almost at times coolly detached. On only one occasion has the mask of Lambert’s detachment slipped as he ignored a question from local reporter, Mat Kendrick, in a January press conference following a succession of poor results over the Christmas period. At all other times, the serenity of Lambert’s character has been seen in his obviously deliberate attempt to maintain a relaxed public image in order to calm the emotions of his young inexperienced players.
In terms of Lambert’s relationship with his players, Villa fans will have also seen evidence of Mr. Charming and also Mr. Scary. Lambert has notably been effusive in his praise of his young players who have performed well such as Ashley Westwood and rather like Martin O’Neill, who once described Ashley Young as a ‘genius‘, Lambert is quick to pile excessive praise onto a player when the moment presents itself. Following the victory against Sunderland, Lambert said of Benteke,
“He’s been absolutely world class, for somebody who has just come to this country, he’s been absolutely brilliant. A great compliment for him is that I’ve always said he is a real, humble guy and if he keeps that, and keeps his feet on the ground, and keeps working hard, he can be anything.”
In terms of players who do not fit into his plans (aka the ‘Bomb Squad‘), however, Lambert has shown a different side to the player hugging, back slapping man motivator who prowls the touch line on Saturday afternoons. Brett Holman recently said on international duty, “There wasn’t much verbal contact with the manager. Whether he had that with other players, I don’t know, but there wasn’t an explanation why it went the way it went.”
It seems that Paul Lambert’s tactic for moving players on is simply to freeze them out.
In terms of squad building and espirito de corps, it remains to be seen whether Lambert’s tactic unites or divides the squad as players may feel that a team mate has been unjustly treated. It could be observed that players such as Stephen Warnock, Alan Hutton, Darren Bent, Barry Bannan and Holman have felt the Berlin Wall of Lambert’s back turned on them at various stages this season and they have been left either training with the academy, sitting on the bench or seeking loan moves away from the club.
Many of these players, it is true, would leave Villa Park this summer without much regret from fans, but the manner in which they are being hastily moved on is something which demonstrates the ruthlessness of Paul Lambert. The remaining players of Martin O’Neill’s ‘Five-year plan‘ have been bustled off stage this summer with Richard Dunne, perhaps a little sourly, observing that the manager was focusing only on the younger players last season.
In addition, the players Alex McLeish brought to the club now look the most vulnerable. McLeish signed experienced players on long contracts and big wages which do not fit with Lambert’s plans it seems and the three signings of Holman, Given and N’Zogbia will be thinking seriously about their next move in light of Dunne’s comments. Players thinking more about their retirement and long contracts rather than their ambition to succeed and win football matches are surely targeted for moves away from Villa Park.
From the previous O’Neill and McLeish regimes, perhaps only Fabian Delph is safe, and may find himself to be the last man standing in next season’s squad.
Freezing players out is not uncommon, even in the very top clubs in football. You may recall that Zlatan Ibrahimovic once said of his relationship with Pep Guardiola at Barcelona, ‘I told him what a friend had said to me – “you bought a Ferrari but drive it like a Fiat”. The chat seemed to go well but then Guardiola started to freeze me out.”
Ruthlessness and ruling with an iron fist can also have an opposite effect on the espitito de corps however. When Jose Mourinho first arrived at Chelsea he gave Hernan Crespo the dressing down of a life time as the player ignored a training ground rule of not bringing pets to work. Crespo’s poodle ensured that he was swiftly dispatched on loan to Italy by Mourinho.
This act of ruthlessness had a galvanizing effect on the Chelsea squad and one player said off record, “It was f***ing brilliant! He’d been taking the pi*s for a year…ever since he got here”
Villa fans can prepare themselves for a turbulent summer as Bodymoor Heath looks set for another summer transfer window of bloodletting. Paul Lambert with have a list of players with black crosses against their name who he is looking to sell and many fans can probably guess who those names are.
It might be painful, but Lambert will no doubt argue that it is necessary and vital to ensure that he acquires a squad of young, hard working and humble players in order to develop his project.
With five players gone already due to expired contracts, how many more players do you think will leave? Leave your comments below. UTV
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