Aston CEO Keith Wyness used the international break last week to remind supporters of the new vision for the club, “The Villa Engine”.
While the term was first mentioned a year ago, it seemed to manifest a new name in the media over time as ‘The Villa Way’, the remit of which fell under Villa’s Director of Football/Technical Director, Steve Round.
Villa fans had been waiting patiently for over a season now to learn more about what the ‘Villa Way’ would be.
However, it appears that ‘the Villa Way’ has morphed backed to its equally vague original billing. As yet, there has been no public mission statement to show what it would look like in reality.
The idea was that the Villa Engine would be gradually introduced, with the club currently pursuing a short-term aim of promotion.
In terms of a style of play, the roots would grow from the academy sides upwards.
This in theory would mean the first team squad would reap the benefits some way down the line, although when the overall ethos will be meshed with the first team, remains unknown.
A Way of Life
Wyness explained that he is excited about the Villa Engine which, he says,
“It’s not just about a style of football. It’s a whole philosophy about playing for Villa.”
Wyness further explains that this includes the personality of players recruited by the club.
There certainly seems to be a preference for experienced leaders / captains in relation to Aston Villa’s recruitment in the past twelve months.
Wyness has helped recruit 22 players for the club (a totally new squad) including previous captains John Terry, Tommy Elphick, Mile Jedinak, Ross McCormack and James Chester etc.
Surely, however, as part of the Villa Engine it may have been a good idea to begin by identifying the players who were already at the club who did not fit into this ideal personality type.
There is no evidence to show that these players have ever been acknowledged or identified as undesirable by Wyness or Steve Round. Nor did Villa’s ambassadors speak out in relation to the bad behaviour of some players during the club’s relegation season.
This very obvious omission continues to make the club seem weak and ready to cave into the sentimentality of some sections of the fan base.
Certainly under Steve Bruce, these problem players have been afforded second, third and fourth chances to prove themselves and earn new contracts. In addition, various well paid, non-playing senior players have been supported by Bruce for being ‘good around the place’.
It’s hard to imagine a manager such as Mauricio Pochettino tolerating highly paid hangers on in the same way. Tottenham’s 45-year-old manager was ruthless in terms of moving on some popular club players like Andros Townsend and Aaron Lennon.
Furthermore, he sent previous Tim Sherwood target and problem player, Emmanuel Adebayor, to train with the u21’s before moving him on also.
Tony Coton, a goalkeeper scout who was brought to the club by Tim Sherwood, last week praised the club’s decision to make a ‘bold’ appointment last October by hiring Steve Bruce. Coton explained that he was pleased to be involved more under Bruce as he had been frozen out by Remi Garde and Roberto Di Matteo.
It’s perhaps not surprising that Garde froze out Coton since Coton personally scouted potential goalkeeper recruit, Lovre Kalinic, and recommended him to Paddy Reilly. Due diligence of the player seemingly wasn’t given anxious scrutiny since Kalinic subsequently then failed to be granted a work permit application.
This left Garde with Brad Guzan for the rest of the season. Coton only had one job that winter and failed to get the player over the line, so it’s no wonder that this failure resulted in a lack of trust.
Old School Roots
Keith Wyness also spoke at some length last week about Round and stated that he was, “One of the great brains of the game at the moment.”
Steve Round has of course worked with Steve McLaren at Middlesbrough and England, Sam Allardyce at Newcastle, David Moyes at Everton and Manchester United and now with Steve Bruce at Aston Villa.
You would struggle to argue that any of those previous jobs reflect well on Round’s ability as a coach or assistant manager however in terms of just results.
Round himself admitted that he and David Moyes didn’t get the number of wins required at Manchester United.
There is no doubt that Round learned some helpful techniques on his sports science course at Loughborough University, whilst helping introduce data analysis and pro zone when at Derby County, and furthering that knowledge with Big Sam, a known early adopter of such science in football.
In terms of implementing a modern football style though, the managers Round has worked for don’t especially have a reputation for attractive football or innovative tactics.
Round also gained a sporting directors masters degree at Manchester Metropolitan University and in the interviews he has given on the subject, he explained that his studies involved systems implemented in private companies such as Lockheed Martin as well as other sports like rugby, American Football and cricket in addition to football.
In relation to the Villa Engine and implementing a new culture, it is not clear how easy this would be to achieve unless the academy coaches and first team coaches embrace the kind of studious fanaticism which the new generation of successful coaches appear to share.
Steve Bruce infamously once claimed when Sunderland manager that he ‘didn’t do’ tactics.
England rugby coach, Eddie Jones, explained this week at Soccer Ex that he had attended Guardiola’s training sessions at Bayern and observed that they were way above the level of any other training session he had seen before from a football coach. Jones was especially impressed by Pep’s ideas on positional play and controlling spaces.
Current Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane also spent a week at Bayern with Guardiola as a student along with other coaches and was influenced by him. Analytics and sports science can help a club but results and game management is ultimately the responsibility of the first team manager.
It is difficult to perceive a new innovative project resulting from the Villa Engine when the club employs so many people with links to David Moyes, Big Sam and Steve Bruce in decision-making positions (not to mention the smattering of ex-Birmingham City employees in the scouting and coaching departments).
Villa’s current Head of European recruitment, Ian Atkins, is of course an ex-Blue nose. More interesting, however, is the fact that he previously worked as a scout at Sunderland and advised Steve Bruce to sign Ivan Rakitic for £380k.
Bruce ignored the advice and the player now plays for Barcelona and has a Champions League medal. Since Atkins worked with Steve Bruce at Aston Villa, the current manager has only signed one first team player from the European market, Birkir Bjarnason.
The embattled Villa manager took to the airwaves on Talksport last week to defend his record at the club (sitting 18th currently and 13th last season).
Bruce was irked by recent criticism and seemingly wanted to respond to perceived ‘vultures’ circling the club.
Bruce was asked a serious of soft ball questions by his good friend, Big Sam, which were just about as intimidating as an over of juicy full tosses bowled at Joe Root.
Bruce reiterated that he hadn’t spent millions (23 million actually), that FFP was a hindrance and that fan expectations were high. Bruce had earlier claimed, after defeat at Reading, that two transfer windows was not enough time to judge him.
During the international break Wyness also praised Steve Bruce and his ‘black book of contacts’. Wyness had previously advised that this summer would be relatively quiet and made an impassioned appeal to fans for ‘stability’.
Wyness had claimed in March that ‘stability’ was the key word for this season, but he has actually done as much business this summer as January (7 signings), and had he signed two more players who Bruce wanted, the club would have done as much business as Roberto Di Matteo last summer (9 signings).
It appears that the only ‘stability’ Wyness really wanted was to retain Steve Bruce as manager (whom, he proclaimed last season, he’d keep even if Villa were relegated), rather than a genuine desire to have continuity in the playing squad.
It is unclear what Villa’s Director of Football, Steve Round, thinks regarding the high turnover of players, nor whether anyone is actually urging Bruce to exercise a little more restraint having signed 14 players in 10 months.
In terms of Steve Bruce’s black book of contacts itself, Bruce was able to bring to the club this window:
- Two players who holidayed with Alex Bruce this summer, Glenn Whelan and John Terry.
- Two of his former players at Hull, Elmohamady and Snodgrass.
- A player Big Sam recommended to him, Chris Samba (who Harry Redknapp also wanted).
- Jose Mourinho’s fourth choice goalkeeper, Sam Johnstone, and,
- A genuine coup – Josh Onomah from Spurs.
First of all, while it’s a decent transfer window in isolation, none of the players relate to any kind of long-term Villa planning.
Bruce’s black book also did not extend to any players outside the United Kingdom, which demonstrates that he was reluctant to look as far and as wide as clubs like Leeds or Fulham do.
In conclusion, whilst Keith Wyness accepts that he is pursuing a short-term policy to win promotion, the jury is still out in respect of Steve Round and whether he can practically provide some ‘new’ impactful ideas as Director of Football in the current environment.
It may help if he communicated with the fan base more in relation to what his ideas consist of, as Paddy Reilly was also criticised for making decisions and exerting influence in the shadows.
Round has already expressed understandable frustration of having one manager change already forced upon him in his bid to build the Villa Engine, yet he chose a replacement that seems at odds with creating any new long-term Villa vision.
For the Villa engine to work in the medium term future, Round would really need to employ an innovative first team manager he could then work in tandem with to sow the seeds proper for its implementation.
A manager who could eventually compete with the many impressive coaches who currently ply their trade in the Premier League.
Follow Shelley on Twitter at @ShelleyOzzy