With the ‘Pied Piper of Relegation’ Robbie Savage starting to lose his grip on some originally pessimistic Villa supporters, after the team broke it’s embarrassing club record of 13 games without a win, it’s time to take a rational look at Paul Lambert’s rebuilding job.
In my generation of supporting Aston Villa, there has been another rebuilding job that perhaps mirrors what Paul Lambert is doing. Graham Taylor (Part 1) in 1987. Taylor had done wonders at Watford and Villa had suffered what McLeish was close to achieving last season, relegation…a mere five years after being the Champions of Europe.
Taylor, stripped a team then rebuilt it with the likes of lower league players such as Stuart Gray (Barnsley), Andy Gray (Crystal Palace), David Platt from Crewe, the odd inspired signing like Alan ‘Rambo’ McNally from Celtic (ala Christian Benteke), while also trusting in youngsters like Ian Olney and Kevin Gage (brought in from Wimbledon).
What happens is it builds a hungry team, eager to impress, their career in front of them. As success comes and it’s time to kick-on, astute purchases like Kent Nielson and a wildcard purchase of Paul McGrath, can then come along and thrive in a more positive team environment.
It took a season for Taylor to bed it down once they were promoted, but witness the season that followed, after a few more pieces of the jigsaw had been added. A fresh and dynamic Villa team ripped apart teams (remember the 6-2 vs Everton?), as they finished second in the league. It was only when Taylor made the mistake of buying Tony Cascarino (one win in nine games, after he signed), that saw them fizzle out (ala Villa’s Top Four pursuit when Heskey came to town).
Who knows what Taylor’s team could have achieved, if he hadn’t left Villa for the England job? He certainly wouldn’t have turned into a turnip. With a manager who’s considered ‘bright and young’, there’s always the prospect that Lambert may be taken from us in his prime too, as for example, as the replacement to Sir Alex at Manchester United. If Villa have to cross that bridge, at least it would be mean Lambert would have brought success to the Villa, but it would be nice for Villa to have Lambert enough to build some kind of legacy of success.
The last proper rebuilding job of Aston Villa was done by Martin O’Neil. MON and the new Villa chairman’s goal was Top Four and European Champions League Qualification asap. It meant a transfer strategy that of Premiership experienced largely English players, and paying whatever it cost to get them – Stephen Warnock being a choice example. In many ways it mirrors the kind of strategy adopted by those who play Football Manager Games. In this virtual world, where spending money means Villa will suddenly starting winning the league, cups and dominate in Europe, doesn’t translate in the real world. As we saw, MON hit his ceiling of sixth and the money was exhausted.
Lambert and MON comparisons are frequently lazy, although they do share common football links.
In the real world, Villa have a lot more competition to buy players at their peak, than in the virtual world. Wages, European Football, preference to live in London are just a few factors that the club has to come up against. Clint Dempsey is a prime example, Dempsey wanted to go to Liverpool, who couldn’t afford him/didn’t want him. Villa could, yet he ended up at Spurs. Andy Carroll, who was also London-bound in the end, maybe a similar case.
In short, Villa struggle to really get the players at their peak, that they want. What Lambert has identified is it’s futile to just settle for the next best players in line, as you’ll always have a team that is lesser than the teams who can cherry pick the best players. Plus, if those next-in-line players that you still pay decent wages to, don’t have the drive or form, suddenly they’re rotting away on the reserve training ground like Warnock and Hutton, or like Beye was.
Unfortunately, football media culture now with Sky Sports, Talk Sport and this Transfer window circus is all about the here and now, and provokes a culture that is away from sane proper grassroots football knowledge and strategy. There seems to be no time anymore to develop players ala David Platt and Dwlight Yorke. Yet, there is hope. Martin O’Neil’s best signing? A young player from Watford called Ashley Young, proves a big point.
Before Taylor took over as Villa manager for the first time, Villa were rather good at the start of the 1980’s, but had since gone through several seasons of a limbo malaise, that relegation seemed to put us out of our misery of. Quickly, Taylor built a team that rejuvenated Villa fan’s support. Players reputations were being build on performances for the Villa team, rather than hype or previous glories.
Luckily, Villa didn’t need relegation this time to get the circulation running again, simply the removal of McLeish has given the team and fans the spark it needed. Paul Lambert is taking what seems now like a pre-Sky Sports approach to the Villa management position, and I for one am excited. The great managers: Clough, Saunders, Shankly, Ferguson, all have one thing in common…they are very much their own men.
From what we’ve seen from Paul Lambert only after a few weeks in charge would suggest, that’s a list of names he’s got his eyes on.
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