The Reality of ‘Gerrard Out’
While the ‘Gerrard Out’ ranks visibly grow online and Villa away fans were chanting it at the City Ground, after the disappointing 1-1 draw against Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa CEO, Christian Purslow, this week admitted the thought of replacing Gerrard hadn’t even crossed his mind.
Earlier this week, during the latest Villa Fan Consultation Group meeting on the new Aston Villa club crest, Villa’s CEO unexpectedly joined the group at Villa Park, to discuss the badge and sound us out on some matters related to it. One of them was the timing of a supporter poll to decide out of the final two designs.
The reason that the question was posed, was obviously due to growing supporter concern over results (just four wins in the last 20 league games) and resentment to Steven Gerrard’s brand of dire and uninspiring football. Despite Gerrard currently being on his longest unbeaten run since being at the club, of four games, a failure to beat either 10-man Leeds or a Forest team that had lost their previous five matches, have left Villa just three points above the relegation zone.
MOMS had ventured to Purslow, that since Villa supporters would be giving their input into what essentially will become a piece of the club’s history, the new badge vote should ideally be done with sober heads and not clouded by apathy, disillusionment and ‘Gerrard Out’ fever.
However, the deadline to have any new badge on next season’s kit is at the end of this month, and the rest of the group concluded that recent social media outrage to the club’s communications didn’t ultimately matter and suggested to do the vote ahead of the forthcoming Chelsea game.
It was during this conversation, that MOMS informed Purslow, that supporters were increasingly name-checking him in their online grievances, as the Villa CEO was very much seen as symbiotic to Gerrard, due to their previous Liverpool link. He said, that this was the first he’s heard of such sentiment.
When asked about the proverbial elephant in the room, Purslow declared that he hadn’t reconsidered Gerrard’s position. Of course, people would argue, that’s exactly what you would expect him to say publicly. It could be construed very much in the same way as the dreaded ‘vote of confidence’; you want to show public support to try and take the pressure off your manager, to help him improve results, while you sharpen the axe in the background.
In Purslow’s case though, his words seemed genuine enough and this is why…
Cool Patient Head or Tone Deaf?
Away from football, the last couple of weeks have been difficult for Purslow, on a personal and family level, due to the passing of his father. During this time, after Villa’s decent performance against Manchester City and a win against Southampton, he would have probably have taken some comfort from the results, that would have at least reinforced his faith in his current Villa manager. At a recent Q & A with the Villa Trust, he had labelled the results a turning point.
In terms of the two more recent games, Purslow spent some time at this week’s FCG meeting begrudging several events at the Nottingham Forest and Leeds United games, suggesting Villa had been unlucky. There was some interesting insights, but ultimately, it was all if’s and but’s. You and I know, that Villa, with the players at their disposal, in the context of how those two games played out, should have taken care of business.
Any decision to get rid of Gerrard, will never be taken lightly. Naturally, it would cost millions of pounds in severance pay, but perhaps more important is the gravitas that Gerrard’s iconic standing in the game brings the club in attracting players. There’s no way Philippe Coutinho, Boubacar Kamara, Diego Carlos and Lucas Digne would have arrived at Villa Park without Gerrard. His appointment also provided fresh impetus to the likes of Emi Martinez, after Smith’s reign had fizzled out, in terms of Villa convincing players they still had an upward curve of ambition.
If Gerrard came good as a coach, in terms of the owners’ ambition to break the top six and Newcastle United’s growing threat, the box office pulling power of the Villa boss could be vital. Also, if Gerrard left now, there’s a potential house of cards situation with the players that signed under his influence.
These are the bigger picture consequences and why it was never going to be a flippant decision on a big name younger manager, who is still learning on the job.
Many of Gerrard’s distractors though, would argue there’s been a sufficient sample size of evidence to suggest that the current faltering downside far outweighs any hypothetical future upside.
Thanks for the context MOMS, but when would Purslow actually pull the plug?
Judging from our conversation with the Villa CEO, it mirrors what we’ve said on the My Old Man Said podcast throughout this season, in terms of October being the key month and Gerrard being judged by the same standards that Dean Smith was.
Villa have budgeted for an eighth finish in the last couple of seasons. Purslow previously stated to the FCG last season, that they moved on from Smith, because the opinion was he wasn’t going to get Villa to eighth that season, nor the following season.
Throw in the Villa CEO stating recently in the last Villa Trust meeting, that Villa had the seventh most expensive squad, and it’s clear to see that an eighth place finish would be seen as the acceptable next stage of “continual improvement”.
Going back to Purslow’s narrative of Villa being ‘unlucky’ in the last couple of games. In his eyes, potentially some better fortune would have equated to four more points in the bag and Villa would currently be eighth on 13 points. So, it’s unrealistic he was going to sack Gerrard over what he considers bad luck.
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So, what’s the picture ahead?
The mitigating circumstances of Villa’s injuries do carry weight in how the decision process ultimately unfolds. Now, Gerrard has been geniunely unlucky with those. As Purslow explained, on top of missing key players, there’s a damaging knock-on effect to the morale of the team.
The loss of Diego Carlos was cited as pivotal. Purslow was undoubtedly impressed with what he’s seen by Carlos on and off the pitch. Adding, he’d have been Villa captain, if he spoke frequent English.
Losing such a potential anchor for the team, followed swiftly by two of Gerrard’s other key signings, Kamara and Digne, swiftly left the Villa boss without three of his first XI – that’s £75m worth of players gone (Purslow ball-parked Kamara as a £25m player).
Now consider what essentially frames any decision on Gerrard, the season being split into two halves, due to the World Cup in Qatar.
First off, it’s a factor that plays positively into Villa’s hands, in terms of both Kamara and Carlos, as they’ll miss a lot less games in the duration of this season. Both are making very good progress, with Kamara expected back straight after the World Cup, with Carlos mooted for a January return.
Probably something of a saving grace for Gerrard in his current position, has been the stuttering form of the majority of the other Premier League teams. Currently, Villa are still only three points off eighth spot in the league. Being four games unbeaten, probably also helps with the optics in Purslow’s mind, as Villa’s short-term goal, according to him, is to stay in the mix come the time the World Cup kicks-off.
Remaining in spitting distance of the top half of the table, would then allow the cavalry of Kamara and Carlos (plus, any other January signings) to then help Villa challenge in the second-half of the season to consolidate a top-half finish.
It was expressed to us that players such as Philippe Coutinho and John McGinn, were currently under-performing perhaps due to the pressure of the current situation (I thought pressure was a given as a Premier League player?). So, there is a hope that those two regaining a semblance of form, would further help Gerrard’s cause greatly.
Admittedly, it would be unfair on Gerrard, not to mention that he hasn’t exactly been helped by the individual performances of many of this team, so far this season.
If the name of the game is to stay as close as possible to the upper echelons of mid-table, let’s look at the upcoming fixtures and the chances of doing that:
Chelsea (H), Fulham (A), Brentford (H), Newcastle (A)
Would a minimum of two wins and a draw, from the above four fixtures, be enough to keep Gerrard safe before Villa even entertained Manchester United and then travelled to Brighton? Probably.
Based on Villa’s recent performances, it’ll be tough. An unlikely statement home win against Chelsea would certainly swing the odds in his favour. Ultimately though, while the tightening up of the defensive side of Villa’s game gives Gerrard a chance, his destiny depends on Villa’s front men finding their clinical edge.
Of course, both Purslow and Gerrard don’t wake up in the morning planning to fail. A lot was made of Gerrard being ‘a serial winner’ when he joined the club. The only way he stays at Villa is living up to his reputation in the forthcoming weeks. Then, he’ll be afforded a six-week opportunity to prepare to reset his managerial reputation at Villa.
If he doesn’t, then Villa will be using that six-week period of the World Cup for something else.