By Matthew Talbot
Aston Villa were deservedly beaten by Fulham FC in the Championship Playoff Final at Wembley Stadium, there’s no doubt about that. The negativity of the first-half performance was shocking and all the players, bar Grealish, ultimately did not deserve the support the Villa fans gave to them during the game. However, the players were not helped by Steve Bruce’s poor tactics.
The team was set up in the exact same way and with the same mentality as it was in the Middlesbrough game, a team that pose completely polar threats to Fulham. This tactical conservatism has been the root of Villa’s downfall of missing out on automatic promotion, with individual brilliance rescuing the team at times. It’s sadly the reason Steve Bruce has to leave.
Next season, the mentality of the club will have to change. With Financial Fair Play, Villa will no longer be able to do what they have done for the previous two seasons by going out and paying big wages to experienced players or cherry picking the best players of other Championship teams, because we will simply lack the funds to do so.
Villa Engine on Hold
Villa will need to rebuild on different foundations. Bruce’s strength is at hustling and grinding with established players to promotion (but struggling from such short-termism once in the Premier League), rebuilding with a long-term mentality and trusting in youth to play their way to promotion is not what he does.
The truth of the matter is, the building of the much mooted ‘Villa Engine’, that will provide the club with a style of play and core club identity, cannot begin while Bruce is the manager.
The man who could be perhaps perfect for the job is Brentford’s Dean Smith.
At the Bees, Smith has built a strong, young team who play good football on a limited budget, as Villa have found out over the past two seasons (we haven’t beaten them in four games). Smith, who is also a Villa fan, seems to be able to get the best out of talented youngsters, who have yet to perform at the senior level. For example, a player such as Josh McEachran, who struggled to breakthrough at Chelsea, has established himself as an important player for Brentford.
This kind of guidance could be key for players such as Rushian Hepburn-Murphy and Callum O’Hare, to start performing at senior level as they have done for the U23’s.
Unfortunately for Smith, Brentford have very much been a selling club, with his best players constantly sold off, but he has a knack of finding replacements. There’s no better example than when Villa took away his best striker Scott Hogan, the first thing he did was beat Villa 3-0.
Looking to the future, it’s not all doom and gloom. Obviously, losing players such as Terry and Snodgrass will be a huge blow, and players such as Grealish and Chester will receive attention from Premier League clubs. If those two also go, then Villa will potentially be missing seven out of the first XI that started in the play-off final at Wembley.
But if Villa are clever with their business and appoint a manager such as Dean Smith, there is no reason why we can’t be challenging for promotion again soon.
As fans, we have to be realistic, Villa will not challenge next season unless there is a change in mentality. Next season has to be about building long-term foundations and developing a style of play and having a little more faith in our talented young players, plus, ensuring the club stays financially stable. If we can do this, we will be back where we belong in no time at all and with the foundations of a team to challenge in the Premier League.
This is the perfect opportunity for Villa to become a club that once again is built on young, home-grown talent. Promotion can be achieved via this approach, just look at Southampton, a club now renowned for their academy and bringing through younger players.
As a fan, I’m quietly excited for what can happen. Obviously, I fear that the worst could happen and we become another Leeds United, but at the end of the day, we are Aston Villa – do you want to bet against us?
Follow Matt on Twitter here: @mattalbot13
These supporter opinion pieces are not necessarily the views of My Old Man Said