Villa fans will remember the good things from 2015 – another season of survival and a cup final topping the list. But what did we learn as we find the team entering 2016 in the worst shape we’ve seen since the late 1980s?
‘The squad needs winners – and how many winners would join a team that has become synonymous with losing for so long?’
It doesn’t seem to matter who the manager is – the team isn’t good enough. If Lambert had been more flexible and tweaked what he had rather than make absurd changes from time to time or, even worse, no changes at all and simply “going again” saying how “excellent” the players were, he might have done a better job.
But “better” is relative – a 15th place finish would have been possible if he hadn’t wasted games drastically changing the playing style from direct to dull, going-nowhere possession, dropping Benteke for no good reason other than he hadn’t tried it before or putting on N’Zogbia and encouraging him to do it all before realizing he couldn’t, never has and never will again in a Villa shirt.
Sherwood’s arrival was a shot in the arm to the team and they (maybe not all of them – Westwood suffered upon his arrival and, perhaps because he didn’t sign him, but he never liked Veretout by all accounts) responded by putting in some good performances. But when the magic wore off, the majority of the player were just the support cast to the spine of the team and when Delph and Benteke left and were never adequately replaced, his charm could only take the team so far (i.e. 10 games without a win), laying the foundations for yet another relegation battle after so much promise that a corner had been turned.
The jury is still out on Garde. Performances haven’t improved much. They are typically 45 minutes at best of promise preceded by 45 minutes of the team playing like they just met each other that morning. Goals are hard to come by, but that’s been the problem for ages. Without Benteke the team would have been down years ago. And results are about the same as Sherwood managed at the start of the season.
Maybe a man-motivator could get more out of the players and maybe a tactically astute tinkerman could fine tune the team to get the best out of what’s there. And Garde may turn out to be both. But when players signed for the price of a bag of chips and being paid relative peanuts are still getting regular playing time in a division where the only yardstick for success is money spent (Chelsea had a good run but have got casual – they’ll be fine) the players aren’t up to the standard required. And that’s the main reason the team is dead last in the division.
HELP IS AT HAND
There are people willing to help Villa’s cause but perhaps the men in charge don’t want to be undermined. The fans want to big up the atmosphere at games, but are foiled in their efforts. Former pros like John Carew and most vocally and recently Stan Collymore have said they will do whatever they can for the team they love for free, and are still waiting for the phone to ring (unless it’s to tell them their negativity isn’t welcome and thanks for doing what they were doing for free already, but they have to stop – right, Stan?)
Is the disconnect between the owners and board and the fans that large? Is it a power-struggle with the men in charge worried if they let the rabble have their say they will be seen as “giving in” to the majority?
Or is it just easier and safer to ignore the fans, saying very little except following the corporate line, and letting business run its course? Because what would the fans and former pros watching the “product” they are putting on the pitch every week fall flat know about making it better?
THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT
Once upon a time, if a senior player was out injured his replacement would be called up from the reserves consisting of a group of fringe players and prospects and take their place. This system led to the emergence of players like Liam Ridgewell, Craig Gardner, Darius Vassell, Steve Davis, Gary Cahill, Graham Fenton, Steve Froggatt, Marc Albrighton and so on.
Now when players are injured their place is taken with a senior player out of position – Bacuna and Richardson being the obvious examples. Nothing personal, but is that really the best option for a few reasons? Is an out of position journeyman or utility player looking lost who was signed for next to nothing (and worth every penny) what we would prefer to see than a academy-raised talent who the club have invested heavily in over time and has some pride and roots at the club?
Someone somewhere at the club thinks so. And they need to have a rethink, particularly in a season where the journeyman will be worth even less to the club a year from now, regardless of which division the club is in.
LOSING BEGETS LOSING
At this point it would seem there is no self-belief in the team that they can find results and pull clear of relegation. Every must-win game has passed without a Villa win, making every game for the rest of the season a must-win. Given the team have found new and novel ways of turning even the better performances into dropped points over the last month, there’s very little to point to that fans can say “if we can just do more of that and less of that, we’ll be okay”.
It’s a wonder Guzan doesn’t have a bad back from picking the ball out of the net so frequently over the past years. With so few clean sheets to build up confidence, where else can the team look? If you are letting in goals without scoring them, the only way is down.
The losing culture has to stop. There was a glimpse under Tim Sherwood on the run-in last year, which stopped at the FA Cup Final and couldn’t be found again – and it cost Saviour Sherwood his job and credibility. Since then, nothing.
Garde’s arrival and performances under his watch have been underwhelming and fans expecting bumper signings this January should prepare to be indifferent. Quite aside from the limited transfer funds available, the squad needs winners – and how many winners would join a team that has become synonymous with losing for so long?
Follow Adam Keeble on Twitter @keebo00
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