“But believe me, my dear boy, there is nothing stronger than those two: patience and time, they will do it all.” ~ Tolstoy (War & Peace)
Aston Villa fans have become accustomed to failure, boredom and dissatisfaction in recent seasons but these negative emotions built up to a crescendo of rage on Saturday after the team’s latest defeat to Sunderland.
Rather than leave their seats early some fans stayed behind to boo and heckle the team as they boarded the bus after the match. It was a sad sight but a fairly predictable reaction to Aston Villa’s performance and the realisation that the club will likely play in the Championship next season.
Inevitably there have been Twitter polls following the defeat which either asked: “Should Remi Garde be sacked?” or “Is Remi Garde the manager to get us promoted from the Championship next season?”
From my point of view I think he is the right manager for the club next season, whatever the division.
I have seen many fans and pundits advocate the likes of Pearson or other ‘up and at ‘em’ managers who they feel would be more suited to the Championship – but would they? Recent history has shown that teams who play properly with the ball have just as much, if not more, chance of being promoted than physical or counter-attacking teams.
Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth, Brendan Rogers Swansea, Derby under McClaren and now Paul Clement, and Brighton under Oscar Garcia, have all been teams who were comfortable in possession. Bournemouth are now looking reasonably safe in the Premier League having largely maintained the style of play they had become accustomed to in the Championship.
English Old Skool
The more defensive style associated with the likes of Tony Pulis and Big Sam has not been so effective in achieving promotion from the Championship in recent seasons and ‘knowing the league’ is certainly not a prerequisite for success.
Pulis, Allardyce and Lambert may have had a certain amount of success in Premier League relegation battles by having less possession than their opponents and nicking goals on the counter attack or through set pieces, but this is not what Aston Villa need next season. Paul Lambert’s Blackburn are currently floundering in 17th place in the Championship for example.
Garde So Far
Whilst having sympathy for him, Garde can rightly be criticised for his continued selection of underperformers such as Hutton, Richards and Guzan. These senior professionals have struggled to adapt to Garde’s system despite the attempts of pundits to lay the blame at the door of the Ligue 1 players.
There has, however, also been some signs of improvement in the team’s play since Garde arrived. Against West Ham for example the team kept the ball well and created more chances than in any other match this season. Ayew and Veretout have improved under Garde and Amavi had an impressive game for him against Manchester City before Amavi’s season was cruelly ended during a France u23 match.
Having an extra man or two in midfield to hold the ball, build up play gradually, or win the ball back immediately after being dispossessed is important to Garde’s style of play. This is why Amavi with his anticipation and dribbling ability was so important to him and Garde laments the loss of Amavi when given the opportunity to do so. Alan Hutton is currently the most attacking full back in Garde’s team who joins the midfield in attacks and provides width but Hutton has been so error prone recently that the team has suffered horribly.
Bacuna or Richards could play the attacking right back role with more success but it remains to be seen whether Garde will use the FA Cup game versus Wycombe this weekend to experiment a little before the remaining games. Whether Richards would tolerate being asked to play right-back is another matter entirely.
The Sherwood Effect
There are others who believe the style of play is the reason why Aston Villa will be relegated this season but I don’t think this argument has much merit. Tim Sherwood tried several different styles and formations before he was fired.
He tried possession with his relatively successful “two number 10’s” approach against Leicester and Chelsea and the team looked good in the Leicester game until Sherwood brought on two strikers and unbalanced the midfield. In the Chelsea match the team were again playing very well until a Brad Guzan error (such a regular occurrence in the last year) turned the game. Garde also tried this approach against Sunderland but calamitous individual errors at the back caused the team’s confidence to drop with Guzan, Richards and Hutton again not covering themselves in glory.
Sherwood also tried the low defensive block against Liverpool. This system failed. Sherwood tried the low block and long ball up to Gestede in the first half against Birmingham City. This system failed. Kevin McDonald tried an old fashioned 4-4-2 with crosses whacked into Gestede. This system also failed.
So many different formations and selections this season have proved futile that it is not easy to think of another manager who could come in and make an instant impact.
Sherwood himself perhaps realised the squad’s limitations in his final weeks at the club as he said he did not know his best or most effective team. In addition, Sherwood’s assistant Ray Wilkins was a pundit in Villa’s recent 1-1 draw v Newcastle and was asked where the squad should be strengthened. He replied, “Everywhere”.
If the previous coaching staff does not rate the squad they helped assemble then it is perhaps not surprising that Garde thinks the club need to acquire new additions this month to make the team more effective. The Aston Villa manager was criticised for saying the team needed to become more effective in their finishing after the game but there was nothing controversial in his comments. Aston Villa’s front three had scored five Premier League goals between them prior to the game on Saturday whilst Jermaine Defoe, with his vast experience, has scored over a hundred Premier League goals on his own.
The situation was different when Sherwood replaced Lambert, who was in his third season at the club and had been playing with the same front three for years. Villa’s dressing room had become bored of hearing the same voice and Sherwood quickly realised that Benteke needed to have the ball passed to him swiftly whenever possible. Furthermore, Sherwood realised that the team needed a link player and brought in Grealish.
Sadly this season there is no Benteke. Nor are there relatively reliable senior professionals like Delph, Cleverley and Vlaar (when not injured) either. Sherwood intended Gestede to be a bench option, which suits Gestede fine, but the big striker does not have the quality to be the leading man up front in the Premier League.
Deep End & Black Cats
Garde must also have some sympathy as he was parachuted into a mine-field when he arrived with the team at the bottom of the league following seven straight defeats in a row. He has not had the instant impact some expected but he is not an impact manager like Sherwood or the likes of Di Canio.
Sunderland are another club who have suffered similar problems to Aston Villa. They have had the boom and bust years of Martin O’Neill’s spending, the short term impact managers and the relegation specialists who do not like possession of the ball. Both clubs stay rooted to the bottom of the league. If Garde was replaced with another impact manager then it would just delay the inevitable rebuild somewhere down the line.
Another thing Sunderland have in common with Aston Villa is Roy Keane. The former Manchester United hard-man sported a bushy beard and a scowl when he was Aston Villa’s assistant manager and he is known to have had issues with the dressing room whilst at the club. If a man with Keane’s tough reputation in the game found Aston Villa’s dressing room intolerable, then it shows what a difficult task doe-eyed Remi Garde has on his hands.
Charlatan Player Power
Telegraph journalist John Percy recently mentioned in one of his articles that some senior players had complained about the intensity of Garde’s training sessions. Much was made recently of Chelsea’s alleged player power in the removal of Jose Mourinho as manager but Mourinho’s dressing room contained World Cup, Champions League and treble winners.
In Aston Villa’s case the players suspected of complaining about the intensity of training sessions have had extremely mediocre careers in which they have struggled to score five goals per season (no prizes for guessing who). The fact that these players have been given long and expensive contracts is a demonstration of the mis-management of the club.
Replacing Remi Garde would be another victory for those players who have performed miserably for years and are too comfortable with an easy life-style at Bodymoor Heath. Tim Sherwood expressed his frustration at being unable to remove some of those players in the summer who he said were happy to sit on their contracts despite being told they could leave.
Another source of frustration for Aston Villa’s fans this season has been seeing a former academy player, Jordan Graham, performing brilliantly for Wolves in the Championship. Paul Lambert released Graham without giving him a chance in the first team and Lambert failed to develop anyone from Villa’s Next Gen Series winning U-19 squad of which Jordan Graham, Daniel Crowley and Jack Grealish were part.
Garde has worked for years at Lyon’s academy and helped bring through some of their stars such as Umtiti and Lacazette. Next season he would be able to use his experience to blood some of the talented crop of academy players at the club in the Championship such as Rushian Hepburn-Murphy, Andre Green, Jordan Lydon and others. Not to mention the fact that he would have a full pre season to work with the players who signed from Ligue 1 and work on preparing the squad to be much fitter than it started the 2015/16 season.
Calls to fire Remi Garde are in my view short-sighted and fans, however frustrated we are, should not fall into the trap of throwing away a good opportunity to rebuild the club because of this season’s disappointment.
Follow Shelley on Twitter – @shelley_ozzy
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