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No More Mr. Nice Guy


blandy
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One minute Randy Lerner is cancelling interviews with Steve McLaren because, so we are told, he fears a fans backlash, and the next minute he is hiring Alex McLeish and unleashing the mother of all fans' backlashes. In a welcome return to the front page, site founder PB wonders what's going on..

Randy Lerner has always come over to me as a very likeable sort of guy, very nice, apparently very eager to please. Alot of the stuff he did when he first arrived at the club (putting on buses to Chelsea, redoing the Holte etc) all seemed driven by a need in him to please the fans, make them happy. He gave every appearance of being genuinely interested in the fans' voice; things like General Krulak posting here on this very board and the Supporter Consultation Groups set up by the club gave credence to this view. Of course, I dont know him personally, this is just an impression I had gained from the media and from his actions.

There were those who wondered whether this was all a bit naïve. Surely nice guys finish last and in order to be successful in such a competitive environment as the top reaches of the Premier League you need a hard headed, ruthless streak about you? Surely while it is great to listen to the fans, there are times and situations when you just need to do what needs to be done?

Apparently not it seemed at first, as the partnership between Lerner and his first manager Martin O'Neill appeared to going exactly to plan. It seemed as if you really could have a likeable, nice, owner and a likeable manager and be successful. All the way up until Moscow the plan seemed to be working perfectly. Villa's collapse post Moscow that season is well documented elsewhere so I wont go into it, but in retrospect I wonder if a more tough owner than Lerner would have dismissed O'Neill for his failure to finish in the top four that season?

The fall from grace was spectacular, dramatic and rapid and indicated that something was badly wrong. As I look back at that now, admittedly with some hindsight, I think it was a show of weakness to keep O'Neill on, a mistake then compounded by allowing O'Neill not only another season but another whole raft of the club's money to blow on failing once again. Then at the end of that season, with another failure to finish in the top four and having been overtaken by Spurs another display of weak leadership from Lerner in again not dismissing O'Neill and letting the summer drag on to its disastrous conclusion with O'Neill's massively damaging exit five days before the season kicked off.

We then had the most bizarre manager hunt I've ever seen (well, until now that is) with us dealing only with 'available' managers and doing this very public 'interview' thing like it was a normal workaday kind of job. Again this smacked of weakness and naïvety, trying to be 'nice' and not offend anyone, to make sure it was done 'properly. Surely that's not how its done? Surely you identify the man you want, speak to his agent and make sure he'll come if approached, let him resign, job done. Sure, people will complain and grumble, toes will get trod on and you might have to cough up a few million in compensation but you get the man you want quickly, with no fuss. Its hard, its ruthless maybe but its competitive. No room for sentiment in this game.

For all that, we appeared more by accident than design to have fallen on our feet a little with the appointment of the vastly experienced Gerard Houllier. I know he wasn't everyone's cup of tea, and following O'Neill was always going to be difficult but he walked into a very, very difficult situation and I think made a pretty good fist of it all in all. Sure he made a lot of gaffes, mostly of the PR variety, but for me anyway got more things right than wrong. Personally I was glad to see an attempt being made to play 'the right way'. I was also pleased to see Mr Lerner finally appearing to act with some bravery in not only sticking with Houllier when he was struggling but backing him to great effect in the transfer market. The signing of Bent was brave by Lerner and brave by Houllier, and worked out spectacularly well. It even looked a little like we poached him from Sunderland - blimey Randy really was getting to grips with this business at last.

Well, so it seemed.

Houllier clearly had to go after his heart scare, and to be entirely honest I expected the new tough Randy to have his man lined up. Surely when Hughes walked on Fulham, that was who it would be. Erm, nope. Suddenly we were back to Mr Nice Guy, trying to do everything the "right way" and not upset anyone. All very honourable, all very amateur, all very Old Etonians, all very un-Premier League.

We had this bizarre spectacle of us writing to Wigan asking permission to speak to their manager when their manager was never, ever going to leave his comfortable job, a job we have now made 'for life' for him. It made us look silly and amateur, but not as silly and amateur as approaching Steve McLaren,and then deciding to cancel his interview (seriously, what's with all these interviews?) because some fans were moaning on a few message boards. What sort of leadership is that? What sort of message does it send to any prospective manager? The owner will dump you as soon as the fans get angry? Suddenly every manager in the world seemed to be distancing themselves from us.

It now looks as if these two disastrous humiliating incidents have made a change in Mr Lerner, about three years too late, but welcome nonetheless. It seems as if someone has sat him down over a few long, cold drinks and explained the process to him. Get together whatever shreds of your shortlist are left, identify the guy on there you think is your best fit, and then do whatever it takes, regardless of who it offends, to get him to your club as manager. He seems to have somehow identified McLeish...

Next thing you have Randy jetting out to Corsica for a *cough* chance *cough* meeting with the holidaying Alex McLeish, followed swiftly by the latter's resignation citing 'constructive dismissal' by Blues. All hell is now breaking loose perhaps, but it will only be brief. A couple of big signings, bit of a winning streak and most will have forgotten what it was all about. Blues wont sue, they know how badly they treated McLeish, and they know this is just how its done.

Randy is suddenly discovering a ruthless, competitive streak to him. McLeish is not my choice for manager, not by a long shot (mostly because he represents for me a move back to 'traditional' British football values like energy and effort instead of skill and tactics), but so what? I'm not the one making the decision. I have an opinion, and I'm perfectly entitled to air it, but Randy Lerner is also perfectly entitled to do something different. He doesn't have to do what I want (and to be honest its a good job he doesn't!)

More than that, the real significance of this appointment is, for me, that maybe, just maybe it shows that Randy has learnt to toughen up. No more Mr Nice Guy. If so, it might just be the dawning of a real bright future, a future in which Villa are more competitive. Will McLeish be part of that long term? I dont know, but he will have my support in the meantime.

Peter Bosworth

@bozzystuff

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Randy is suddenly discovering a ruthless, competitive streak to him. McLeish is not my choice for manager, not by a long shot (mostly because he represents for me a move back to 'traditional' British football values like energy and effort instead of skill and tactics), but so what? I'm not the one making the decision. I have an opinion, and I'm perfectly entitled to air it, but Randy Lerner is also perfectly entitled to do something different. He doesn't have to do what I want (and to be honest its a good job he doesn't!)

More than that, the real significance of this appointment is, for me, that maybe, just maybe it shows that Randy has learnt to toughen up. No more Mr Nice Guy. If so, it might just be the dawning of a real bright future, a future in which Villa are more competitive. Will McLeish be part of that long term? I dont know, but he will have my support in the meantime.

Great. He choses to toughen up just at a time when he didn't need to!!!

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Something doesn't make sense here...

Why would Villa approach McLaren, then decline to talk to him, then approach McLeish instead ?

Personally I think McLaren would have been a far better proposition given his breadth of experience.

It can't be fans opinions, as McLeish wouldn't be in the driving seat if it was.

I'm sure Lerner knows what he's doing and I'm sure he can be very ruthless if he wants to be - you don't get to be a billionaire without it!

I would just like to understand the logic...

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Well weve just agreed to pay blues £10m - so I think the ruthless streak has come to an abrupt end.

I think he got Mcleish because he couldn't get anyone else. Yes he invests money - but does he invest time - I think he has been in the UK less than 48 hours in total since GH departed. Hardly smacks of guy in love with Aston Villa.

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This is something I said somewhere else:

Your interpretation of the situation is nuanced and has some nice hopeful spin on the situation. But a couple things have been made clear here:

Aston Villa clearly lacks ambition. Maybe that's just the way it is, maybe this is the best they can do. But think about that. The best they can do is get a manager who just had his team relegated. Twice in 3 years. No matter what you say, it is inarguable that this appointment shows that Aston Villa is not ambitious.

Secondly, I don't expect the board to choose a manager based upon the fans. But I do expect them to know full well the consequences of whomever they choose. Their choice has been distrastrous at this point. It smacks of bad management. A good leader has his finger on the pulse of his supporters and acts in such a way that will get the most out of them. This has done the COMPLETE OPPOSITE. Even if it turns out well in the end (and using inductive reasoning it won't), this decision has created some serious hills for AVFC to climb. It did not have to be.

So not only have they employed a manager who looks on paper pretty poor, that decision has in and of itself put that pretty poor manager (heck let's say he's average) as well as the whole club in a REALLY difficult situation.

They have isolated themselves and it seems hardly likely that it will get better.

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I agree good article, I too agree not my first choice, not only because he was a nose,but he has not proven anything other than boring, same old same old football, 1 man up front, we had this with o'neil yet we won, alot. Now we have Bent who is undoubtly better than Jerome, add that too is our wingers, midfielders, hell the majority of our team who are better, that looks pretty good to me. I would play Bent on his own with the likes of Downing ( assuming)and Albrighton putting in the crosses. Lets also see who we get in the transfer, if no money is put forward then yes, I will think otherwise and believe me i am very much leaning towards it, but it looks like its done so I have no choice but to let it ride for now.

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Thanks Pete. Fantastic piece as the majority of main page articles are on this site.

McLeish is hardly my personal favourite for the same reasons as you: A return to energy and effort over playing "the right way". I'd have hoped that the signing of Houllier would have opened the eyes of those on the board to a better way of playing.

Still, it's not my decision so good luck to McLeish. May he do what MON could not.

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Well weve just agreed to pay blues £10m - so I think the ruthless streak has come to an abrupt end.

I think he got Mcleish because he couldn't get anyone else. Yes he invests money - but does he invest time - I think he has been in the UK less than 48 hours in total since GH departed. Hardly smacks of guy in love with Aston Villa.

I think I missed that, I thought it was £2m? A link for the £10m?

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I think I missed that, I thought it was £2m? A link for the £10m?

Even the £2m is, at best, premature according to Matt Kendrick. I'm sure we will pay them something though, because at the end of the day we did steal their manager, even if they did want to sack him ....

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Well weve just agreed to pay blues £10m - so I think the ruthless streak has come to an abrupt end.

I think he got Mcleish because he couldn't get anyone else. Yes he invests money - but does he invest time - I think he has been in the UK less than 48 hours in total since GH departed. Hardly smacks of guy in love with Aston Villa.

I think I missed that, I thought it was £2m? A link for the £10m?

Yes sorry typo £2m was reported.

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Peter your insight and thoughtful posts are missed on this site which is worse for you not being here.

However on this opinion I must disagree. I do not think it is much to do with being a mister nice guy or a mister ruthless. Sometimes decisions are right or wrong not nice or ruthless and should not be confused as such.

We should not confuse style with intent.

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Well weve just agreed to pay blues £10m - so I think the ruthless streak has come to an abrupt end.

I think he got Mcleish because he couldn't get anyone else. Yes he invests money - but does he invest time - I think he has been in the UK less than 48 hours in total since GH departed. Hardly smacks of guy in love with Aston Villa.

Where has this figure come from?

£2m seems to be the accepted compensation figure, but agree there will be additional costs to pay off GMc and his team, plus possible compensation for AMc's team from the Sty.

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Sometimes decisions are right or wrong not nice or ruthless and should not be confused as such.

.

indeed.

The point I am making however is that decisions in this business, well in pretty much any business really, will probably upset some folks, especially those you are competing with. To be successful you need to be hard headed enough to have confidence in yourself and the decisions you make.

It is an error for example to set up an appointment with McLaren and then cancel it because the fans dont like it. If McLaren is the man the board decided was the man then thats who should have got the job. I'm all for listening to the fans, but this pussy footing around around them isnt going to get anyone anywhere. its a bit pathetic frankly.

Its a bit like a government making unpopular short term decisions that they hope will work out in the long term. Leadership is like that, you need the vision and then the strength of character to see it through tough times when everyone's telling you that you've got it wrong. As a leader you listen to advice from various sources, you consult with those you lead, and then you decide. Consulting with those you lead is not in any way the same as caving into pressure from them. That's weak leadership. You can only judge things on eventual outcomes against stated targets, not day to day ups and downs.

I forget who it was who said that its better to make a wrong decision than make no decision, but in my experience life is like that.

[edit] And dont get me wrong, I think McLeish is a wrong decision. Not wrong in the calamitous 'the end of the world is nigh' way that some people think, but wrong in the same way that O'Neill was wrong, football at the very top level isnt played like that any more. I imagine the outcome will be similar, three or four years of mucking about in upper mid table boring the pants off everyone watching.

All I can do at this point is hope I'm wrong and he carries on the work Houllier started.

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