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The Good Old Days


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by PauloBarnesi

Who would have ever thought it, but this week did we see an outbreak of love for our old chairman? Surely not...During the late 1990s a curious nostalgia began to grip a portion of the population in the former East Germany. Despite years of limited personal liberty, a forced diet of propaganda and economic hardship, people began to feel warmly for the days of the Stasi, the Trabant, and perhaps they forgot that young girls were fed steroids to turn them into athletic powerhouses and eventually men. Perhaps the promise of freedom had not necessarily led to prosperity. Things still looked worryingly grey in the East and people grumbled that they had been better under Erich Honecker and the good old GDR.

You can’t help but feel a parallel at Aston Villa. Five and a half years after Doug Ellis stepped down, people have started to wonder if we weren’t better off under Deadly. Is this just an example of the curious humour of the Midlands, a genuine love for the old man and his multiple achievements, or something else? Perhaps one reason Randy Lerner evoked such popularity when he arrived, must now be seen as the fact that he wasn’t Doug Ellis. Perhaps if Ellis had stepped down when Brian Little’s Villa won the League Cup, then people might look more fondly at him. If perhaps he hadn’t overseen the decline at Villa that marked his final years, and the threat to leave Villa Park in a coffin, then he wouldn’t be seen as such a divisive figure.

The reality is that whatever you think of Ellis, at times during his reign Villa did enjoy some good times; some high positions in the league and some cup glory. However the backdrop of this must be that Ellis was running the whole show for the benefit of one man, and that man was Doug Ellis, and the glory and financial benefits that it was bring upon Doug. At times the benefit to Ellis would also benefit the fans, but far too often it appeared, even after the club was floated, that it was a personal fiefdom. If one man rated Doug in the football world, it was Doug himself. Those who worked with him, varied between those who meekly accepted the conditions or those who constantly had to grind their teeth and put up with the world of Ellis. The stories have become part of legend; Taylor wanted Sheringham, Ellis said he was too expensive, only later to return with the more expensive Tony Cascarino. A change of heart? No it was all to lower the tax bill.

We shouldn’t feel any false affection for the man, but what we can enjoy is the good times, and the multiple "nearly" moments that came during his time. Some he could claim credit for; the appointment of Taylor or Atkinson, though most he had a great deal less to do with. Regardless, Ellis has gone and so has his time. To dream of him coming back, is to think that Brian Little or John Gregory could manage Villa now.

That we are at this point, suggests that the time when Randy Lerner has enjoyed nearly carte blanche support is well and truly over. Whilst Martin O’Neill was manager, Lerner’s ambitions, motivations and his stewardship of the club, seemed almost perfect. Lerner rejected media interest. Lerner had a Villa tattoo. Lerner liked the history. And then we had his sidekick General Krulak to promptly answer all our questions. Even the departure of O’Neill hardly damaged Lerner’s stock. Most came to the conclusion that O’Neill had become difficult and refused to work with the new conditions.

That first the ghost of O’Neill at Sunderland and now of Ellis have come back suggest that a deep malaise has set in Villa. Whilst once we accepted and even welcomed silence from Lerner, increasingly we now want to know what Lerner actually is thinking. That we look across the ocean and look at his tenure at the Cleveland Browns, with perhaps a feeling of alarm is telling.

Has Lerner suddenly become a bad owner, just as he was once a good owner? Well perhaps when he was a good owner it was a combination of his silence and O’Neill’s stewardship that made it seemingly good. That perhaps this was built on shaky foundations was worrying; Lerner didn’t keep an eye on O’Neill, and when he became inquisitive things quickly unravelled. Whilst its easy to aim criticism that Lerner has suddenly stopped the ‘grand’ spending of those early years, the really sharp focus perhaps should be on the appointments he has made.

Whilst Paul Faulkner, who is to Lerner as Stride appeared to Ellis, seems perhaps the least obvious, he is perhaps the most important. Faulkner is a long term associate of Lerner, which whilst conducive to a harmonious relationship with the owner, does not necessarily mean he he has the skill set to run a football business. Whilst we all accept that football is a business, it is a curious and unique one, with high importance being placed on understanding the culture. His pronouncements have left many fans scratching their heads, and his loyalty to Houllier seemed misplaced.

So, whilst Lerner and Faulkner’s intentions might be good, in carrying them out they seem to be failing. For example, whilst deciding to reduce the Aston Villa wage bill, they oversaw the acquisition of our two highest earners. That one of them is Stephen Ireland, who was purchased at a time we were managerless is strange. That we have managed to pay off two managers, and our rivals to appoint McLeish, adds further fuel to the fire. That O’Neill wasted money can’t be denied, but Faulkner and Lerner have made expensive and unnecessary mistakes and this equally deserves scrutiny.

What perhaps is most perplexing is the lack of imagination and ambition in the appointment of the key position at Aston Villa, that of manager. That Houllier turned out to be a wasted year, is perhaps excusable as they were new to the game, and had his successor been a popular and ambitious figure, all would have been forgiven. Yet as it turned out, not since the darkest days of Ellis had we been so bemused by who was actually appointed. Ellis made good managerial appointments that succeeded when he chose ones who weren’t necessarily ‘yes’ men; Taylor and Atkinson spring to mind. Perhaps Lerner and Faulkner could have learnt a little from that. The manager isn’t always a yes man, he’s happily his own man. Had we appointed a good manager after O’Neill we would been appointing from a position of strength. Now we would appoint from a position of weakness, with a diminishing pot of money.

Villa now are reaching a cross road; we need to signal what our intentions are. This isn’t just about spending money. Its about who we are; are we just here to make up numbers, as we increasingly have become, or are we something more than that. We cannot challenge Manchester City in the league. What we can do is make sure when we play them is that we are going to challenge them on the field. The same goes for Manchester United, Tottenham, Arsenal or Liverpool. We can be competitive, but we need the right decisions being made. We need to show imagination and positivity. If Lerner wants to make his money back, he needs to think outside of what appears a narrow set of ideas, and give the fans back some hope.

So when you go to sleep tonight, don’t worry about Ellis coming back, and don’t feel a pang of nostalgia for him, he’s gone and we are better for it. For that Lerner deserves credit. It would be to his eternal credit if he starts making the right moves again at Aston Villa.

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Conversely - though the middle paras are mostly brilliant - I feel that the opening and last paras are disappointing!!

However, the last para - whilst I agree that nostalgia for Ellis would be misplaced (despite the enjoyment in most of the 1989-1998 years) - gives the idea that Randy had to take credit for the fact that Ellis was replaced. He does not deserve credit for that at all, and, further, has shown that the management under his ownership is based on weak ideas. which you have (commendably) gone into.

In terms of the future, there has, in fact, been a fair amount of hype about cash being available this summer and mention has been made that a player or two have been earmarked.

But the level of expenditure indicated - £2.5m for a Rangers left-back and 5 or 6 mill for another player whose name escapes me - doesn't indicate that there will be a return to a boom time, not that I would advocate a return to buy then sell.

Clearly a team needs to be built and you can only do that if there is a real opportunity for the players to stick together and not be lured elsewhere. That way - and given the right manager - Villa might eventually get somewhere.

Thus, there is indeed an opportunity to redeem the situation.

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Very well put and I liked the link to régime change in East Germany and at Villa Park. But, our former chairman is no Erich Honecker after all Honecker was never on the Small Heath board and he never claimed to have invented the bicycle kick! :winkold:

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by PauloBarnesi

Who would have ever thought it, but this week did we see an outbreak of love for our old chairman? Surely not...

I voted for Ellis in the poll but it is certainly not love, rather the lesser of two evils.

The only advantage Lerner had for me was that he brought money with him. The last 18 months and the onset of FFP have removed that advantage. In a straight challenge between the two on football administration capabilities Ellis would be way ahead.

However, neither of them are ideal or even close to it.

Lerner could be good IF he would just appoint a properly constructed board rather than a series of "yes" men and would allow that proper board to run the business and advise him/participate in the appointment of an appropriate manager. He has so far got nowhere near this!

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Barry'sboots has put these points well and I think they're worth underlining.

However, there's not much chance of the last para being effected, and though Randy has the chance to redeem the situation (as stated by Paul) I think there's more chance that matters may get worse by not doing what Barry'sboots suggests.

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by PauloBarnesi

Who would have ever thought it, but this week did we see an outbreak of love for our old chairman? Surely not...

I voted for Ellis in the poll but it is certainly not love, rather the lesser of two evils.

The only advantage Lerner had for me was that he brought money with him. The last 18 months and the onset of FFP have removed that advantage. In a straight challenge between the two on football administration capabilities Ellis would be way ahead.

However, neither of them are ideal or even close to it.

This sums it up for me. I voted Ellis and I desperately wanted him out while he was here. Basically I wanted someone other than Ellis to have better nous than him and , yes, more money to invest. Randy now fails on the second part and was never in the 1 2 3 on the first part.

Both are not ideal though

I also think it is fair enough to compare Lerner to the last owner, just as it is fair enough to compare managers to previous managers.

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  • 3 weeks later...

People are seriously comparing Ellis to Lerner? Randy has made alot of mistakes, his first big decision being the biggest, but the key difference between the two is that Doug took, while Randy has given. Regardless of the competency of the individuals concerned, that for me speaks volumes. I'd rather have Lerner every day of the week and twice on Sundays, anything else, IMHO, is nostalgia for a time that never was

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