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Decent comment on our current plight.


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Didn't know where to put this article so started a thread.

As the promotion and relegation battles begin to be settled, the focus tends to shift onto the smaller sides clambering improbably into the top division, setting up a romantic tale of the plucky minnows aiming to give Goliath one in the eye.

While stories such as Swansea and Wigan in the English Premier League warm the heart of neutrals – especially if they play with the verve and ambition of Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martinez’ charges – there is a tragic flipside to this social mobility. Often those going down are former champions, gilded names tarnished by mismanagement, misfortune and missed opportunities to solidify their glorious histories. With the same old faces – West Ham and regular also-rans Eintracht Frankfurt, Pescara and Real Valladolid – coming up, the focus in Europe shifts to the former giants at serious risk of a mighty fall.

Aston Villa were never expected to set the Premier League alight this season. Arguably the first footballing dynasty back in the 1890s, that golden era remains only in sepia-tinted photographs, and success has translated only fitfully into modern times – they may be one of only four English sides to become European champions, but the league title that facilitated the tilt at Europe was the first in 70 years, and with another 31 having elapsed since, a further championship could be another lifetime away.

Having finished as runners-up in the inaugural Premier League season 20 years ago, bagged a couple of League Cups and established several title challenges, Aston Villa had relative success in the 1990s – unfortunately though, the top four then did not mean entry into the riches of Europe’s top competition, and repeating promising performances on a moderate budget has been beyond them in recent times. Three successive top six finishes and two Wembley trips under Martin O’Neill brought renewed hope, but regularly selling their best players has undermined attempted revivals, leading to the Ulsterman’s departure and last season’s relegation battle.

Considering the turmoil of that year was followed by the sales of Ashley Young and Stewart Downing – the two chief creative influences in a side that struggle to score –and only answered with the inconsistent Charles N’Zogbia, uneasily fitted into the defensive dogma of the deeply unpopular manager Alex McLeish, another season of mid-table mediocrity seemed the best available outcome.

However, the decline of Villa from Champions League hopefuls to potential relegation candidates in two years has been dramatic. Chief among the sides heading in the opposite direction is Manchester City, a team whose rise came just as Villa’s American owner Randy Lerner’s largesse began to suffer and which also hammered in any loose nails in the Champions League dream, but other factors such as a small squad light on strikers and creativity and spots of bad luck (see the cup runs of 2010) aided in hastening the descent down the table. Having only just averted relegation on the penultimate weekend, with players involved in off-the-pitch scuffles and fans verging on mutiny, the future looks bleak, and could see second-tier football at the famous Villa Park should the malaise linger any longer.

Aston Villa’s glorious past is not the only trophy-laden history weighing down on a struggling side. Hamburg, European champions the year after Villa in 1983, have had a shocking year, with the Bundesliga’s only permanent member narrowly avoiding relegation, finishing just above the drop zone in 15th. Sporting director Frank Arnesen’s policy of hiring the odds and sods from former club Chelsea’s reserves has not paid off, and the footballing focal point of Germany’s second city is in yet another civil war.

Having had 10 managers in the last five years, Hamburg have become a bit of a basket case in the relatively level-headed Bundesliga (if not quite as mad as fellow lunatics 1.FC Koln, Hertha Berlin and wherever Felix Magath pitches up), yet this has not stopped them attracting players of the calibre of Vincent Kompany and Rafael van der Vaart in recent seasons. However, the 124-year-old club failed to capitalise on Champions League qualification in 2006, allowing Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke to surge ahead, while several lacklustre league campaigns have seen former fallen giants Borussia Dortmund and Monchengladbach claw their way past their illustrious northern rivals. Unable to draw in such valuable talents, with less money than Leverkusen or Schalke and a worse youth system than the resurgent Borussias or Werder Bremen, Hamburg’s precarious current predicament was directly caused by boardroom instability and managerial hubris – with the Bundelsiga more buoyant than ever, regaining ground will be tough, especially if the Rothosen carry on in such crazy fashion.

Hamburg may be maddening for their fans, but for real insanity the place to look is Serie A, where even in the good times clubs like Inter Milan – on their third coach of the season and the fifth since their Jose Mourinho-made treble two years ago – and Napoli make the Manchester City of old seem as grey and sober as a rain-soaked former British Prime Minister John Major. As grand old names have toiled, lesser lights like Udinese have grown in stature, a well-organised youth and scouting system allowing them to outperform their smaller budget. Compared to Roma’s struggles with Luis Enrique’s attempts to recreate Barcelona in the Italian capital or Fiorentina – whose rollercoaster decade has seen them relegated, go bankrupt and qualify for the Champions League, before manager Delio Rossi was sacked last week after assaulting his own player during a crucial match – such Friulian frugality is all the more admirable.

The glamour clubs of Rome, Milan, Florence and Turin have had their share of drama in recent years, but one city has seen more tumultuous goings on than any other. Genoa, the first Italian league champions and the club with the fourth-highest total of scudetti titles, hover only three points above the relegation zone, and with one match to play their vastly inferior goal difference would mean a Lecce win, coupled with defeat at home to Palermo, would see the club return to Serie B for the first time since 2007. The big money January signing of World Cup-winner Alberto Gilardino has failed to turn around results, and a side that was in Europe three seasons ago now stands ominously above the trap door. Should Genoa go down they should meet city-rivals Sampdoria, whose disastrous decision to sell both Antonio Cassano and Giampaolo Pazzini in January 2011 precipitated their relegation, a mere 12 months after qualifying for the Champions League. With Sampdoria in contention for promotion though, relegation for Genoa could be doubly humiliating.

What Genoa, Hamburg and Aston Villa have in common, other than the danger of demotion, is the way they have failed to adapt to the changing circumstances of modern football. Genoa continue to spend fortunes on players who jump ship to bigger clubs at the first opportunity, with managers paying the price when results consequently suffer, while Hamburg have also been guilty of chopping and changing their management too much, the Arnesen experiment failing to provide any continuity in the playing staff or quality in the youth team to rival those of other clubs. Aston Villa have a strong academy, and while Randy Lerner is a more supportive chairman than most, recent managerial instability has not really been their fault, but a failure to capitalise commercially or set up a sufficient scouting network internationally has seen the Midlands outfit fall behind similar-sized clubs like Everton, Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle. In a global game such savvy is needed to negate unseen disasters, otherwise any inspired upstart can topple even the biggest name.


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Now this sounds like the Villa "Genoa continue to spend fortunes on players who jump ship to bigger clubs at the first opportunity, with managers paying the price when results consequently suffer"

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I Like this

Survival is rarely more shameful. A goal up, at home and against ten men, Aston Villa ended up clinging on for the draw that nudged them over the finishing line. Officially the worst season at home in their 124-league history brought a mere four victories and concluded with the Villa Park faithful adapting the lyrics of long-time favourite chant "Paul McGrath, My Lord" to "Sack McLeish, My Lord".

And then, just to add to the sense of irritation, Alex McLeish said that he expects to remain in charge in next season. That would be a recipe for mediocrity. It is not merely the fact that Villa have a solitary victory in their last 15 games that ought to render his position untenable. It is certainly not the oft-mentioned reality that he used to manage Birmingham, even if that hardly helps his case. It is the combination of his record, his footballing ethos and Villa's unacceptably bad season.

Unflattering statistics abound, but consider this one: Steve Kean, perhaps the most hated manager in recent history, has won 22% of his Premier League games. In the last two seasons, McLeish has won only 20% of his, despite having superior players for much of that time. Admittedly, the latter has an unparalleled commitment to drawing football - while only 15 of 75 matches have ended positively, a further 32 have finished level - but parity is not the purpose of football.

Stalemates should never be the objective, but Villa's most common scoreline this season is 0-0. Much as McLeish objects to the suggestions he is defensive, the numbers tell their own tale. In his last 113 league games, whether with Birmingham or Villa, his sides have scored 112 goals. Such a large sample size cannot be explained by misfortune or a few missed chances, especially when Villa have had the second fewest number of shots on target in the Premier League.

Football is invariably about a balance between attack and defence, but a philosophy is flawed when it is tilted too far in one direction, as McLeish's is. There is only one justification for such negativity and that is success. Villa have had none to enjoy.

If supporters crave excitement and results, the Villa public have had neither. Deprived of entertainment, they have occupied themselves by chanting against the manager. At times, there has been little else to do. Villa have showed a desperate lack of ambition in games - Tottenham away, Liverpool and Manchester United at home, even the trip to then-bottom Wigan - when it has appeared they rarely even attempted to score.

Indeed, examine the progressive players in McLeish's squad and none has benefited from his regime. Certainly not Charles N'Zogbia - inspirational for Wigan last year, and insipid for Villa this - or Darren Bent, a predator starved or service. Not Marc Albrighton, who has regressed after his encouraging debut year last season, nor Barry Bannan, of whom the same could be said. Certainly not Gabriel Agbonlahor, whose last league goal was in November, or Emile Heskey, whose only strike came in August. Even Stephen Ireland, bemusingly voted the fans' player of the year when Shay Given was perhaps the only plausible candidate, has been nowhere near his peak.

While McLeish has, albeit unwittingly, reinvigorated the rebellious fans, he has drained the life out of the team as an attacking force. While the summer sales of Ashley Young and Stewart Downing have been cited in his defence, there is still the feeling that this should be a top-ten squad - indeed, do Fulham, who have had the added complication of a Europa League run, and West Brom have better players?

While Villa have had injuries, so have others and, in any case, they have cover. They are fortunate to have one of the finest crops of emerging players in the country, yet McLeish's natural conservatism means he is unlikely to promote young players and they tend to be demoted when more senior figures are available.

It is a reason to doubt whether next season will be any better. The club's financial losses mean an organic method is imperative. Villa require a manager who can integrate young talents like Albrighton, Bannan, Ciaran Clark, Gary Gardner, Nathan Baker and Andreas Weimann. With gates down, they need a leader who can restore optimism among the support. With the club having traded top six for bottom six in the space of two years, they long for anything remotely resembling their recent past.

Nothing about McLeish suggests he is the man to instigate a revival. His personal slump has lasted two league seasons, while his popularity ratings are unlikely to improve. He has passed the point of no return in his relationship with the Villa supporters and, as an essentially pragmatic man, he should recognise as much.

Yet McLeish's attitude has long suggested self-preservation is his aim. In one respect, that is understandable - he has become another Gary Megson, a manager no fan wants in charge of his or her club, and another chance may not present itself - but in another it is depressing. While both halves of the Second City might unite in disagreeing with this, he is an honourable man in many ways, possessing a fundamental sense of decency - the sort of upstanding individual Randy Lerner tends to appoint.

Now, rather than hanging on for a compensation package, thus becoming the third manager the American owner has had to pay off in short succession, or allowing a dismal situation to become worse, the decent thing is to walk away. Because this has been Villa's poorest season for a quarter of a century, worse even than the dark days under David O'Leary, Graham Taylor and Jozef Venglos. They have survived, just, but McLeish should not.


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It's mostly a decent article.

But it ignores the fact that we were in the top/2/3 spenders in the league for the three summers MON was here (more even than Man U, Liverpool and Arsenal). Indeed, in 2008 we were the second highest spenders in Europe.

So moderate budget? Not really, no.

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Thats the most annoying thing about Lerner.

He came to villa with great intentions IMO. He provided the money and genuinely tried to take us to the next level. He was the right owner at the right time. It could have all been so perfect.

Instead, it has gone spectacularly wrong and I am under the impression that you couldnt have run the club any badly than it has been in the last 5 years with the amount of money he has pumped into the club.

This isnt anyone else's fault though. MON isnt completely blameless but the buck stops with Lerner. He chose not to surround himself with people who know about football. He surrounded himself with sales managers and businessman who were YES men. When you are pumping and investing so much money into organisation then why not at least spend some money on bringing in the right people in the boardroom.

To then Hire Mcleish on top of it all. Bewildering.

The whole Randy Lerner saga has been an interesting one and in business terms, a complete disaster. If you were to write a book on 'how not to run a business' then AVFC would certainly be the model to use.

With all that said, he has the power to change it all. If he admits the massive mistake and failure that is Mcleish he has the chance to turn this mess around. The wage bill is slowly coming down to a reasonable level and hopefully when it does become manageable he can start again.

Lerner can be a success at this club and all signs are pointing to him 'starting again'. Once the idiots like Dunne and Warnock are gone AVFC can start again. Lets hope this time Lerner has learnt from his mistake and he can put us in a position to compete once more.

The first piece of the jigsaw though is to get rid of Mcleish. And pronto.


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