I will start this article will the opening phrase which is becoming perfectly clear and tiresome.
“Alex McLeish was not the Villa fans’ first choice manager”
The fact of the matter is: he is our manager and when he met the team following the pre-season break, there were positive vibes coming out of Bodymoor Heath with players saying how nice it is to have McLeish as manager. Frozen players were allowed to return to the first team and would be considered to stake their claims for places at the club.
Last season was quite frankly rebuilding from the shell shocking departure of Martin O Neill with Kevin MacDonald taking charge as temporary manager before appointing Gerard Houiller who had a favourite in Barry Bannan and was keen to play the Scottish midfielder but Villa began to flirt dangerously with relegation zone and this led to a January emergency buy in Darren Bent. There was no argument that Darren Bent saved us from relegation with Bent contributing 9 goals in 16 appearances for Villa.
Gerard Houiller departed Aston Villa at the end of season and following Houiller’s departure it was made known by a handful first team players who were frozen out by Houiller for a number of reasons. Stephen Warnock was banished to train with reserves for 5 months, Stephen Ireland was sent out on loan to Newcastle and Gabby Agbonlahor was forced to play out of his natural position. Not forgetting James Collins and Richard Dunne’s roles in the team build incident at a Leicestershire Health Spa.
The season started and Aston Villa found that they hadn’t lost a game in the Premier League until October 2011. Until then everything was rosie and no cracks within the team had appeared. Aston Villa took on Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium a ground in which they had not won on since 2007 when they beat Man City, at the then Eastland’s, with a 2-0 win with goals from Shaun Maloney and John Carew. In October 2011 Villa lost their unbeaten league record for the season going down 4-1 losers in the game, the victory for the home side was always on the cards and it was McLeish’s first real test.
Following the Manchester City game Villa have only been able to get 4 league wins and the last one at Villa Park was back on the 5th November 2011 when Norwich came to town. To be honest that victory wasn’t as clear-cut as Villa fans would have liked with game finishing 3-2.
But there has been something that has been bubbling underneath the surface for quite some time now and it has gone undetected until recently from the public eye. Following yesterday’s defeat it was reported that Stephen Ireland wasn’t happy being made the faulty party in Newcastle’s first goal. Ireland was substituted at the half-time interval and it is thought McLeish wasn’t happy with the response shown and sent on Barry Bannan.
A substitution which baffled a number of fans was that Charles NZogbia was replaced by Emile Heskey midway through the second half. Emile Heskey is not many peoples first choice substitution but I feel it was warranted as the ball was given away freely and NZogbia’s movement from the wing infield opened a gap on the far wing allowing Newcastle to attack down the channels.
After the game on the way down back home to Birmingham a tweet then appeared from Charles NZogbia which stated:
“For the first time in my professional career I’m not enjoying playing football”
For games on end I have seen Alex McLeish jumping up and down on the touchline to players but it is clear to see. But yet again villa fans blame Alex “Bluenose” McLeish. This not the attitude we need from fans. I believe that negativity breathes negativity and it’s a vicious circle when it comes to playing the part; Fans, Players & the Manager.
Something has become very clear to me over recent weeks in that Stephen Ireland has been on the verge of recreating the form he shown at Man City and become more forthcoming conducting interviews. After this latest outburst against McLeish he will be left on the side-lines as McLeish will want to send out a message that nobody is bigger than the club. This case has a small amount of similarity to the Carlos Tevez case at Man City but the fact of the matter is we don’t have the luxury to be able to drop players of Ireland’s quality.
Alex McLeish has inherited the current squad with a few cheaper like-for-like signings in Alan Hutton and Charles NZogbia. I believe that NZogbia is suffering from a condition known as “Small fish in Big Pond” compared to the reversed when he was at Wigan. McLeish hasn’t been given money to spend so will have to wait till the summer transfer window to craft his own team.
People talking about the stigma of Alex McLeish came before Aston Villa in my mind Alex Ferguson’s opinion of McLeish was not something that should be laughed at following the success Fergie has brought to Manchester United. Ferguson himself was on the verge of the sack when he made the move from Aberdeen to Manchester United and I believe after six months he was under-threat himself.
Alex McLeish is always being characterised as a defensive minded manager, but last year we had one of the leakiest defences in the Premier League with the same back-four as under Martin O’Neill. Before yesterday’s game I found an interesting statistic which can provide food for thought.
Martin O’Neil Record 1st yr. at Villa: Mon P26 W7 D11 L8 F26 A31
Alex McLeish Record: P23 W6 D10 L7 F31 A28
I also remember when Villa signed McLeish the Birmingham City fans were saying Alex McLeish does not care about the academy and youth within the squad. This is something which has been proved wrong as I have been at a youth game and McLeish was pleasant and I had the pleasure of meeting him after the game. Bannan, Clark and Gary Gardner have featured in first team action and if you look at the bench we have recently seen Andreas Weimann and Nathan Baker. Baker and Weimann had successful loan spells at Millwall and Watford.
Alex McLeish has also got to receive praise for bringing Gabby Agbonlahor back into the fold within the first team following him being forced out of Houiller’s plans last season.
Aston Villa fans seem to think that sacking McLeish is the answer to the issues at Villa. It was made clear in the summer than nobody wanted to take the Villa job with no cash to spend on players as we are currently in a transitional period at the moment. Since Martin O’Neill left Villa, we are close to spending £20million on manager’s recruiting/sacking/compensation so if we were to get rid – what money would Villa have to spend and we would be in a worse financial position for the summer.
The likelihood on Randy Lerner getting rid of McLeish would be admitting defeat and make him a laughing-stock.
So Villa fans need to be cautious about what they wish for. I know it’s hard to stomach at most times but I honestly don’t envisage the two seasons of high expectations to happen anytime soon. I live in hope that we can look back at this period and come out the other side better.
I leave you with the final closure on my opinion with this phrase:
“Nobody said supporting Aston Villa would be easy but that’s who we are” VTID