Writer: J P Fear
Date:Sunday December 18 2005
David O'Leary was installed as Graham Taylor's successor at Villa Park on May 20, 2003. He came with a spring in his step just three seasons ago. Now the spring has gone and the fans have turned. The flak once again is being pointed at the manager which keeps Ellis safe and warm in his seat at the top of the Villa tree. It seems our failure of a chairman is no longer 'fair game' because he is old and ill. Change that around slightly and ask yourself, if the chairman is too old and ill to face criticism for his 23 years of failure, is he also not too old and ill to run this once giant of a club?
YES, O'Leary has many faults, the biggest one being his inability to really play the politics of the club correctly. He has never succeeded, or indeed tried to ingratiate himself to the fans. I have to hold my hands up, he wasn't the man I wanted to come in but once appointed, as all fans, you simply back them and see what they can do.
We then had to put up with the 'When I was at Leeds', 'small squad' and 'honest bunch of lads', we had to see his ridiculous run across the St Andrew's pitch to salute the chairman. One minute he is trying to put pressure on the board to bring in the quality players he undoubtedly wanted to bring in, the next he is removing the one bargaining tool he had - his contract, by looking after himself and signing a multi million deal. The pressure on the board evaporated and everyone - apart from the fans - were doing very nicely thank you very much.
Yesterdays game against Manchester United left George Graham (pundit for the ppv Villa game on Sky) amazed when O'Leary came on - looking shattered and emotional - saying he felt 'helpless and frustrated' and admitting that Villa were 'outplayed and outclassed'. Graham, who gave O'Leary his first break into management at Leeds, twisted the knife slightly questioning why Villa weren't up for the 50/50 tackles, saying Villa were a 'nice' team and asking why we weren't battling. He used the example that throughout the game, despite being outplayed, Villa only picked up one yellow card. You can argue until you are blue in the face that we should buy more players, that we are unlucky with injuries and that the leadership at the top isn't what it should be. But the displays we have seen in the last season or two at times have been awful and I'm not sure I believe that the squad that we have can really be as bad as they have been playing. Surely at the very least they should be able to close down the opposition and not have to resort to so many long ball hopeful punts up field? That surely has to be down to the manager and his coaches?
Questions have been asked for most of this season as to O'Leary's capabilities. The cup exit against Doncaster turned many fans and O'Leary admitted to being 'ashamed' and that the buck stopped with him. The season has seen our worst start for over three decades and things aren't really showing any signs of improving on or off the pitch. The latest bombshell is that there will be no money to spend in the January transfer window despite the fact at the moment we only have one fit first team central defender.
Rumours yesterday suggested some sort of fall out had happened between manager and chairman. Another suggested that O'Leary had expected money to spend in January and that he was obviously lining up a move for a central defender. Now I have to make it clear, that is just a rumour, but the way O'Leary (and to a lesser extent Aitkin) looked yesterday, suggested something had happened. Either that or they had simply given up the ghost. Praising your opposition in a tv interview before the game is never the best preparation surely? There was very little talking going on during the game and the managers comments after did little to re-assure anyone that the problems would or could be fixed by him.
So the question has to be. Is David O'Leary about to walk? Lets face it, his reputation has now hit rock bottom, the press have been scathing this season, the fans are turning (or have turned) and the manager admits to being totally 'frustrated'. The hecklers were out in force yesterday where I sit (right by the bench though sadly not on it) were saying the performance was a 'disgrace, embarrassment and lacking bottle'.
So what is keeping him at Villa? The challenge I'm sure has turned into a nightmare, he would have come in with high hopes despite being warned by others within the game not to take the job, now he appears powerless to halt the slide. He has a good contract here and maybe he will feel that he isn't the sort to walk out on a job, but then, he is already a wealthy man and Doug always pays his departing managers good hush money, so that would soften the blow.
The Villa board can probably not afford to sack him, as he and his backroom staff are all on good contracts, but just how long will O'Leary want to stay and be the focus of so much negative attention? It certainly seems the finger is being pointed at him for what seems to be the majority of the blame for this seasons woes.
The only light at the end of the tunnel could be the often talked about - but seemingly never happening! - supposed takeover. But even then, how confident would he be - considering his record at Villa and the way the fans are reacting - that a new board would want him? Would it not make more sense for new owners to have a clean sweep throughout the club?
Interesting times, with tough winter games coming up and another potential cup banana skin fast approaching (FA CUP v Hull January 7th) it could well be that the manager decides to walk with at least some of his reputation in tact, rather than wait for the inevitable Ellis axe?
You can leave feedback to this story below, or join in the debate on the forum if you register with the site, it would be interesting to see what you all think!
Date:Sunday December 18 2005
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