Writer: Mike Field
Date:Friday February 7 2014
Manager Paul Lambert has said in his press conference ahead of the game against Wet Ham United that everyone at the club is 'singing from the same hymnsheet' and this bodes very well for our future and he feels we have every chance of success going forward.
Again the message is basically that the board and manager are on the same page and are working towards the same thing, and Lambert references how important trust and belief is when you are trying to do the right thing and build up a successful club, especially when you strip us as bare as he has.
Now this isn't going to be one of those angry rants, or attempts to sarcastically rip apart his words - although for some they'll say it's exactly that. Because on the above point he is spot on. There has to be a grand plan so to speak, and no doubt there is.
It serves nobodies benefit or career really - even Lambert's in the digital age as we've already seen some of the mainstream press focus on how we play and how he sets us up - so believing PL could walk away if things went 'south' unblemished is still a valid point, but not as strong as it would've been with manager's 5-10 years ago.
With their being a commonly held belief that our owner now 'just wants his money back' things going 'south' also there wouldn't aide that in the slightest.
So there has to be a plan, and if Lambert is being offered - and it's believed negotiations have been under way for a month now - a new contract, then clearly whatever targets have been set and agreed upon for the last two seasons have been met, and likely to be met again this year.
The failure of all concerned is in letting the fans know exactly what this so called plan is. We can all speculate; just survive; Randy wants his money back as quick as possible; find survival relatively safely with the lowest spend in existence to be able to build again from that foundation and try again; wibble the number of plans 'suggested' by fans over the last 18 months alone would fill the page - but the bottom line is we don't know for sure.
It could be any of them, it could be non of them, all we know is on the pitch yes we have a couple of points improvement woohoo, but we look like we're regressing and our tactics are non existent. We aren't entertaining, value for money, and I've never known a team capable of going from performances like Sunderland and Sheffield United, to the small fired up showing when we stopped long ball against Arsenal, to Liverpool and Albion and then back to Everton.
Again we look dangerous, good value and no it's not perfect but it's a damn sight better, when we play football but we never do it often enough. Some say we can't compare McLeish and Lambert, but some of what we've seen under Lambert would've given rise to rioting under Eck. On the other side under Lambert we have seen what we are capable of, but not enough.
Fan reactions prove it, go at teams and play as we can, a happy crowd at full time and happy fans bemoaning why we don't do that every week. Play as we have all too often this season full time sees boos and the anger and frustration goes through the roof.
IF this grand plan was being seen out on the pitch, performances were better and the short term view of game to game involved us having something to get behind, the club wouldn't have the spotlight on them so much when it came to whatever ultimately they are trying to achieve long term.
But we don't know. We've been treated like mushrooms, had illogically insulting interviews asking for blind faith, and harping basically 'what's the problem' we're in 10th place and you just know if 11th down to the bottom spot was separated by ONE point instead of the 4-7 points or whatever it was at the time, it would've been the same messages. 10th place, 10th place, 10th place - as meaningless as 6, 6, 6, because it's just a gloss looking to put a big glob of whitewash over the massive cracks that can otherwise be seen.
But Lambert is spot on, if you are building this kind of 'project' you need trust, respect, understanding and patience through the tough moments. Might have been nice if the life blood had been shown the same, as Paul McGrath knows there has been more than enough go in their direction.
'The progress we've made since the last West Ham game is night and day. The whole thing is totally different. A lot of the work has gone unseen. But in the long term, it will benefit the club. That's the most important thing. We have moved on considerably. If you get a club that wants to give the manager time to do it, it will benefit the club in the long run. People might not see it at the time, but continuity certainly benefits you.'
But again that's the problem, without efforts to the contrary can fans be expected to judge based on things they can't see, or will they judge on what they can?
Again Lambert has had so much faith given our on pitch performances since he came in, irrespective of whether he had to take the actions he did with some players, or chose to, and irrespective of whether he should've spent his money better than he did, or should've had more. That patience has been there, and whatever 'improvements' we've made, we are now worse to watch than we were last December.
And what are these unseen bits of progress?
Getting a philosophy of playing style through from the youth team to the first team. We have no discernible playing style unless you allow hit Benteke from 90 yards and hope. This is however something we've needed as for too many years our kids have come through looking to play football having been tutored by Tony McAndrew, Kevin MacDonald formerly and Gordon Cowans...that's never really how they've been asked to play by the gaffer at the point, so getting on the same page there has been long overdue. Fair enough, that's something we won't see immediately even if we could pick a style other than fast long ball counter attack for the first team.
Financially, well by the end of 2011/12 season - McLeish's only season in charge - we had already wiped off £13 million from our abhorent wage bill in Gerald Houllier's season which had been additionally inflated slightly by the hindsight panic purchases of Darren Bent et al.
We lost most of the wage drain under McLeish, and prior to the appointment of Paul Lambert we had additionally lost Habib Beye, Carlos Cuellar who were out of contract - although I'm unsure whether Stan remained on our books in this financial year as most sites say he was released, but I'm not so sure of that myself as Villa have a good history going back to Freddy Bouma of doing the right things by players until they recover. We then shed James Collins in August, and Stephen Warnock in January.
We can all speculate following that £13 million reduction, what those departures would've saved.
Since then obviously we've seen Eric Lichaj, Brett Holman, Richard Dunne, Jean Makoun, Barry Bannan and Stephen Ireland all depart permanently - although obviously Ireland was a loan for a period. And Shay Given has been out for a few months, as had Nathan Delfouneso.
We'll know more shortly when the 2012/13 accounts are published, but on face value Eck took a fair chunk of that hit, and Lambert despite efforts has frozen out Shay Given, Darren Bent and Alan Hutton and they will remain on our books going into 2014/15 but we've shed a chunk of players who may again be worthy of a £13million drop in the wage bill - minus whatever our contracts came to, and new signings.
It will also be interesting to see the effect that was had on the wage bill by McLeish's signings for 2012/13 that remained, that will paint a better picture, so again maybe there is reason for optimism from the gaffer on that score. Maybe financially and wage bill wise, we are in a much healthier place now than even I think we will be on balance.
Maybe that's why the mini press rush recently has talked about purse strings in the summer and NOW adding only first team improvement signings to the squad, and no longer mainly just numbers?
I hope so.
If that proves to be the case, and we find ourselves looking more attractive on the pitch, we all win don't win.
Unseen work, the continued growth and improvement of the scouting system put into place by Houllier? That will be unseen, and it certainly has been so far because we haven't 'found' any unknown gems, but I would argue we've found some players who could have a solid squad career in this division. Offsetting that though are the known players who have moved for a relative pittance in the last three windows, that our cliche'd 'young and hungry policy' should've seen us heavily linked with, in my humble. We wouldn't have got them all, and yes no point overpaying just on potential, but you do get what you pay for generally, and there are no guarantees somebody pulling up trees in the Championship or League One will slot in and reach the levels you hope - even if they are unfashionable - but equally there are no guarantees a complete unknown from abroad who is deemed fashionable, will slot in and reach the levels you hope either.
I would say following Lambert's first window in charge, there is some evidence of improvement on this score though - but that could just be PL himself, because he had two options when signing Joe Bennett, and when signing Ashley Westwood, and negotiating for the two at once, we did play the clubs off against each other and when 'a target's valuation' went over what we felt we should pay, we put our energies into the alternative instead.
More of that please and across the board, so maybe lots of hope in that department - especially as it would be foolish to say we are now scouting somebody for next season who will be the next big thing, any more than it would make sense to guarantee we aren't.
Not really an unseen for me, but the team's spirit and togetherness does look stronger and more resilient than it did last season, and we definitely saw that grow last term. But that again isn't turning into the performances we saw last season, even though you could hardly say they were brilliant or consistent then.
And I'm sure there are more, but unless the club actually wish to speak properly about their hopes on these 'unseen' great strides are, we can speculate but we don't know. I've no doubting there will be at least one person out there who reads this who could competently disagree with the positives I've found in what I listed above. It's subjective, and I welcome the club not just letting PL hint at these things, and no - details wouldn't be expected - but at least giving an overview of life 'off the pitch' so maybe we could foster a greater understanding and maybe that would help some re-connect to the club, or make them feel they wanted to give greater leeway for our performances. I don't know, but I fail to see how it could be a bad thing if a bit of a greater interview was done here, under the control of the club, so only what they wanted to be released would be. Wouldn't be difficult at all to do that inhouse, and then sit on it for a week before taking a fresh look and publishing.
The only point of balance, and it has been a good debate on the forum lately is, in relation to the longer a club sticks by a manager equals automatic improvement and continuity is always a good thing.
Not going to get drawn overly into that, but will say given Lambert references it, that most fans in that debate look at clubs who change managers every few hours, and then point to Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger etc at the other of the scale. The middle ground between the two extremes is a fair few clubs stick long term with a manager, but they aren't talked about in the same breath as Ferguson or Wenger, because they don't show the improvement or success that the aforementioned have. Now whether or not you think 3-5 years is a long time for a manager at any level or not, and if that constitutes 'sticking by' a gaffer, there is usually a reason why few others last as long as the stand outs do. But by equal token there is little to suggest changing managers every 18 months is beneficial either, when you look past the perceived 'new manager honeymoon period' which in itself doesn't often work.
Now yes there are some who want PL out. There are others who don't, but wouldn't be overly upset if he did go. There are others in the camp of, let him see it out and decide at earliest at the end of his second season, and then those who want him signed up on the contract extension now.
Again it's subjective, and those numbers would fluctuate if performances were better and fans instead of asked to blindly 'have faith' were given a little something more to believe in.
Back to his interview anyway. Lambert also rightly says that it can be very hard in the short term and he doesn't deny that, which is nice given how often we are told things are fantastic...
'If you have a project, you have to buy into it, in the way the chairman has. You have to that vision. The good thing with this club is that everyone sings off the same hymnsheet. Randy and Paul see the vision and what's happened - the work behind the scenes in what we're trying to do. You have to see people at the top seeing the vision and backing it. Randy has been fantastic with that. He's backed it and been excellent. When it was ropey, he was really supportive. This season, he's been excellent with me.'
The important people ignored there would again be the fans. Even if we knew specifics, there is no guarantee everybody would be on board. Too many cooks and all that, but at least we'd know. At least it would again be something to hold on to, you know like a one nil lead when the opposition are throwing everything they have at you in the final 20 minutes of the game and you even have your genitals crossed the ball doesn't go in off somebodies backside.
At least give us the bones of what we are meant to be holding on to here.
It goes back longer than Lambert to be fair, apathy is on the increase, as is the anger, the lack of enjoyment and the disallusionment, don't keep talking about that hope, show it to us. As things stand with so many season ticket holders especially who are talking about, or have made the decision previously to, not commit like that again, and attendances down already, for too many it feels like we've hit the last five minutes, lost two players to injury and our goalkeeper is concussed.
I was playing with a Peter Enckelman joke then, and was going to suggest people keep throwing the ball at him - but I thought too many younger readers might believe I've completely lost it.
Plenty say fans don't matter anymore with the TV money and the like, and to a very unhelpful and disappointing level that is now true in the game. However, if attendances keep dropping, fans don't feel connected to the club, and we don't attract newer fans in the future, there will be a point hit where the vast majority find something else to do of a game day, and whatever this great untold vision might be won't matter a jot as the stadium gets emptier, fan spend goes down across the board, and then without fans to advertise to - what sponsor would pay to decorate an empty room.
And in turn, what TV company is going to keep giving such TV related money to a club they have over a barrel now because without them HMRC come a knocking, and there is no longer a willing and motivated fan base to be an extra direct revenue source.
Well that's morbid for this time of morning.
'We are sitting at the top of a group fighting like everyone else at the minute. There are a lot of teams who'd like to be where we are.'
There are even more fans who like to be where we are but playing attractive football as well.
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Date:Friday February 7 2014
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|2.||Pride of Lions||373|
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|10. West Ham||28||8||7||13||-4||31|
|11. Aston Villa||28||8||7||13||-7||31|
|13. Hull City||28||8||6||14||-5||30|
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