Loyalty Works Both Ways
By Steve Wade
Villa's perennially disaffected fans turned on yet another manager yesterday as 'O'Leary Out' banners flew from the stand. Earlier in the season the club's historical problem of stop-start ambition were firmly laid at the door of chairman Doug Ellis and through a sustained campaign by a combination of disparate fan and shareholder groups, the Villa chairman felt it expedient to at least go through the motions of selling his stake in the club. Now, all that has been forgotten and all the efforts to correct certain misconceptions which persisted in the media, have been swept aside by the re-emergence of old habits.
As Adrian Chiles said on MoTD2 last week, the fans need to make their minds up, as to who's to blame for Villa's malaise.
The last three managers walked out of Villa Park and the one manager whose silence was not bought, was not very complimentary about how the club is run and it seemed his P45 was preferable to another moment in the job. Is it possible that both Brian Little and John Gregory might have thought the same?
Some fans have short memories and in a single gesture, which must have been greeted with some relief by the Villa board, the gallant efforts of yet another Villa fans' campaign was swept away and confined to the dustbin of history, along with the countless others which shared a similar fate and are now long forgotten. Within moments the BBC were saying, 'He was given money!', and the old pro-Ellis orthodoxy had been re-established.
But what of O'Leary, has he done badly?
David arrived when the club had just endured yet another restructuring, where, in compliance with the chairman's stringent fiscal policy, players were being sold or their contracts paid up, to get the club's wage bill down, and the wages of certain players, no longer at the club, were still being paid, well into O'Leary's reign. Adding the cost of selling on players bought by the previous short-lived manager, who did not fit in with O'Leary's team plans, he did not have much of a war-chest.
Villa were a club with problems as the start-stop and rigid business plan had cost them dear, and they needed a manager who could guarantee Villa's Premiership status, while operating within a tight budget and maintaining the code of silence which were the conditions for anyone willing to take the job. There was not exactly a queue of top candidates and in his first season, O'Leary more than met the expectations of his employer.
A return to form by striker Angel and the introduction of some rare quality in the person of Solano, made O'Leary's first full season look like a success. The late arrival of Solano transformed Villa's season, as their form prior to that was dire and every bit as bad as some of their poorer performances of the current campaign.
At the start of the new campaign, O'Leary chose to go with the tried and trusted, and eschewing any gamble on potential, he brought in some ageing campaigners and the services of Baros. Solano departed and so did Vassell, while the player meant to provide the bed-rock of his central defence, was out for the season with a knee-injury - McCann was out for months from a similar cause. Berger was another player destined never to play. Lee Hendrie got into trouble with the police again. With resources desperately short, O'Leary sent Berson out on loan and drafted in another player who would never play, in Djemba-Djemba. It seemed that whatever money he had had, he had not exactly spent wisely. When he lost Bakke after his loan was cancelled by Leeds, O'Leary, might have felt hard done-by but his transfers to date, were hardly a resounding success.
At this point the fans would probably have forgiven his mistakes and would have agreed that he had been a bit unlucky but O'Leary's public utterances did not invite much sympathy. It seemed to a lot of fans, that he had negotiated a lucrative contract, on the basis of the difficult constraints he was expected to operate under but at every opportunity, he seemed to want his cake and to eat it. When it came to the fans' campaign to unseat the chairman, it seemed he wanted to run with the hare and the hounds. He could not muster enough respect for the fans to tell them, that his duty lay overwhelmingly with his employer and he fobbed them off with a nod and a wink.
Worst of all, he seemed to hold his own self-esteem higher than the feelings of his players or the fans' and at every turn he was heard to patronise the young players, who were doing their best to get him out of a crisis, which was at least partly self-inflicted, and then he seemed set on maintaining his own delusions that he is a top manager, at the expense of the fans' delusions that Villa are a top club. It seems obvious that if the fans are to maintain their credulity, in the face of the rather glaring
reality, then it is not much to ask for at least a little bit of co-operation from the manager of the club, in maintaining that delusion.
Loyalty works both ways.
It seems from this, that O'Leary has done an okay job so far but he must know, that with several top jobs already available and others likely to appear in the near future, that his name is not being linked with any of them, and his performance at Villa has left a lot of doubt about his credentials. In the scheme of things Mark Hughes is well ahead of him and others are overtaking him. It is football opinion as a whole which doubts him and not just a bunch of fickle Villa fans.
I still believe that David is the best manager Villa are likely to get and considering his combination of bad luck with injuries and a few transfer deals he might now regret, he has done reasonably well but his PR is a total disaster. There are quite a few managers who have caught the eye this season and must be congratulated but I see no one quite ready to take on the challenge of Aston Villa.
In conclusion, I think David O'Leary has done an okay job in increasingly difficult circumstances but he doesn't need to be told that he needs to do a lot better.