Something For The Weekend (378)
Easter always makes me smile, not because I am particularly religious, or even prone to scoffing chocolate eggs, but mainly because; as I feel the chill wind wafting up my kilt and the whip of rain across my face, I am consoled by the thought that I am now too old to ever be persuaded, that a camping trip to Brean Down, over the holiday, is a worthwhile adventure.
But even though I can now escape the delights of trying to sleep on a bumpy patch of sodden ground, while remembering not to touch the sides of a cheap tent because the rain will come in, Easter is not exactly a misery-free zone, despite the consoling sound of heavy rain lashing my midnight window.
There is always some social and sporting grief to be faced; there are fixtures to be dreaded, matches to be endured, and results to regret; especially if your club happens to be operating as a cheap brand in a luxury market.
There is even the irksome annual spectacle of Man United, proving that being the third richest club in Europe, with £300m in income, is no disadvantage when it comes to dominating the cannon fodder of the Premiership and substantiating their monopoly status. It seems that, when the richest club in England wins its 13th title out of the last twenty, we are supposed to be both impressed and astounded, apparently.
Even Ashley Young's magnificent Premiership-winning dive, was a sad reminder of what it takes to be a winner in the modern game.
Happily, Villa's two-bob team didn't do too badly. Villa took their £47m worth of talent to Anfield and did very well against Liverpool's £109m men, and only came unstuck when King Kenny swapped one £11.5m player in Enrique for another of equal value, Aggar, which allowed them to change tactics without weakening the team. They also had the luxury of doing the same, when they swapped Downing for Carroll, which improved their team, while Villa reduced the value of their team by some £5.5m by their substitutions.
It should come as no surprise that Liverpool equalised in the ensuing remaining minutes of the game.
The same happened when Villa took on Stoke and led through a memorable goal by Andi Weimann. Villa scored when they had their highest value team on the pitch and conceded when they had reduced that value by substituting Warnock for Gardner, while Stoke increased the value of their side by bringing on
Crouch et al.
Considering their problems Villa did quite well in the two matches, taking into account their comparatively meagre resources.
Fortunately, for Villa's management, the Villa fans are so obsessed with their dislike of the team manager, and are so apt to being diverted by their sentiment towards young home-grown talent, they fail to see that any club, which consistently fields a team worth around £40m or less, automatically falls into the category of a club which is likely to be engaged in a relegation struggle.
A few newly-promoted teams who have been together through a confidence-building successful promotion campaign, survive this reality for their first season (McLeish managed 9th with newly-promoted Blues), but teams without the luxury of the cohering effects of time, stability and success, can't expect to defy the consequences of fielding a sub £40m team too often in a Premiership season.
For every Swansea and Norwich who manage to defy that predictor, a Bolton, a Wigan, or even a Villa gets sucked in. An exceptional manager may successfully defy the reality of the numbers but truly exceptional managers are so rare that not even Chelsea or Man City can be certain to find one.
Alex McLeish is no doubt a good manager but good does not mean the same as exceptional. Good managers definitely need to be able to field a team worth a lot more than £40m, if they are to avoid being engulfed in the relegation quagmire . Too often in recent months Alex McLeish has not been able to field a team worth more than £40m, and the result of that shortfall has been inevitable.
Amazingly there are quite a large number of fans who believe that should the same meagre resources be handed to Kevin McDonald or some other victim of their choice, all would be well in Villa's Dingly Dell. They bang on about McLeish being relegated with Birmingham City, while conveniently ignoring the resources he had at his disposal, as they present their case based upon half-truths to vindicate their denial about the real causes of Villa's predicament, and protect the sacred myth of the magic manager.
Not even managers who have won a considerable amount of stuff believe in the myth of the magic manager. No successful manager has been known to choose a small club over a big club, based on their belief that their own magical powers can overcome any disadvantage. Even the FA, where money is no object,
have not been able to attract the magic manager capable of casting a spell over England's finest. It has very much been a case of: the same resources producing roughly the same outcome.
No legendary Villa manager has ever been a success when they have left Villa Park, since Joe Mercer. Successful Villa managers have been fortunate enough to arrive at the club when resources were available and either had the sense to resign, when those resources ran out, or were helped through the door by fan-discontent and Doug's realisation that it was the right time for a cull.
The magic manager is a myth, albeit a very necessary myth for club and fan alike. The magic manager myth allows people to believe that if you keep the resources exactly the same but change the manager, everything suddenly becomes possible.
Certainly, Doug Ellis fully understood the function of the myth of the magic manager, and used it very creatively. Once he had grasped the reality of what the fans needed, he would either hire someone with charisma, like Big Ron, or someone steeped in nostalgic memories like Brian Little. Some managers who were associated with happy memories were actually recycled, like John Gregory and Graham Taylor, the second time around. Whether Randy Lerner understands these things is in doubt but if he wanted to distract the fans from his own culpability in the retrenchment, he couldn't have picked a better candidate than Alex McLeish.
So what both the fans and the club have to face, is that when McLeish finished 9th with Birmingham in the first season after promotion, he was getting the sort of praise which Paul Lambert is getting right now (Norwich currently 10th) but ultimately despite that well-deserved praise his team got relegated a year later, because ultimately he lacked both the mythical magic and the resources to defy the reality, that a sub £40m starting-eleven is very likely to get relegated.
Therefore, Villa's owner needs to back their man properly in the Summer, or face the inevitable.
Now that winning the league is an impossibility for the vast majority of clubs, and actually winning any of the domestic cups, is a very remote possibility for any club except those able to field £100m+ starting-elevens, what can the owners of the two-bob teams do to make the prospect of a season, that only promises mitigated failure, palatable for the fans?
In a previous age when teams like Villa, Everton, Forest and Derby proved that anything was possible, every fan could realistically start a season with a tenable dream that it could be their turn this time, but not any more.
Owners can't really expect to continue to trade on tradition and sentiment when the possibilities for such dreams have been snatched away and consigned to history, forever.
The new era of monopoly and vast and permanent inequality, offers challenges unknown to owners of clubs a decade ago.
Providing the essential magic ingredient, to make that new reality bearable for the fans, is going to take some doing.
At present Villa definitely need some investment and a large dose of magic.
Keep the faith!