Something For The Weekend (403)
As Villa sank into the bottom-three and took on the look of something strange in the toilet bowl which might or might not flush, despair ran through the Villa ranks, as the reality dawned, at the true predicament of a club which has learnt to take its Premiership status for granted, since relegation was an all too familiar experience in the bad old 1980s.
Worse still was their team's defeat at Man City, where no amount of outrage at the decision of an ocularly-challenged official could cover up Villa's deficiencies, it became clear that the Villa owner's decision to play fast and loose with Villa's elite status is reaping the nemesis it so clearly invites, as once again a club suffering from self-destructive tendencies, found that match officials are all too willing to help them complete their project.
With no other mechanism to punish his failure and no other way to acknowledge his responsibility, Paul Lambert took the only recourse available to him; he gave the guilty official a blast of Scottish invective and took his eight-grand fine and one match ban, as proof that he was responsible and cared. And a finer piece of pragmatism, will be hard to find.
As a piece of strategy it certainly seemed to work, as at least a few Villa fans were happy to spend their week raging about the injustice of the idiot with the flag, rather than the shortcomings of their team's performance.
Man City are not great these days, as they proved by exiting the Champions League in mid-week, but even with their obvious problems against good teams, their £400m squad was always going to have too much for Villa. But obviously, when Villa deliberately deny themselves the use of £30m worth of talent due to the club policy of cold-shouldering the high-earners, the gap between the Premier League's zillionaires was always going to be greater than might be expected, and it showed. But obviously the damage was done to Villa when they were drawing and losing to lesser teams than Man City.
Just as it is said that the Chinese are apt to utter the phrase, 'May you live in interesting times', as a curse, so it seems that things are going to be quite interesting for Villa for the rest of the season.
It seems certain that the fans are definitely behind the manager and are surprisingly positive about the players. After all, the players can't be blamed for not being top class and the only thing the manager can be found guilty of, is repeating the same terminological inexactitude as the last manage, by his failure to make it clear to the fans the true plans of the boardroom. Like every other manager he encouraged the fans to dream and cough up their dough, when he knew that there was quite a disparity between what he knew those dreams were and what was possible given the amount of money allocated by the owner.
If we judge the club by its actions rather than its rhetoric, we have to assume that the club has decided that it cannot afford to buy any player now playing for a Premiership club. That the club with the 7th highest turnover in the Premiership (2010-11) can only afford to compete with Championship clubs, when it comes to buying and paying players. Sadly all this has been obfuscated by the club's claim that it is merely responding to the financial fair-play regulations. All this at a time when the club's income from television is set to grow by at least 60%, in 2014 (should Villa still be a Premiership club).
The really astounding thing about this is the willingness of the fans to believe that all this still has something to do with money spent by Martin O'Neill in 2008-9. The fact that every single one of those signings, except Brad Guzan, has left the club, is not enough to persuade them that Villa are not still paying their wages.
So when a club like Villa with a turnover of £92m (last figures) claims that it is only capable of competing with Championship clubs with turnovers which typically, for the bigger clubs, range from £20m to £30m (Leeds United), no one can be blamed for being slightly sceptical. If a fan was to conclude that someone is taking the wee-wee, it would be difficult to dispute their conclusion.
Therefore, as the fans are left to bet the farm on beating Reading on Tuesday, having rather less hope of getting anything from the Arsenal game on Saturday, no one can be blamed for wondering what exactly is the owner's vision for Villa.
From the evidence Villa's owner does not lay awake at night dreaming of Barcelona, or even Everton. It looks like whatever vision he had, and he certainly had one a few years ago, has been replaced by the idea that Villa can be run like any other business and performance should be judged by the bottom line and nothing else. He certainly isn't turning up to many matches these days and so it seems he just wants the club to tick over within an accountant's comfort-zone, where come what may, no one is going to be asking for funds outside his financial plan.
What it looks like, is that Villa are geared up for Premiership survival if possible, or for panic-free relegation, where the loss of revenue would fall comfortably within present financial parameters. Like an owner of some classic or vintage car he has set Villa up as an interesting exhibit in a museum, with instructions to give it a gentle run round the block to keep it working, but don't do anything to strain it.
If this is true, and it looks likely, then the fans can at least feel reassured that things are going exactly to plan, and there would be no point in making a fuss about it. The club is perfectly safe and they can face the possibility of relegation with perfect equanimity.
The thing about a club going into gradual decline, is that the disappointments build and build like a form of mithridatism, and gradually you find yourself gradually more and more immune to the shame and humiliation, which every memory of former glory, pride, boastfulness and condescension brings.
Almost certainly the worst, is having to endure the sympathy. This has already started and it is noticeable these days, that the pundits don't argue about whether Villa are a good team or bad, they just ask whether there are three worse teams.
So it seems that there is just no point in moaning about a situation which looks so similar to situations in the past, and just do what Villa fans have always done, just leave the rich men to do what they tend to do (let people down) and get on with supporting who ever is wearing the shirts.
Yep, it's what we do...going down...hand in hand:
Keep the faith!