Something For The Weekend (410)
I couldn't help contrasting the plight of Gordon Strachan and Pep Guardiola this week. Both appointments were a huge surprise but one looked like the noble, if sentimental, capitulation of a patriot, while the other looked like the risk-averse choice of a pragmatist.
Strachan had the same look on his face as Neville Chamberlain did when he famously stepped down from that aeroplane with his condemned-man's stare, waving his worthless piece of paper. Wee Gordon knew that he was taking on the thankless task of doing the right thing but in the knowledge that his mission impossible would not make him immune from the scorn endured by his predecessors, should he fail to fulfil his promise to make his countrymen happy.
Despite wee Gordon never having a decent word to say about Villa fans, you have to respect his record as both a player and manager. And there is no doubting that he is a highly amusing and curmudgeonly personality, who will have no illusions about the sort of treatment he is letting himself in for. He said that when he was at Celtic, that he couldn't walk out of his own frontdoor in the morning without being told he was wrong, whether he went left, right or straight-on. So there is no doubt he is a realist but it would seem likely that he's a bit of a romantic too.
The cynics would point out, and the cynics are usually right, that he's been waiting around hoping for a job in football for three years and has run out of options. Uniquely, Scotland bears the dubious honour of producing more great managers, than any other country, but can't get any of them to take what would be the top job anywhere else in the world. At least England have the excuse that they have a huge shortage of eligible candidates.
But I still think that there was something heroic about Strachan taking the Scotland job because he just looked so rueful at the press conference, despite reciting the words of The Flower of Scotland as an encore.
By comparison, Guardiola's decision to join Bayern Munich looked a bit cautious and doesn't seem to offer much of a challenge, for a man of such a renowned reputation.
Bayern's 22 titles prove that they have a bigger monopoly on the Bundesliga than Man United have in the English league and at present have only one real rival, in Dortmund.
They are runaway leaders and considered a shoo-in for the present title. They may not get the sort of television money clubs get in the Premiership but neither do their German rivals. What they get is the biggest commercial income of any club in the world which gives them a massive financial advantage. Their total income is just behind Man United but they don't have United's debt or eye-watering interest payments.
Bayern run their business to make a profit and it is said that they have over £230m in the bank, which makes them the only club who could afford to buy Lionel Messi. So with all these advantages, where exactly is the challenge, and how is he going to prove his genius?
But the truth is, that no matter how great a reputation a manager has for genius or working miracles they never try and prove it by taking a job which looks difficult, they always end up taking the job which looks like a doddle. It would seem that the managers themselves realise that their reputation and pre-eminence is mostly myth and that their success was so dependent on luck, and they have the good sense to realise that money and monopoly is a far better basis for repeating that success, than their own native genius.
Certainly, Villa's Paul Lambert has made enough mistakes and has experienced enough poor luck to remind him that having substantial transfer funds are probably a better hedge against failure than depending entirely on his own native genius. There is little doubt that he has been dealt a difficult hand and he must surely have concluded by now that building a club up to a higher level is much easier than building a club down to a lower budget.
He probably deserves a little blame for spending so much of his budget on a striker, which meant he had literally an embarrassment of unutilised riches in one department (Darren Bent), while other areas of the team were left short or fell short. His writing off of experienced players now looks like hubris.
But he was definitely unlucky last weekend, if not outrageously so, when Southampton stole all the points with a not untypical piece of 'professionalism', which 'fell' well within the ample leeway allowed in the dubious moral framework of the beautiful game. Even so, given the Keystone Cops defending which led up to Rodriguez's opportunity, his case looked weak.
What looks like good luck is the possibility of Saturday's game with Albion being called off because of the snow which is clinging to the north face of Birmingham Rd. If the game should be postponed, it might give Villa time to get Ron Vlaar fully fit, and allow them to regroup. Southampton's bizarre decision to sack their manager Adkins might help too. Don't these people read The Fink Tank in The Times, which has repeatedly proven statistically, that the new-manager effect is illusory?
If surface conditions prove too treacherous to allow the Albion game to go ahead, then Villa get a few days free from distractions to prepare for their encounter with Millwall next Friday, which, if the choice of the game for the television is anything to go by, suggests someone is expecting a giant-killing.
Not many Villa fans see such an outcome as beyond possibility, and one way or another, it would seem that Villa are in something like the same position as the coach full of gold, at the end of The Italian Job, with its arse-end hanging over a precipice, and no one daring to make a move.
Let's hope someone has an idea.
Keep the faith!