Flair time at Villa Park?

With a lack of football over the past week, Matthew Turvey asks if flair is set to return at Villa Park, and how Villa’s squad are coping after almost two seasons of upheaval.

With a lack of football over the past week, Matthew Turvey asks if flair is set to return at Villa Park, and how Villa’s squad are coping after almost two seasons of upheaval.

This past week, Aston Villa haven’t played a match with Tuesday’s scheduled game against Bolton Wanderers called off because of the much-publicised health issues of Fabrice Muamba. Thankfully the Bolton midfielder is recovering, and we wish him all the best in his continued recovery.

For Villa, having their next game against Arsenal rather than Bolton is somewhat of an increase in challenge. Whilst Arsenal have hardly been on fire against Villa this season, games in the league and the cup have both yielded loss for the Birmingham club. Yes, it is one thing for Villa to perform well for a half, but coming away with nothing is still the hallmark of defeat.

Villa, the club with the most draws in the league, have often avoided defeat but largely because the team has been set out in a way to “not lose” rather than “win” which is, for many, has been fairly disappointing.

Of course, as a Villa fan, it’s easy to understand the reasoning for such tactics, coming as they do in the middle of a period where the club is transitioning for a second season, but it’s pretty boring at times according to many of the fans.

Saying that out loud makes it feel a tad spoiled though. I mean, who are we to suggest that because the club’s tactics and finances have had to be adjusted the we should be entertained?

I understand the rationality that if you pay your money, you expect a quality product, and that’s a valid argument, but is entertainment ever guaranteed, regardless of if the manager is a dour Scot or a flamboyant Southern European?

Sometimes I get the impression that fans wants a foreign name to turn up at Villa Park, presumably with a suitably “foreign” name in order to cultivate flair, as though, strange as the idea may be, being foreign somehow cultivates a different attitude to football, and one that could never even be envisaged in the cold streets of Glasgow where many managers grew up.

Is this actually rational though? Or is it just that Villa Park has been so deprived of flair football that any sign of hope would be welcomed like the proverbial prodigal son?

I often wonder where such perception of flair being absent has come from. I say this not because I am watching a different team but because, brief periods aside, Villa have rarely been a team full of flair.

Some may scoff at such a suggestion, but when was the last real “flair” player that player for the club from B6? Benito Carbone? David Ginola? Paul Merson at a stretch?

The reality is that Villa have been, for many years, a team built on solid defence. In fact, for much of my life, the basic idea of the club has been to have great defenders. Scoring goals has always seemed like something of a bonus, of a treat, of something that you might get once in a while.

Ever since Dwight Yorke, well barring a season’s trickery from Juan Pablo Angel, Villa have failed to have a goalscorer who produced the 20 goals a season that a top striker is judged on.

Nowadays, with Darren Bent suggested as the current team’s solution to goalscoring issues, the defence appears to be shaky. Set pieces have become something of a trademark for Villa’s goal concessions, with opponents knowing that the Birmingham club seem unable to deal with them.

Why is that though? Every defender in the team, barring Alex McLeish’s purchase of Alan Hutton, has been here for years. Under Martin O’Neill, the defence seemed to work, often acting as the first stage of sucking opponents in to counter attack, only to distribute the ball wide and put our rivals on the back foot.

Since O’Neill’s departure though, the squad, and the defence in particular, has often seemed calamitous. Far be it from to go as far as “naming and shaming” individual candidates, the overall statistics tell the story - Villa concede more goals, as well as scoring less. Such a statistic partly details why the club are closer to 16th than they are 6th.

Could it be that, in O’Neill’s assembly of his squad, his presence was the cornerstone of the club’s success? That his man-motivational skills, often lauded as nothing less than mythical by the media at times, had become so entwined with the club’s development that withdrawal was going to mean a total collapse.

I think this certainly has been the case, with Martin’s exit, and therefore absence from the dressing room, having as stark an impact as any player sale. Whilst the sales of Gareth Barry and James Milner undoubtedly affected the club, in fact the latter was part of why Martin ended up wanting to leave, the Ulsterman’s departure left the club on the rocks.

Such a situation was, and can easily be seen as retrospectively, innately dangerous. Having a person so critical to the success of the club is fine with the club keeps that person around. However, when that same person disappears, then his removal means Villa’s house of cards is likely to come crashing down, much as it did back then.

Nearly two seasons later, Villa are beginning to dust themselves down and rebuild. Players attracted to the club by O’Neill’s presence, such as Ashley Young and Stewart Downing, are now gone, replaced as they will be by those of the McLeish era.

Gerard Houllier may well have been the man in between a once-loved and a still-hated manager, but his stamp on Villa’s squad is practically invisible today with Jean II Makoun away on loan and Darren Bent injured.

What is left, assuming that a relegation battle is a stretch too far from Villa, is to watch the rebuilding process continue. The early capture of Brett Holman, as well as talk of further summer purchases, will signal the continuation of Villa’s rebuilding process, with the hope for fans that more can be done next year after two seasons of disappointment.

Will Villa rise again? Or is McLeish’s second season likely to be similar to his first? Either way, the club will be hoping for a continuation of recent intent against an Arsenal team back gunning for a Champions League slot.

You can follow Matt Turvey’s regular opinions at his own site, Aston Villa Life via http://www.astonvillalife.com or via his Twitter account @MatthewSTurvey.

Comments for: "Flair time at Villa Park?"

ianthevillan

Matt,

I feel like a bit of a stalker responding on here and not the usual place.

An interesting piece and one that holds alot of truths. However to answer the last question, will things change in McLeishs second season? No of course not. He will still strangle the life out of games going for the draw, rightly or wrongly, and fans will still leave VP in droves until this is rectified.

I personally dont care who the manager is, funny eurpoean name or not, but I do care that in the last 3 seasons we have been going backwards and the slide needs to be arrested. Unfortunately Alex McLeish is not that person and if he carries on next season could well see us relegated....