Friday, 8 April 2016

Rival Lines: The truth - what's gone wrong at Villa? Villa Underground explains

Rival Lines
Match Preview: Aston Villa v AFCB
Blogger Interview: Villa Underground
Twitter: @avfc_vilr

I spoke to Dan this week who is the editor of the Villa Underground website - in the current climate underground might be very appropriate, but Villa are not quite buried yet. It was quite a hard conversation as I found it difficult to be optimistic in what I could ask about the Villa. Still, Dan may have given up on this season but he has not given up on his club and neither have the other 35,000 who regularly attend Villa Park!

CC: Villa have been heading down all season so has it been like the inevitable car crash that you could do nothing about or could things have been done differently?

VU: We have been heading down for over 5 years. In previous seasons we have either been saved by good fortune or there being three worse teams than ourselves. We’ve been through a long period of austerity after owner Randy Lerner turned off the taps, but it has been compounded by wasting vast amounts of resources on dross. Despite the cut backs, Villa have spent terribly across a number of transfer windows and been guilty of tying ourselves to huge wages over long durations. Things could and should have been far different!

CC: You still managed to beat AFC Bournemouth on the opening game of the season, so will that give your players any reason for confidence when they take on the Cherries again?

The opening game was a strange affair. We stand to end the season being able to count victories on one hand after-all. Whilst we won the fixture, my memory of the game is how many clear cut chances you missed on the day.  Through rose tinted glasses at the time it was put down to “Premier League class”, but in reality it was perhaps nothing other than first day nerves for your guys. In terms of confidence going into the fixture, our club and it’s players are at rock bottom. As many teams have found, score first against us and you are home and dry, that will likely be your aim Saturday.

CC: Is there a real feeling from the fans that your next manager must have been a former player with true Villa running through his blood?

VU: The club has suffered greatly, in my view at least, for discarding so many “football” men following the Lerner takeover. Executives and commercially minded folk (allegedly) were brought in, but had zero understanding of how football works. They had even less understanding of Aston Villa. Whilst I don’t believe there is great clamour for a “true Villa” man to specifically take the helm, we are desperately in need of a man who “gets” football. This is in part why Nigel Pearson, unthinkable until recently, has gained traction as a potential manager.  We need a “proper” manager who can grab the club by the scruff of the neck and remind it of its potential. The elephant in the room is that in terms of former Villa players in management, it is slim pickings; Southgate? This is why the new Villa board is perhaps seeking familiar faces, such as recently appointed Brian Little, to take on advisory roles at the club.

CC: It is not just this season that has been a problem for Villa, so is the real problem Randy Lerner and the non-sale of the club that has prevented the players' from meeting fans' aspirations?

VU: The drawn out saga of the club being for sale is a big factor. Lerner wants out but expects somewhere in the region of £150/£200million to part with the club. If he achieves this, particularly given our relegation away from financial riches, would be a miracle. The other problem is that Villa have spent unbelievable amounts in both fees and wages on players who haven’t improved the squad. Equally, we have done the same with managers. If these funds had been put to correct use (look at Leicester…) then the fans would have greater sympathy. Signings such as Charles N’Zogbia for £10m (5 years ago) and £17m in wages since, sit as sour, wasteful examples. A player who neither cares, puts in any effort when he played and countless managers have passed over. And don’t even start me on Gabby Agbonlahor! Lerner started brightly, was badly advised, lost a huge amount of money on a dream and has regretted it ever since. His attempts to try and claw something back have destroyed us totally.

CC: Which was the worst defeat of the season for you to watch and why?

VU: Liverpool at home, 6-0. The worst defeat on our own pitch in over 80 years, to a Liverpool side that is as poor as any in living memory. A Villa team that not only gave up, but allowed an opposition to ridicule the club for 90 minutes and on TV. It was probably a fixture that defined the slide for many, embarrassed the Claret and Blue half of the second city and underlines Lerner’s culpability. There wasn’t a single positive and it confirmed what we knew about many who pulled on the shirt (*This was the game where Lescott “accidentally” tweeted the supercar afterwards…

CC: Did the FA Cup run last year put a mask over some of the problems that were deep routed at the club?

VU: Yes and no. Sherwood for all his failings motivated a desperate side into the final and somehow, miraculously I assure you, kept us up. That side has Benteke in unplayable form and Delph commanding it. Grealish was also a key figure in the run in. It was the beginning of the end however. The sale of our two best players and Grealish losing his way exposed the fact that beyond them we have very little indeed. This was a mess of a squad, but we had the resources to improve it in the close season in 2015.

CC: Do you want the new manager to build the side around Jack Grealish or is it best to rebuild from his sale?

VU: Grealish has all of the attributes to be a fine footballer. However, he has already shown traits that undo the best. With the right people around him he will go on to great things, either with or without Villa. If he wants success he has to remember that discipline and professionalism will get him there. Ideally I’d love to see Jack at the centre of a rebuild, but only time will tell. In truth we need more than one man, we need a whole new spine of a team. It would be a sad day when Villa needs to part with largely unproven players such as Grealish to fund a rebuild.

CC: Villa are very loyal and are there are still 33,000 turning up for home games but will they find it at all refreshing to visit grounds like Rotherham Utd or Burton Albion?

VU: Despite our situation this is one of the few silver linings.  Fans I talk to in person and on social media look to new grounds as a welcome change in scenery from identikit Premier League stadiums.  Villa often get singled out in the media for empty seats in recent years, but this is largely because many fans (1 in 4 realistically) refusing to fund Randy Lerner.  The fact that we still get 30000+ most weeks is actually quite unbelievable given the standard of football on offer and the lack of effort from the players.  An increasing number now only attend away games, so ‘new’ grounds will only fuel this until there is a change in ownership.

CC: Can going down to the Championship be the making of Villa or do you see it as a spiral to further problems?

VU: This will go one of two ways. The club has to make the right managerial appointment and use its size to orchestrate an immediate return to the top flight. I worry greatly if we conduct ourselves in the manner of recent years. That could see us in absolute disarray, ending...who knows where?

Bournemouth are probably one of the sides Villa fans would have expected to have done better than this season but do you think the newly promoted sides have had more ambition than some of those that find themselves down the bottom?

Looking at our downfall and having listened to former CEO Tom Fox, it is down to organisation. Bournemouth (and similar promoted teams in recent years) have made good solid plans and executed them well. Villa completely relied upon its size and perceived stature in the game to guarantee Premier League survival. This is why we became perennial 6th place finishers. Our lack of ambition inevitably translated into flirting season after season with relegation until we have finally been found wanting. Our revenue, despite the huge growth in terms of TV money has stayed relatively static. In short, despite being within the English domestic elite in terms of honours and fanbase, we were left behind. It is astonishing how poorly run we have been.

CC: How important is it that Villa win a few games at the end of this season for sanity and is it best to throw some of the youngsters in now in preparation for next season?

VU: I think the importance of winning is lesser than actually blooding the younger fringe players now. In truth, we have had very few players break through and make the grade for far too long. However, consecutive managers have been reluctant to use academy players, despite the clubs successes in both the FA Youth Cup and Youth Champions League equivalent. Most fans would welcome their inclusion, but there has been a baffling and frustrating perseverance with senior players that don’t try, hurl abuse at fans at games, misbehave in public and post crap to social media. We have become so accustomed to defeat that even a side that tried but lost would be a welcome change.

CC: What is your score prediction for the game?

VU: 1-0 to Bournemouth.

All the best for next season.

CC: Well I don't think we have ever had a more frank and honest Rival Lines from a fan who loves his club than this one. I sounds desperate to hear such mismanagement but we all know it happens at clubs at at Villa their has been a rotten core their for some time which is no help to the fans but fellow fans of other clubs can sympathise with people that get hold of their club and run it down even if they started with the best intentions. Now Aston Villa as a club needs to give its fans something back in the way of belief and direction and rebuild the trust. It's a huge job for someone but the Championship is a hard league and t takes hard work to get out of it. In some ways though if it was not for some big clubs losing their way there would never be room for some success stories like AFCB to find their way up the football pyramid so to Villa fans I say stick with your club and hope for the right people to come in, It's all about the future.

To read more of Dan's writings please visit his website at
Villa Underground where he looks at possible new manager choices for the Villa such as David Moyes and Nigel Pearson. I have also answered some questions for Dan which you should see later after 10.30am.

You can also listen to a Birmingham Mail Villa podcast here to hear how Villa fans feel ahead of the game.

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