Date: 16th February 2012 at 3:50pm
Written by:

An End to Boom and Bust

The manager: He is highly lauded by the football fraternity, both personally and professionally and was a powerful, fearsome defender throughout his playing days. He has the medals to prove it, having achieved at the highest level. There’s just one problem. The fans can’t stand him or the brand of football he has brought to the team. Crowds are down and the Villa faithful are subdued. Sound familiar. No, this is not Alex McLeish. The manager I’m talking about is David O’ Leary and it’s the 2003-2004 season. By Christmas we are in the bottom six and it looks like we are in a relegation battle. Only 4 months into the job the fans are calling for his head. A saviour is needed, the only problem is that the saviour has just been and gone.

Not two seasons before the Villa faithful had heralded the Return of the King, Graham Taylor in January 2001. Having led us to promotion in 1988 and a second place finish to Liverpool in 1990 Graham Taylor swept into Villa Park to a standing ovation, to complete what he had started ten years before, only the game had moved on and, in the end, so did he. A relegation dog fight in the 2002-2003 season left us having to beat an already doomed Sunderland on the final game of the campaign to guarantee safety. We ended up 16th with 45 points. I remember those games, particular that painful night stood behind the goal watching the Blues physically and mentally batter and beat us in what was an ugly violence marked game full of hostility and vitriol. If you think the football is bad now then perhaps take a look over your shoulder and remind yourself of how bad we were then. It is football I would never want to see played again in the famous claret and blue.

After what we’d seen under Graham Taylor we all laid into to David O’ Leary from the off and the pressure cooker started. We didn’t like his sardonic manner nor his aloof attitude, In short, we didn’t like him, mainly because of what we saw on the pitch. Yet we finished 6th that season after a fantastic post-Christmas run, ending on 56 points, 4 points of the Champions League places. In his second season in charge we finished mid table in 10th on 47 points. In his third season the decline began and we finished 16th after narrowly avoiding relegation for the 2nd time in four seasons. The manager was duly sacked. It should be remembered, however, that David O’ Leary managed to squeeze, on a classic Doug Ellis budget, one and half very decent seasons out of the players under his charge in his three seasons at the helm, having spent somewhere around £10 Million, which was a pittance.

Deadly Doug often applauds himself on the sensible way he ran Aston Villa; that he turned down the likes of Carson Yeung and waited for a suitable custodian whilst monitoring the club’s abacus. It should also be remembered, however, that he also relied on some very astute and erudite managers to ensure that his Premier League Football team would maintain its status on his budget. These were boom and bust years marred by restrictive finances in which good football people like Taylor and O’Leary did their best to squeeze blood out of stones with mixed success. Our demands, however, were not tempered by the financial reality. Bizarrely, neither was the chairman’s, whose expectations never matched his paltry if soundly calculated transfer budget.

I, personally, do not want to see these days again and for very good reasons. It is no surprise that the best teams in football are built on continuity and investment. Both from the fans, the manager and the board. You don’t have to look to Barcelona to find a good model of what I’m talking about. A fantastic footballing culture is currently being fostered and nurtured at Swansea City, a continuity of sporting excellence begun by the wonderful Roberto Martinez and now championed by the talented Brendan Rodgers in a period covering 2007-2012. Swansea City have laid down footballing principles and core foundations both at a sporting and business level and they played us off the park in our own gaff in January to boot. They stroked that ball around like it was beautiful. They embarrassed us and I believe that Alex McLeish understands why and that he intends to turn the club around establishing long term foundations for success.

Does all this mean I don’t have doubts about McLeish or that I’ve loved what I’ve seen at home and on my travels on the road this season? Of course it doesn’t but I don’t want boom and bust. I am sick of it. I want success through continuity, from the boardroom to the pitch. Stones are being laid and it will take time. This season is transitional but we will turn the corner, I have no doubt that the ‘turning’ is going to hurt a lot. That is not necessarily a bad thing because in the ‘boom and bust years of the last decade many stupid decisions were made and as a result, a pervasive, apathetic culture seeped in which has to be driven from the club. Every penny the club generates has to be spent well so say goodbye to the gold digging badge kissers or the blockbuster buy who spends half the season on the bench and the rest of it in a nightclub. There is going to be a grand clearing of the Villa decks and it will not be pleasant. Yes we’ll pay big money for a star name but the message is going to be clear: 100% of your game for 90 minutes or clear out your locker, son.

This is the transitional year for me and it will be worth it. Undoubtedly, it’s ugly at the moment but with a long term financial and sporting commitment we can start to lay solid, long term foundations for success. Let’s get behind this manager and take the team forward then. Say no to boom and bust and believe in what the club are trying to do. Next stop on the journey- Wigan.