Date: 10th March 2012 at 1:55am
Written by:

Imagine the following:

A client complains that I have acted unprofessionally. I am duly pulled before an ethics and standards committee to respond to these allegations. In my defence I offer the following explanation as to why I have gone wrong: I am going through a transitional year. I am not an expert on these matters though I am pretty sure that this defence would not fly.

There are contexts in which the notion of a ‘transition’ does very much apply. The Arctic Woolly-Bear caterpillar in its 14 year cycle from egg to Moth, Jesus of Nazareth lying three days in the earth prior to his resurrection and the ability of Autobot leader Optimus Prime to turn from alien robot to hot rod truck. I am not sure, however, if this can be applied to Aston Villa Football Club because I’m not sure if any transition is actually taking place. Do managers turn to readily to the notion of a ‘transitional period’ when things go awry? What does this actually mean?

In football there are transitional periods that we all accept. When Juan Pablo Angel arrived from River Plate for the sum of £9.5Million he and his family went through a difficult period. Moving from South America to England involved huge social, cultural and personal adjustment. No amount of money is going to make that any easier for those initially undertaking such huge moves. Yet starlets like Angel, with club support, do adapt and settle. It applies to managers as well. When Gerard Houllier left due to health concerns it was accepted that the new manager would need time to ingratiate himself and impose his philosophies upon the club. However, in the recent blurb that has come out of Villa Park we are no longer talking in terms of transitional periods but in term of a transitional season. A transitional what?

I don’t remember the August announcement that advised supporters that it was a transitional season; that we should financially prepare ourselves for the paint drying, plate scraping, shin rolling ineptitude to come? However, I am prepared to accept change and embrace new ideas after all, “one does not simply walk into Mordor.” I joke but should we have to be more understanding given the cost and investment we make, when we don’t perceive comparable investment being made either on the pitch or in terms of transfer dealings.

Another example: Let us say I am appointed as an operations manager at a large firm and over the course of my first financial year at the helm there is a downward trend in the overall performance of the business. At the annual review I am questioned by the board as to why profits are low. My reply: I have not being able to bring in my own staff. Not sure that would go down too well either.

When managers make such statements about not being able to bring in their own players what are they actually telling us? With the wage bill we have and the good youngsters at our disposal surely the manager, whoever he is, must be able to motivate the players, ensuring that the eleven he turns out are focused, committed and hungry for success in claret and blue. If he cannot do this or the players fail to respond, playing at half sail, what is he demonstrating? That he does not have the psychological nuance to engage and inspire the players or perhaps that the players will not respond for him and that it is their fault? Either way, the manager is responsible for what happens on the pitch whether he likes it or not because the concept of management is inseparable from the notion of accountability. Let us also remind ourselves that this is not the manager of an ice cream parlour but the manager of a top flight historic club playing in the richest, most competitive, coveted and demanding league in the world: The Barclays Premier League. The standards and qualities demanded of those managing at this level should be exemplary if footballing status as one of the top clubs is to be maintained. Obviously, this is not a job for the feint of heart or for those lacking pedigree, experience or talent and with the vast sums involved it is neither a job for those who don’t hit the ground running because points, my friends, mean prizes; prizes that come with zeros on the end and big fat pound signs upfront.

Further, the idea of a transition implies that we are transforming into something better. If that were the case one would see the transition starting to take places in footballing terms, whether that be a development away from the counter attacking 4-3-3/ 4-2-3-1 ethos of yesteryear or the introduction of a short, one touch possession game and a 3-5-2 system. Currently, no such things are being seen. Thus, the idea of a transitional season seems to simply imply a commitment to something different without things actually changing now. That is not, in reality, a transitional season but a commitment to change next year. It is as though we needed the best part of 9 months to really unify everyone to the importance of progression by demonstrating, over the course of a whole season, just how desperately bad it actually all is. (A very Machiavellian move indeed.)

Another phrase often used by the new, struggling manager is this priceless entry: I haven’t really had chance to stamp my authority on the club yet. Really? Are the players Ronin Samurai? Do you need to call in artillery? Seriously, does this mean that a manager cannot command the players or direct the players under his charge or that the players are non-responsive towards their manager? Maybe it means he doesn’t want the players currently contracted to carry his stamp. Either, way if either scenario were the case it would not bode well for the players involved as it would point to a deficit in their sporting and working relationship with the manager. This would be bad at any club. Is it happening at our club? I guess that’s down to opinion.

And, thus far, who are the inspiring names who are linked with leading the riot on our battleship Potempkin or storming our claret and blue Bastille? 32 year old Croatian target man, Olic, who has spent the last two years struggling with injuries in the Fatherland and Rangers fullback, Lee Wallace. I think a keeper has also been mentioned as well and with the prospect of a Rangers fire sale we’re already crying into our seats and it isn’t even May. Is this the change we are expecting? Bosman players, ageing players and youth players thrown into a claret and blue melting pot without a clear footballing philosophy?

It is often said, if you do not change your direction you will end up where you are heading. Let’s hope that isn’t the Championship then and a parachute payment but a move to sustainability and footballing development. Though unless we see and understand the change how can we embrace it? The only people who then change are us- altering how we see things in the hope that our claret and blue future looks different when in fact it may very well be the same. Give is something to cheer then, something to believe in, something to inspire us.

All change please.


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