So yet another crossroads – will we ever get free?
How do you solve a problem like the Villa?
A combination of the consequences of Villa’s grand plan and the schedule of the Premiership fixture list, set up what looked like a rehearsal for what possibly could be a future Championship encounter, this week, as Villa hosted fellow strugglers Reading, on a chilly night at Villa Park.
It had all the characteristics of the Championship: poor football, where set-pieces were the main points of interest and a diminished crowd of less than thirty-thousand proper fans, who could never be confused with glory-hunters.
The attendance set a new record low for a Premiership game at Villa Park, and it can only be assumed that those who stayed away, were thinking, that if the owner can’t be arsed to turn up, why should they.
But even those who preferred to stay at home and face their Villa reality on the relative comfort of their DFS sofas, could not have been unaware that this was a massive game, which could have dealt a serious blow to Villa and their manager, had they lost it.
With Villa stuck in the relegation zone and Paul Lambert inviting controversy by banishing Darren Bent from the squad; to suggest that he is out on limb, would be a bit of an understatement. But luckily for him and to the total relief of every Villa fan, Christian Benteke scored the goal which made the difference – a towering-header of all towering-headers. In the ecstasy of the moment most of the deficiencies of the Villa performance were gladly forgotten.
Even for those who caught up with the highlights on the midweek Match of the Day, there was a strong reminder of possible things to come, as they were forced to stay up late to catch the last game, just as they will, should they be forced to be followers of The Football League Show next season.
It was a chastening reminder, all round.
Sadly, despite the addition of the essential three points, there was not much relief to be had by contemplating the Premiership table, and although the extra points provided some relief, other teams’ games in hand, had the opposite effect. So, as might be expected the debate amongst the fans returned to the subject of Darren Bent – a player Lambert both admires and loves, apparently.
For an old romantic like myself, the PR and spin has all been a bit disgusting. Paul Lambert told us that he relieved Darren of the captain’s armband so he could concentrate on scoring goals, while making that impossible by dropping him to the bench. He then played a waiting game in the hope that his new signing would do enough to distract the fans, which he has done, and then he ratcheted up the pressure on Darren by removing him from the squad. In any other industry this would be considered to be unethical and deemed constructive dismissal.
But for cheating and dodgy management, you can’t beat football.
Sadly, the club has a history of doing this over the last few seasons, and whether it was Martin O’Neill, who won his case, or the dismissal of minor backroom staff who won theirs too, the club’s ethical standards are open to question. Start to add in the treatment meted out to any player whose contract they now regret signing, and the management culture of the club begins to look very shabby indeed.
But whether devious and unethical or not, the manoeuvring of the management has been brilliant and enough to bring a smile to the lips of even Machiavelli himself.
The owners have been so successful in flogging off everything with a value, that the team now looks so threadbare in so many areas of the pitch, that suddenly having a £20m striker looks like extravagance and a luxury the club can’t afford. The fans are now queuing up to endorse the club’s passion to cash him in. Who they think will score the goals, should Benteke get injured, I have no idea. Some unproven latter-day Guy Whittington no doubt.
Of course, working Bent out of the Villa door makes a lot of sense, if the perception that Villa’s owner is running the club down is correct.
There is an irresistible logic about this and if followed through to its rightful conclusion, would suggest that reducing the size of the ground’s capacity and replacing the ten-thousand empty seats with lucrative corporate boxes, should follow. If Jueventus only need a ground with a capacity of 41 000, then Villa needs less than thirty. This would increase Villa’s income and avoid burdening the club with unnecessary debt, which expansion of the ground would entail.
So financially the club is heading in the right direction and is in the process of discovering some humility and a realistic grasp of their status in the modern game. Happily for Villa’s owner, the fans are on board and realise that the club needs to find a modus operandi which avoids the complications and demands of Premiership football.
It is a fitting tribute to Lerner’s contribution to Villa history, that in 1913 Villa was the greatest club in the world, and in 2013 it very much looks like the club will be a contender for a place amongst the second-raters of the Championship.
How much of a contender, we are about to find out, as Villa take on QPR, currently the worst team in the Premiership, and according to some, Villa are not favourites.
So yet another crossroads – will we ever get free?
Keep the faith!