The second and final part of The Bigger Picture’.
Part One: Click Here
Gary Gleeson continues ..
Ellis’ suspected heart attack and subsequent by pass operation(s) do have an effect on the spending. The rumour is that Ellis, and only Ellis, will be accepted as a signatory on a company cheque. Against all odds, however, Aston Villa splash out on Taylor, Berger, Phillips, and Hughes. Eirik Bakke is loaned in until January. Total spending so far: 2.5 million approx. Scott Parker is keen to join Villa but salary proves to be a stumbling block and Newcastle Utd help the player off the ground with a 4 year contract. The Baros transfer saga rolls on and is eventually resolved for 6.5 million when Ellis returns to work having recovered from his surgery in time to seal the deal and prevent Milan departing the European Champions for Germany. As the transfer deadline looms, Wilfred Bouma joins for 3.5 million. Darius Vassell moves on to bluer pastures, however, to cover the original 2.5 million spending spree. And on deadline day, Nolberto Solano stabs his manager in the back and returns to Newcastle Utd. Despite being on the transfer ropes, Villa recover from the shock to salvage something from the deal; James Milner joins on a season long loan and Villa recoup the money they initially spent on Solano. Total net spend for the summer: 9.25 million. Doubts remain about the centre of defence following a further injury to Martin Laursen in mid August, but Ellis assures O’Leary that money for a centre back will be made available to him in January.
The Villa injury curse continues into O’Leary’s 3rd season. Baros, Berger, Bouma, Phillips, and Delaney are all hit with medium-term injuries and the team’s efforts to absorb it’s new members takes a beating. O’Leary oversees Villa’s first premiership victory over Birmingham City. After an abysmal run of form which culminated in defeat to Doncaster, O’Leary turns things around and saves his job with some excellent results in December and January. In January, however, it seems that Ellis’ promise of a central defender were disingenuous, and the only transfer activity sees Eirik Bakke return to Leeds as part of a cost cutting measure.
Through all of this, a common theme. Ellis promises, Ellis fails to deliver. Having achieved his initial target in season 1, O’Leary was denied the opportunity to significantly improve the quality and quantity of his squad. Having been told in season 2 that SUBSTANTIAL money would be made available, O’Leary was forced to sc**pe the bottom of the barrel. And then in January of his 3rd season, he again appeared to have been lied to by his employer.
When I started my job, I was promised a number of things. Most of them were dependent on my performance in the initial stages of employment. Having achieved the targets set for me, my employers fulfilled their part of the bargain. Had they not done so, my morale would no doubt have been effected. I would have been able to stay in my job and take my salary every month with minimal effort and minimal, yet acceptable, achievement. But by keeping their word, they have inspired in me a feeling of loyalty to the cause, a sense that what I do is worthwhile, not just to me, but to a communal effort. I get up every morning and do my job with enthusiasm because I enjoy working for my boss. When I do well, my boss praises me, compliments me and that makes me want to do even better for him.
I can only imagine the feeling of elation that existed in the home dressing room at Villa Park on the last day of O’Leary’s first season in charge. Yes, the team has missed out on European football only on goal difference and, no doubt, they are frustrated that fate has denied them a higher platform on which to perform next year. But 12 months previous they were saved from relegation by Marcus Allback’s goals at Sunderland. That’s a remarkable turnaround lads, especially when you consider how many players have left us since then and how you have had to play a lot more games than you might have expected or been accustomed to. Oh, and the Chairman is coming down to see you, I’m sure he’ll be just as delighted. Come on in Mr. Chairman, good to see you.
And then the Chairman rewards the players and management staff with a verbal onslaught that leaves everyone stunned and upset. Now go away on your holidays lads and we’ll see you back at preseason determined to improve things for next season. I’m quite sure the Villa Park cleaning staff had trouble getting the player’s morale out of the carpet that day.
Eventually, my point is this. Ellis promises, Ellis deflects blame, Ellis avoids criticism. He dances around the ring, ducking the jabs and skillfully raising his guard to defend against the uppercuts. And then, when he shows the promise of a left hook to defy the odds and deliver the killer blow, he retreats to his corner and waits for the bell.
As in so many times before, at the end of that first O’Leary season, Villa had an opportunity to build but Ellis refused to grasp that chance. And by standing still, we were left behind.
Having made commitments to his manager on many occasions, he has consistently backed away from those promises and destroyed the morale of the management and playing staff. Where once they played for pride; in themselves, in the club, in their belief of a common goal, they now find themselves playing on a week to week basis, bereft of motivation, knowing that their prime directive is to achieve mediocrity and not keep the balance sheet healthy. And if you set people a target of mediocrity, that’s what they will achieve.
In times gone by, when Villa Park was a beacon of positive forward thinking and a refusal to believe that nothing was possible, 14 men won the league championship and, subsequently, the European Champions Cup. They were the original ‘honest bunch of lads’.
25 years later, the directive from the plush offices is that winning is too expensive, too risky, not worth the effort. So just turn up every week and do what’s required so as not to lose. In terms of the ambition currently emanating from the corridors of so-called power at Villa Park, honesty is the best we can hope for.
Fans remember the winning days of 25 years ago and yearn for similar times now. That desire is transmitted to the players and manager in an unhealthy level of expectation. It’s a good faith gesture by supporters of a wonderful club with excellent traditions and a history as proud as any in the land; but in today’s Villa Park, that expectation and desire to win is drowned out by the groan of a weary club struggling to keep up, not being maintained and subsequently seeing its performance dipping. What happened 25 years ago will not happen at Villa Park today, unless some fundamental changes take place.
Ellis promises. Ellis fails to deliver. Time now for fundamental change.
By Gary Gleeson
The Bigger Picture – Part Two
The second and final part of The Bigger Picture’.