You will no doubt be aware by now that Aston Villa’s Head of Football Development, Kevin MacDonald, has left the club “with immediate effect” following the outcome of an internal investigation into accusations of bullying made last year by former players, most notably Gareth Farrelly.
It finally brings to an end the Villa career of MacDonald who had been working for the club for over 25 years in two spells as a youth coach, punctuated by a short period as Swindon manager in 2013 before returning to Bodymoor Heath. He also served as assistant manager during Tim Sherwood’s ill-fated time with Villa and was caretaker manager on a number of occasions, most recently following the sacking of Steve Bruce last October.
This is the second time in recent years that MacDonald has been implicated in such allegations. Back in 2017, an independent Premier League investigation found “evidence of bullying, aggressive behaviour, and unacceptable language by Mr MacDonald.” The FA were obliged to act after concerns put directly to the club had fallen on deaf ears.
Despite the findings, MacDonald remained in his role, coaching the under-23 side and continued working on a day-to-day-basis with young players. The decision by the club to retain MacDonald left Farrelly “incredulous” and prompted him to make public his feelings and his story, which in turn provoked the then-new CEO Christian Purslow to initiate the independent investigation.
MacDonald was reassigned away from player-facing duties while the investigation took place, and eight months later, he has finally left the club. In a statement, the club said, “Mr MacDonald had been reallocated to non-player facing duties pending completion of an independent investigation into allegations published in The Guardian newspaper in December 2018 about his past conduct.
That investigation, carried out by barrister Jack Mitchell, has now concluded and the results delivered to the Board. As the report forms part of an employee disciplinary process, the Club is unable to provide details in public although copies of Mr Mitchell’s investigation have been provided to The FA, Premier League and statutory authorities.
Mr Mitchell appealed for individuals to come forward to give evidence and we are especially grateful to those former players who assisted him in his investigation.”
Although the club should be applauded for finally having taken the right steps to redress a grotesque and shameful situation, it begs the question as to why it has taken so long to reach this point. Why was MacDonald retained at the club following the 2017 findings, and why was he merely reassigned from player-facing duties last December, rather than suspended or placed on gardening leave and kept away from Bodymoor?
His track record as the senior youth coach is hardly stellar: early signs were promising with the emergence from Villa’s youth ranks of the likes of Gareth Barry, Gary Cahill and Marc Albrighton, but in more recent years, only Jack Grealish can truly be said to have made it.
Promising youngsters such as André Green, Rushian Hepburn-Murphy, Callum O’Hare and Jake Doyle-Hayes are still unproven diamonds in the rough, while Keinan Davis is still flirting with the first team but can’t be said to have yet made the grade.
Even in the so-called snowflake generation, MacDonald’s old school, sergeant-major approach to coaching is, at best, an archaic relic from another time and it is inexplicable that Villa would turn a blind eye for so long to such methods and the subsequent accusations they inevitably brought with them.
The NSWE broom which has swept away the last pockets of toxicity from the playing staff has also belatedly cleared out a malignancy which had been inhabiting Bodymoor Heath for a generation and ultimately accepted responsibility for the failings of the past.
“Aston Villa wishes to apologise to all former players who were affected by behaviour which would not be tolerated by the Club today.
Our approach to safeguarding is now unrecognisable from the past and has been described as excellent in recent EFL and Ofsted audits.”
The whole appalling episode casts even more light into the chronic mismanagement which has blighted the club for the best part of 20 years and it is not a moment too soon that a line had finally be drawn.
Previous Article by JPA – Douglas impresses as Villa are undone by individual errors – Bournemouth thoughts