I find the situation at Villa Park in regards to who will be the next manager of Aston Villa particularly fascinating. Here you have an institution in English football, a club with a rich history, deciding to pass on the interest of experienced football managers such as Steve McClaren and Mark Hughes. Instead it appears that Aston Villa have settled on Birmingham City manager Alex McLeish as the likely new boss (that is, if Villa is willing to pay Birmingham City £5 million in compensation). How the mighty have fallen.
A club with the stature of Aston Villa should be aiming high and signing a Mark Hughes or Steve McClaren to lead their club forward. But to me, the whole drama regarding the search for a new Aston Villa manager smells of Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner laying down the law and deciding not to pay a king’s ransom for a manager of his club. If that is true, then it’s no surprise that Hughes and McClaren were turned away so quickly. And it also gives an indication of the pay scale that Lerner is willing to pay, which would be for a manager at McLeish’s level.
Aston Villa’s pursuit of McLeish says a lot about the future ambitions of Villa. Does the club have visions of winning a League Cup trophy, like McLeish did with Birmingham, to pacify fans and regain entry to the Europa League? It’s obviously within Aston Villa’s reach but the club’s decision to pursue McLeish doesn’t provide much hope for Champions League qualification or a push to break into the top four in England. Let’s not forget that during the last few seasons, there have been windows where Villa looked on the verge of breaking into the top four during the seasons until they lost points and fell back down again.
The most worrying aspect of Alex McLeish becoming the next manager of Aston Villa is the playing style that his teams employ. Out of all of the 20 clubs in the Premier League season last year, McLeish’s team played the most dour and defensive brand of football. At times, when McLeish allowed his footballers to push forward, Birmingham showed signs of life. But far too often, McLeish was too defensive minded. That may have worked in the League Cup and at St. Andrews, but it’s going to be rejected at Villa Park. Aston Villa fans enjoy an attacking and entertaining brand of football. They love to see their wingers push forward with speed and attack the Holte End.
Reading between the lines, it looks like Randy Lerner is significantly wanting to cut down on wages at Aston Villa by hiring a second-rate manager. The potential acquisition of McLeish screams of Lerner wanting to establish Villa as a financially well-run club who are comfortable with a mid-table to upper mid-table finish each season with the hopes of maybe a League Cup trophy in between.
This is not the Aston Villa I know. The club have been through plenty of ups and downs in the past two decades, but the Aston Villa I know is a club who are more adventurous, who play good football and who — from time to time — strike fear in the heart of their opponents. The path that Aston Villa is heading down, if McLeish is hired, is a sobering one. A realization by Lerner (and perhaps Villa supporters) that the best years are well and truly over, and it’s a return to the normalcy that the club doesn’t deserve.