Aston Villa: Too Big to Go Down Or Not Good Enough to Stay Up?
As we continue to talk about the two wonderful Champions League Semi-Finals we’ve just witnessed this week, I can’t help, as an Aston Villa fan, to reminisce.
Thirty years ago, in Rotterdam, Dennis Mortimer of Aston Villa raised the European Cup aloft after a 1-0 win over Bayern Munich. Chelsea finished their season 12th in League Division 2.
The 1-2 home defeat to Bolton Wanderers earlier this week hit home. Hard. The denial of the daunting, scary, unfathomable realization that, Oh My God, we’re actually in a relegation fight, with a pretty good chance; bearing in mind our remaining fixtures, of going down.
Since the glory of that night in Rotterdam, Aston Villa has been relegated since. Under the management of Billy McNeill in 1987, Villa finished bottom of Division One, a mere 5 years after becoming Champions of Europe. The first game I watched at Villa Park was the following season, against Bournemouth, coincidentally managed by Harry Redknapp. From there, I was hooked. The following season, still in Division Two, I watched all but four of the home games and witnessed Villa promoted.
So Aston Villa, since the fairly recent departure of Martin O’Neill, have slumped. Year after year, a top six finish was normal, along with a good cup run one year or another. That’s what I, as a Villa fan, call a good year. Since then, I’ve found myself studying the success and failure of the Cleveland Browns, desperately trying to find a connection between Randy Lerner and mediocrity. Although I haven’t found it, it’s there. Given Villa’s mighty debts and losses for 2011, I can understand an owner getting to grips with rising player wages, financial fair play, sponsorship and attendances. I can understand the appointment of a coach that will cool things down, make good use of the academy, keep us in the Premier League and build from there. Desperate to appoint a coach with Premier League experience following the mutual exit of Gerrard Houllier, along comes Alex McLeish. His Premier League experience involved relegation. Twice. Maybe now a third.
With the history of Europe, FA Cups and League Titles, are Aston Villa, a team that I love, too big to be relegated? No. Quite simply put, we’re just not good enough to stay up. I hear Leeds United fans, and Nottingham Forest fans saying they deserve to be in the Premier League based on their history. Utter Bollocks. You deserve to be where your results end you up. History, outside of the current season, means nothing in football. When you fail to win games and have a win ratio of 20%, scoring an average 1 goal per game, you go down. Outside of Wolverhampton Wanderers (who are already relegated), Aston Villa has the least number of wins in the Premier League, with a mere seven.
To rely on the failure of clubs below Villa in the table, is disastrous. With an in-form West Brom, Spurs and tricky Norwich as our remaining games, I can’t see a win. I see relegation.
Will Villa bounce back like Newcastle (and possibly West Ham), or will we be mired like Leeds, Forest or Sheffield Wednesday in washout row? I have no idea. I only know that our success or failure lies simply with results, not how grand our stadium or our trophy cabinet has become. The fans, including myself, have vented their angst toward McLeish to the point where Lerner has to issue a statement saying he shared in the fans frustrations (You hired him, Randy!) yet, supports the manager. While I hope this is the kiss of death, vote of confidence two weeks before you’re fired-type statement, it may turn out to be permanent. Who better, bar Neil Warnock or Chris Hughton to get a team back into the Premier League than Alex McLeish?
Aston Villa. Too big to relegated, not good enough to stay up. Have they hired a coach that is too good for the Championship, but not good enough for the Premier League? It’s doubtful if Villa fans can get over McLeish. Nothing to do with the fact that he once coached our fiercest, bitterest rivals, but purely on the fact that he insists on archaic, park-the-bus, long ball football that is ugly.
Seeing what Houllier was trying to build dismantled by McLeish reinforced my assertion that this was going to be a rough season. I didn’t think it would be this rough.
This begs the question(s), with three games left. Should he stay, or should he go? Wolves may be a benchmark this season in letting go a manager this late. Are we at the point with nothing left to lose? The catch 22 may go something like this: If he stays, and Villa stay up, does he then stay for next season? If Villa do go down, does he then prove his experience correct to get promoted, and stay for next season? If sacked now and Villa go down, is that an expected circumstance?
Either way, these next three weeks will be agonizing for a fan of the bottom six teams. With one relegation berth already taken, staying up will feel like that night in Rotterdam in 1982. Success is no longer measured by a Europa League place, but by avoiding failure. Not good enough.