Sunday will see Aston Villa fans stage a mass protest against persona non grata Alex McLeish in an attempt to persuade the board that he is not the man for the job (if any further evidence was needed).
With 2 games remaining, Villa look to have done enough to secure Premier League status for next season. Blackburn are all-but consigned to relegation, and it seems that it will be one of either Bolton or QPR joining them. Somewhat fortunately, Villa have a vastly superior goal difference to the teams below them (with a comparatively triumphant -14, compared to Wigan’s -22, QPR’s -23 and Bolton’s -31).
It says a lot for the work of McLeish that I’m even talking in these terms. Comparing Villa to the dross of the Premier League is embarrassing and depressing.
We’re two places and seven points behind Stoke City. STOKE CITY! This is a team who employs two of my most hated players – Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross – and whose kingpin is the only man ever to wear a baseball cap on the sidelines at Wembley and champion of The Ugly Game, Tony Pulis.
Under Martin O’Neill, Villa finished sixth for three seasons in a row. Now, we sit 15th and – in terms of points – are over nine times further from the European places than we are from the relegation zone.
You can argue that McLeish inherited a worse group of players than MO’N, and that O’Neill’s elaborate spending is partly to blame for this shameful season. I can now only dream of an all-England midfield of Downing (as much as I loathe him), Barry, Milner, and Young. Such a team was only sustainable for a certain length of time given the club’s moderate revenues. However, there are many reasons why McLeish has himself to blame and why, indeed, we Villa fans hate him oh so much. [I was going to say ‘have grown to hate him’ but there really was no ‘growing’ period].
Firstly, the appointment was always the wrong one. I don’t know a single Villa fan that was happy with McLeish joining from relegated rivals Small Heath. Even the widely maligned Steve McLaren would have divided option if appointed, but McLeish drew no support. I remember the day I found out about it; it’s what psychologists call a Flashbulb Memory – a vivid and deeply embedded memory due to a heightened state of emotional and neurological arousal (in this case, rage).
I was on holiday in Cyprus and a beautiful 35°c day was ruined when I picked up an English paper at a local shop, turned to the back cover and saw the ginger haired Scot holding up the claret and blue ‘1’ shirt. I felt physically sick. My girlfriend looked confused as I slammed the paper down in disgust. There is no way you can explain this kind of feeling to someone who doesn’t care about football.
To clarify, it’s not that he managed the scum down the road – it’s that he got them relegated TWICE playing the kind of football that wouldn’t look out of place in amateur Sunday league matches. I was laughed at by Birmingham fans (yes you, Dan Marsh) when he was appointed. I’m pretty sure I was told “you can look forward to the dullest football you’ve ever seen”. They couldn’t believe their luck that we had paid £3m compensation for him. To quote another Birmingham fan, “he was our third biggest source of income that summer”.
I was slightly encouraged when McLeish signed Charles N’Zogbia to replace Ashley Young, as I’ve always rated N’Zogbia. However, his complete inability to play N’Zogbia in the right style of play/position brings me onto my next point – tactical incompetency.
When Villa are drawing or losing, the Ginge brings off experienced players like N’Zogbia, Agbonlahor and Ireland and throws on inexperienced youngsters like Weimann, Bannan and Carruthers. To their credit, these youngsters have done a solid job of making the step up to the senior team, but the pressure to score at any cost and salvage a point can’t do their confidence any good, let alone benefit the team.
McLeish is utterly incapable of getting the best out of players. O’Neill was a great motivator and managed to drain every last drop of potential out of average players like Stewart Downing.
McLeish insists on tinkering with players’ positions. Heskey – possibly the most useless player I’ve ever seen hold down a first team place at Villa – has been employed more regularly as a wide midfielder than a CF. If there is one player in history that is not a wide midfielder, it’s Emile Heskey. Hutton too has been used in a midfield capacity. Odd, considering the man has the technical ability of a drunk Pascal Cygan.
Agbonlahor is another who has been completely misused by McChump. Agbonlahor thrives on through balls in behind the defence; balls that divide the full backs from the centre backs and give slower players like Carragher and even Vidic nightmares. Instead, Villa have played short, slow football which inevitably results in a desperate long ball when the team run out of ideas.
I can imagine this team under O’Neill; it would have deployed N’Zogbia and Agbonlahor either side of Bent, both players left to ‘get chalk on their boots’ and with a remit to provide Bent with 25+ goals a season, plus chipping in 5-15 each themselves.
There are many other reasons why the fans have long had enough of McLeish’s dreary ways, a few of which are worth noting briefly.
Firstly, the perennial excuses are tiresome and many fans would applaud a bit of honesty rather than blaming the injuries, the lack of experience or the bad fortune.
Also, any manager worth his salt can motivate a team when relegation is looming. Look at the way Martinez has changed Wigan’s fortunes, winning 5 of their last 10, losing just 3. Villa, on the other hand, have won just one game in 10 – only rock-bottom Wolves are on a worse run.
Then there is the lack of squad harmony. N’Zogbia has tweeted about not enjoying his football, whilst Bent has been seen out shopping whilst Villa are playing. This week, 3 players were fined for a brawl outside a nightclub less than a week before the penultimate game of the season. Whilst the players must take some responsibility, ultimately McLeish has lost control over his squad and commands little respect amongst those associated with the club.
And so the season draws to a close in what has been one of the worst in the club’s recent history. Relegation is still a possibility, and although Bolton’s late surge of 3 wins from 4 games seems to have given them hope of survival, QPR should provide Villa with a safety net (hopefully). It sums up the atmosphere at Villa that I expect no points from these final two desperate games at home to Spurs and away at Norwich.
Some of the many frustrated Villa fans have arranged a protest before and during the game at home to Spurs on Sunday. The protest is due to begin at 13:00 outside Trinity Road Stand near the McGregor statue. Flyers will be distributed around the ground and I would strongly encourage fans to participate if they agree with the view that McLeish should leave for the good of the football club. The flyers are to be held aloft as McTwonk walks from the tunnel to the dugout, and frankly at every opportunity.
Personally, I’d like to see a mass protest inside the stadium for a really dramatic effect. The best idea I’ve come up with would involve everyone turning their back to the pitch for 2 minutes of play and standing in silence. At the end of the silence, everyone turns back around and starts chanting “We want Alex out, we want Alex out”. However, football fans are difficult to coordinate so let’s start with the flyers and see how we get on.