One decision. That’s all it takes for even Gods to be rendered mere mortals. Afterall Randy Lerner is a mere mortal. All it took for the loyal Villans, who worshipped the ground Lerner walked on, to turn against him and brand him as someone who has lost the plot was him to hire Alex McLeish to replace Gerard Houllier (not a popular choice as well). Ofcourse, no Villan would ever want a former Bluenose anywhere near their team, let alone manage it.
But is Mclesh that poor a manager? Yes, he has been relegated twice with Birmingham, but he managed to win promotion on the first attempt and led them to a 9th place finish with the limited resources available to him. His record with Birmingham was a decent 37 %, as good as the man he replaced, Steve Bruce who has had a far less success rate with Wigan and Sunderland after his Birmingham job. Bruce has only a 33% success rate with Wigan and 32% with Sunderland. And Mcleish’s record with Rangers speak for themselves. By the way, the man initially considered by Villa, Roberto Martinez has a paltry 26% success rate with Wigan over the last two seasons.
Mcleish also has shown that he has an eye for good transfer deals with most of his signings for Birmingham having come good. Prime examples being the colossal defensive pairing of Roger Johnson and Scott Dann, who were plucked from the Championship – a major punt, but one which worked so spectacularly. The main reason Birmingham stumbled last season was due to the spate of injuries that struck the team. But Mcleish does have his drawbacks – style. His Birmingham teams were overly defensive minded to an extent, they had men behind the ball even when they were trailing to Tottenham on the last day of last season, knowing fully well that only a win would save them. Maybe with the attacking options available with Villa, he might let his team play a more adventurous style.
But why has this decision drawn almost all the fans’ ire? Is it because the manager of the local rivals crossed town and is suddenly in charge or is it because of the man himself or is it because of not appointing a ‘Martin Jol’ or a ‘Mark Hughes’? A bit of everything really. Hughes was the overwhelming favorite to replace Martin O’Neil, when he quit oh-so-unceremoniously, even though he had recently taken over the reins at Fulham. But somehow granddad Houllier got the job. And this time again, Hughes was the odds-on choice of bookies. So much was he the favorite that he decided to quit Fulham even before being approached. I can understand the fans’ ire that Mcleish and Hughes took similar courses of action and yet Hughes was deemed ‘unprofessional’, while Mcleish got the big ticket.
Everything boils down to finances. Hughes reportedly asked to be supported with a sizable transfer kitty, which frankly is out of reach for Villa at this time. Mcleish would be comfortable working with a moderate budget as he did with Brum and that may have tipped the scales in his favour. Randy Lerner cannot be blamed for scaling down on the transfer outlay over the last couple of seasons. A quick look at the club’s finances will reaffirm his reluctance to part with the big bucks. Lerner has invested on the upward of £270 m since his takeover in 2006. Till 2010/ 2011, Some £153 m has been spent on player purchases with approximately £73 m realized by player sales, implying a net transfer outlay of £78 m. That’s approximately £20 m every year and for a club like Villa, it is sizable, considering their perilous finances. Despite having one of the smallest squads in the Premier League, Villa’s wages to turnover ratio stands at a mighty 83.7%, one of the highest.
Too many players were recruited in Martin O’Neil’s tenure on salaries bordering obscene limits. Habib Beye – anyone? This has been one of the prime reasons why Villa are losing money every season. Lerner has also invested in the training facilities and refurbished the Holte Pub at an expense of £4 m. Until last year Villa did not have a shirt sponsor which would have fetched them some much needed cash inflow. Instead they had the name of the local children’s hospice’s name on their shirt. One cannot blame Lerner entirely for the club’s current lack of transfer finances. Thus it is highly imperative that Villa go through a couple of seasons of consistence before they could start being ambitious again. And this is where a man like Alex Mcleish fits the bill. He might play boring football, but with the quality of Villa squad, he can atleast avoid the calamities of last season, when Villa flitted with relegation until in an inspired move, the prolific Darren Bent was signed.
This year Aston Villa have lost two of their midfield dynamos in Stewart Downing and Ashley Young. Brad Friedel has also left along with Nigel Reo-Coker. But a quality replacement for Downing (if not better) in Charles N’Zogbia has been signed. The squad size still remains a concern – a spate of injuries will seriously derail the season. There are a couple of signings expected, especially the central midfield position remains perilously under-staffed. Maybe two more astute signings and Villa can actually look forward to a steady season this time around.