Whatever Happened To…?

Dave Woodhall asks an Astonian question….

It’s getting a bit repetitive, but Alex McLeish really is trying the patience of everyone who wants him to succeed.

Of course, there are some Villa supporters who hope we lose every game because they didn’t want him as manager and would rather be proved right than have their team do well, but the vast majority of us were fair-minded enough to say that while we harboured severe reservations about his appointment, we wished him every success. I wish he’d remember that.

Saturday’s game with Manchester United was an extension of the previous week’s fare at White Hart Lane. Alex, to his credit, at least made a few changes. Out went Petrov, Heskey and N’Zogbia, in were Banann, Jenas and Albrighton. It looked as though Villa would, as the saying goes, at least be making a fist of it. Then the match started.

The first half display was woeful, the second occasionally rose to the heights of mediocre. Against the worst United team to visit Villa Park for many a year, Villa offered nothing in the way of fight and precious little imagination. As one-nil defeats go, it was as emphatic as you could ever see. It was not a good way to start a difficult run of home games.

Debate will inevitably turn to McLeish, and in particular his future. Calls for his sacking are ludicrously premature, if only because of the precedent it would set. However, I would like to know what’s gone wrong with him because the Alex McLeish we’ve seen so far at Villa is not the one for whom I had a grudging respect when he was across the city.

Up until the time they won the League Cup he was, to put it mildly, a pain in the arse. He gave Blues their best league place for half a century, he won them a trophy and he did so by instilling  competitive spirit and a never say die attitude. Two down against West Ham in the semi-final, they went on to win the tie and eventually take the trophy. There were numerous late goals and points won against the top teams through effort and hard work. Not for nothing did such a shrewd judge as Ron Atkinson describe McLeish as en route to becoming the best and most successful Blues manager of all time.  Granted that’s not difficult, but it was a title that seemed deserved.

Of course, history shows that it went wrong for the club after that Wembley triumph, culminating in last-day relegation, and I wonder if that affected McLeish in some way.  When he arrived at Villa I thought that at least he would tighten up our defence and stop the habit of giving away late goals that dogged the side throughout last season. He certainly spoke well, and gave the impression that he knew the club’s history and was proud to be our manager.  What he could do with better players than he had ever enjoyed working with before would also be interesting to see. It was a far from perfect scenario, but give him a chance and we might be pleasantly surprised.

What we’ve got so far this season seems to have been the worst of all worlds.  Villa’s defence is as bad as ever it was under Gerard Houllier, the football is dreadful and the combative attitude against superior forces has been replaced by one of defeatism. The McLeish of today is a pale imitation of the McLeish of even twelve months ago.

Whatever happened to Alex McLeish?