Dave Woodhall looks at a dramatic day for Aston Villa.
A couple of months after Randy Lerner bought the Villa what seems several lifetimes ago, I met the club’s newly-appointed CEO Richard Fitzgerald in his North Stand office.
FitzGerald was a no-nonsense businessman of the type that Randy had introduced in an attempt to drag the Villa into the modern era. He certainly sounded very impressive and I mentioned in passing that I’d noticed the LED display on the ticket office window was still showing details of a match two days earlier. Fitzgerald was straight on the phone, chewing someone’s ear off and making sure the information was changed. It was a little thing, and if you get them right the big things take care of themselves. It was certainly a big change from the embarrassments that had dogged the latter years of the Doug Ellis reign.
Nine years later, and it may have been to the day, Villa officially announced that Remi Garde had been appointed the club’s new manager. As is the modern way, the official website broke the news. “Welcome, Remy Garde,” it said. Ouch.
The error might have ony been up for a few minutes but it was seized upon by a national media already critical of Villa for ditching one of their mates and reported gleefully. It was a little thing, and Villa got it wrong. It should have been a statement of intent. Instead, Villa once more opened themselves up to derision and provided further proof of a club that’s in trouble from top to bottom. They get the little things wrong because attitudes at the top are wrong.
Four hours later one of the big things Villa are involved in began. A squad strong enough to have Veretout, Amavi, Ayew and Gil on the bench should be able to compete in the Premier League without many problems. A side with Richardson, Lescott, Bacuna, Westwood and Agbonlahor starting will struggle in the Championship.
Kevin MacDonald’s signing-off team selection was certainly a memorable one. Whether he was makinga point by leaving out every one of the summer’s foreign arrivals I leave to the conspiracy theorists, but if the eight o’clock at White Hart Lane had been a horse race the Jockey Club would have been notified.
A goal from substitute Jordan Ayew gave Villa a bit of hope but the final 3-1 scoreline was about right. The watching Remi Garde will have his work cut out, although there is at least something for him to work with. For all the predictions of gloom and disaster, Villa are still nowhere near the sort of positon that Leicester last season, for example, escaped from and there are flashes of quality that need to be built on. He’ll certainly know that the team he witnessed starting the game are a long way from the best he has to work with.
Garde’s job starts on Tuesday morning, or preferably he was beginning it on the way home frem White Hart Lane. He needs to tell Gabby Agbonlahor that his Villa career is over, Ashley Westwood and Kieron Richardson that it will take an injury crisis of Houllier’s season proportions for them to start another game and Brad Guzan that the clocks went back two years at the weekend rather than an hour, it’s still 2013 and he’s still one of the top keepers in the country.
He should then tell Adama Traore and Jack Grealish that they have big futures ahead of them if they can add some consistency to their undoubtedtalent. He can impress on Carlos Sanchez the importance of keeping the ball as well as he wins it, tell Jordan Ayew that he’s starting next week with Libor Kozak at least on the bench and his French compatriots that they are as well. Do that and Villa might, with luck get out of trouble.
Of course, it’s easier said than done. All those little things are getting in the way and threaten to undermine any progress that Villa might have begun when they made a genuinely progressive appointment. Garde is a gamble, but no more some than any other manager who might be available. We don’t know whether David Moyes is still capable of running a mid-sized Premier League club or how good Brendan Rodgers might be at turning round a ship that’s heading for the rocks. There are no Next Big Things on the horion, and if there are, the Paul Lambert experience should have put Villa off that sort of untried manager for a long while.
Good luck to Garde, and yes, he’ll need it. He’ll find the English media he has to work with a much different beast to their French equivalent he’s leaving and should Villa’s 27th managerial appointment end up as the 26th to leave the club without a job already lined up, I’m sure their pay-off line is already written.
“How could he ever hope to succeed there? They couldn’t even spell his name right.”