Dave Woodhall looks back at one Villa manager and forward in hope to the arrival of another.
By my reckoning, whoever is appointed the next Villa manager will be the 28th incumbent of that position since Jimmy McMullan first took the job almost 82 years ago (for the purposes of argument McMullan was reckoned by contemporary writers to be the first man to do what would now be called the manager’s role, and I’ve counted Graham Taylor twice). Half of them will have managed at Villa Park in the past quarter of a century, give or take a year or two.
That statistic alone tells you what a task faces the new incumbent, and why Remi Garde is now destined to become a footnote in history, the name that will stump everyone in future pub quizzes; “That one after Sherwood,..oooh…what was his name?”
Up until last night I wasn’t sure whether Garde should go. Yes, his record was appalling, but there were mitigating factors, more than any other Villa manager had ever encountered. He took over a club that wasn’t so much divided as shattered and a dressing room whose contempt for the supporters has almost been as miserable to endure this season as the football. Most of all, he was, and there’s no more elegant way of putting this, shafted during the January transfer window. No matter that Villa might or might not have been looking to sign players who didn’t want to sign, or the nature of Lovre Kalinic’s refused work permit, the fact is that the club didn’t bring in anyone who might have helped in the relegation fight and from that moment on, Villa were doomed.
Up until then there had been the first tentative signs of an upsurge in form with a vastly improved defence and a hopeful feeling that fortunes had bottomed out. Afterwards, resignation and although a win over Norwich in the first post-window home game took Villa to a respectable eight points in five games it was followed by the 6-0 humiliation by Liverpool that signalled the beginning of the end both for Garde and for Villa’s stay in the Premier League.
Six straight defeats ultimately cost Garde his job but that month of transfer inactivity sealed his fate. After it, his lack of enthusiasm couldn’t have been any more obvious. Garde made it clear that he was picking players out of neccessity rather than choice, that many of those in the team were giving less than their all. He was nothing if not honest, although he was certainly wanting when it came to pragmatism. He didn’t like them, they didn’t like him. As Brian Clough found at Leeds and many more managers have learned since, if your players don’t want you, you haven’t got long left in the job.
I do have a certain amount of sympathy for Garde despite the unarguable facts – the shortest reign of any Villa manager, the only one who didn’t sign a player, statistically the worst. He came into an impossible situation and was unable to improve it. I’d have probably given him the summer to see what could be done after a free hand to deal in the transfer market but I can understand why he left when he did.
Villa are having the sort of season that comes along every few years, to the bemusement of supporters and the amusement of everyone else. We’ve had most of the markers, including three managers in six months, one of them a foreigner who came from obscurity. All we need now for the full set is some middle-aged angry bloke to run down from the Trinity Road during the second half and throw his season ticket at the dugout.
And so to the future, and whoever the new man might be. One pleasing, and ironic, aspect of the current situation is that Villa have got a stronger team off the field than for decades, the latest arrival being former FA media man Adrian Bevington yesterday (And I wonder if it was his decision to reveal news of Garde’s departure during the England game last night – a good time to keep the pressure off?). In theory, this should give us a better chance of a successful appointment and helping this might be the sort of thing that often came in handy during the reign of our beloved former chairman.
When Doug was under pressure there were at least three occasions when the right man just happened to be available. Graham Taylor wanted a change from Watford, Ron Atkinson was always going to take the job eventually and Brian Little’s destiny was earmarked from the day he started to be successful at Darlington. For all the things Randy Lerner has got wrong, he’s never had the luxury of a managerial field where the combination of the right man, the right time and the right place was so glaringly obvious. He’s proved he can maager at the level we should be at, he’s in need of rehabilitation and he won’t stand any messing from a bunch of pampered prima donnas. Best of all, he’s not Nigel Pearson.