Another weekend, another lackluster performance by Aston Villa. A wholly uninspiring 0-0 draw with early season strugglers Brentford has again raised the same old concerns and questions. Unfortunately, this disappointment now seems to be the norm rather than the exception and that has now become the most worrying aspect of the whole situation.
The jubilation after the victory over Norwich city a few weeks ago was clearly much sweeter due to the fact that we hadn’t tasted success in such a manner for an incredibly long time. That isn’t just due to the summer season break. An Aston Villa win has become a sporadic achievement. It’s nothing more than a disappointment and it just isn’t acceptable anymore.
We have played six games in the league this season and only have that solitary win over Norwich. I have previously tried to defend manager Steve Bruce or at least I’ve outlined the reasons why we should give him some time before pulling the trigger. Right now, I’m at the point where I can’t see how Bruce can succeed in this job.
The thought of having to make yet another managerial change drains me. I don’t want us to be chopping and changing managers every single year, or even more often. The key factor for me is the lack of progress being made under Bruce and the fact that there are no real signs of anything coming together.
Bruce is fast approaching a year in charge. With two full transfer windows behind him, this is now undoubtedly his squad of players. Yet still, the results are still a disappointment.
A slow start to the season has been tolerated by the majority of supporters. After all, sacking the manager at a time when stability was important made little sense. However, even though this season is still in its infancy, it has become crystal clear that Bruce is struggling in this job.
The excuses being peddled are becoming tiresome and more far-fetched. Up to a point, it is commendable for a manager to hold his hands up and take his share of responsibility for poor results. Bruce to his credit hasn’t shied away from doing that. However, when we repeatedly hear from the man himself how he didn’t get things right, then it becomes less a case of integrity and we have to seriously start considering how we can keep faith with a manager who is so frequently admitting to getting things wrong.
Perhaps the most bizarre defense so far was saying that the fans had gotten too excited about John Terry’s arrival. Of course, that was nothing to do with the club, and Bruce himself, making a song and dance of the capture at the time.
Tiredness was cited as a reason for the lethargic showing at the weekend with some players being part of the recent international break. I’m sorry, but after six games of the season, this takes the biscuit. If certain players are feeling the effects, then recognizing that before selecting them for a game is an absolutely essential part of management.
Bruce may feel he is trying to shoulder the blame, but in actual fact is only making himself look like he has no idea what is going on. Most worryingly of all, this was cemented when a dejected Bruce admitted a few weeks ago that he didn’t know the answer to solving Villa’s exceptionally poor away form. This is a man who is literally out of ideas for problems that need to be fixed now.
Frustratingly, Bruce seems to be making cardinal mistakes that are really setting the alarm bells ringing. After the big win against Norwich, a game in which we actually played well and scored goals, our next league game was away to Bristol City. For me, and many others, the obvious thing to do would’ve been sticking to the system and personnel that had worked so well in the previous game. However, Bruce changed both and began with a 3-5-2 system that had to be abandoned after just twenty minutes. The momentum was gone. Yet again, more disappointment.
That highlights another issue that I have; the way we seem to pander to our opponent’s set up rather than imposing ourselves. With the squad of players we have, the opposition should be fearing playing us. Yet it always seems to be Bruce being overly cautious and tinkering with a formation to counteract their strengths. Whilst I don’t think we should ever just think we can turn up and win games and ignore the dangers that our opponents boast, I do think we have enough about us to be able to play the way we want to in a settled formation.
Bruce was somewhat fortunate to stumble across a winning formula for the Norwich game. We looked dangerous, quick and most importantly we created a bagful of chances. It could be argued that the Canaries may have contributed to the performance and made us look better than we were but for Bruce to change things around after such an impressive result is unfathomable.
The team selection changes from week to week. Formations are being tinkered with game by game. This is a large part of why we forever seem to be able to build any momentum. Since Bruce arrived we have managed back to back wins in the league on just three occasions. I honestly cannot see any way that this suddenly changes and we become a winning machine. There is just too much that isn’t right.
Replacing Bruce isn’t straightforward, however. In many ways we’d be back to square one and any stability we’ve built up vanishes as we start from scratch again. Similarly, sacking a manager just after a transfer window poses its own problems. A new incumbent will likely have hopes of being able to bring in their own players during January. Due to our precarious situation with the Financial Fair Play regulations, a spending spree to support a new manager just isn’t an option. On the other hand, any manager worth his salt should be able to come in and get a tune out of the current crop of players that we possess.
Perhaps the biggest drawback of all is that it is difficult to identify a suitable replacement. Any talk of going back to Martin O’Neill or Tim Sherwood should be discounted straight away. David Wagner is now an unrealistic option, as is Gary Rowett who has started well with Derby. Many people will point to Dean Smith being a Villa fan as a reason to get the job, but I wouldn’t be totally confident in the appointment.
The likes of Sam Allardyce, David Moyes and Nigel Pearson would be generally uninspiring appointments and should be avoided at all costs. In short, there are no real obvious candidates And that may be a factor in Bruce holding onto his job for a little while yet.
The myth that a manager needs Championship experience is being debunked on a more regular basis. The aforementioned Wagner went a long way last year to showing that isn’t the case, and Thomas Christiansen at Leeds United is further making a mockery of such thoughts. Can you imagine the uproar if Villa appointed a manager who’s only previous experience was managing in the Cypriot league?
In many ways, we, as supporters, don’t help ourselves at times. Remi Garde was also viewed as somewhat of an unknown, and that was despite relative success in Ligue 1 managing Lyon. If Bruce was to depart, you can’t help but feel that only a big name would satisfy some. The truth is that it may well take an ‘unknown’ progressive up and coming coach to move us forward.
The problem is finding them. Olof Mellberg perhaps? It would be a shame to see his reputation tarnished if things didn’t work out. His managerial career in Sweden with IF Brommpojkarna has begun very well indeed. With one promotion already under his belt, the Swedish outfit are now currently 2nd in the Superettan and looking good to advance to the top tier. He has the background to command respect having played at the highest level with Juventus and at World Cups with Sweden and he gets the Villa. Boy, does he get the Villa.
Bruce does still have an ace up his sleeve in the return of Jonathan Kodjia but relying on one man to fire you to promotion is a massive gamble and unlikely to pay off. The rest of the team is suffering from negative tactics and are underperforming due to being misused. For all of Bruce’s bluster in saying he knows what is required, there has been no progression in either performances or results.
That for me is absolutely crucial. We haven’t seen progression up to this point and there are no signs that it is just about to click into place. How can we hope it is going to get better from here on? Do we just accept further disappointment?
I don’t want to be on Bruce’s back but the Brentford game has swung it for me. The Bee’s had been massively depleted by Harry Redknapp raiding three first team regulars from them. They haven’t scored away from Griffin Park so far. The opportunity to grab some goals and go for it against a struggling team and put them to the sword was there. This was a game where we had to get three points and in the end, it was only due to Sam Johnstone that we’ve crawled away with one.
The answer to a managerial replacement isn’t clear or obvious. We’re in a strange situation where the predicament of another sacking raises its own issues and uncertainties. However, for me, one thing has become absolutely crystal and that we are going nowhere fast while Bruce remains in charge.