Rumours have been gathering pace over the last few days which suggest that Arsenal is circling around our Technical Director Steve Round. Whilst the story isn’t taking up many column inches anywhere, the effects on Aston Villa as a club could carry weighty consequences.
Round has been in the position for just over a year, joining us in September 2016. During that time, there has been an obvious improvement in the stability of the club. Of course, there will be many factors involved in that occurring. However, Round is certainly one of those.
For so many seasons, Villa had relied on the wrong people to undertake the most important roles at the club. The Randy Lerner era was littered with catastrophic choices, with almost every appointment containing non-football people who were put into positions of power that they weren’t qualified for.
Perhaps most bizarrely was the involvement of General Charles Krulak, a Marine Corps General who occupied a prominent position on the board at Villa Park. Whilst briefly popular on the fans forums due to his exuberant interaction with the fans, the man clearly had no place in an English football boardroom.
However, further disasters were still to come. The devil’s trident of Paddy Reilly, Hendrik Almstadt and perhaps worst of all, Tom Fox oversaw one of the bleakest periods in the club’s proud history.
To be fair to Reilly, he at least unearthed some decent talent such as Idrissa Gueye and Jordan Amavi but he failed hugely in other areas of his work and the scouting system as a whole was seriously neglected. Picking out a few players here and there does not equate to being a Head of Recruitment and he was out of his depth.
Almstadt was from a business background but held a position at Arsenal as a member of a Football Operations group. However, when Villa came calling, we adorned him with the huge step up as Sporting Director, a position which apparently surprised many people at The Emirates.
Fox was also from a business background and again joined from Arsenal where he was employed as a Chief Commercial Officer. Again, the massive elevation from a marketing role to Chief Executive Officer was laughable and the American proved over his tenure that he was completely unqualified for the job. Inserting ridiculous sell on clauses was just one part of his downfall. On top of this, he also managed to alienate supporters with several unsavoury incidents within the crowd on match days.
The willingness of the club, over several years, to bring in people who were generally business brained rather than football minded was ruinous. There was literally no one within the club was had the relevant and necessary experience of working within a football club at such senior positions.
Amidst the impending departure of Lerner, interim Chairman Steve Hollis stepped in and the clean up began. A new board was assembled which contained the likes of David Bernstein, a man who held Chairman roles with both Manchester City and the Football Association. Brian Little, a club legend, was brought in in an advisory role.
Better football decisions began to be made. However, stability was still sought after. Hollis has done a tremendous job in chaotic circumstances departed following Dr Tony Xia’s takeover. Bernstein also didn’t last too long. However, it was pleasing to see that we continued to bring in football people who fitted their roles.
Our current CEO Keith Wyness has fulfilled the role previously at Everton and appears to be doing a tremendous job and is well liked. However, it is Round who could be the most important cog of all right now, and losing him could be disastrous at this time.
Round is a man with a wealth of football experience in many different areas and knows the game inside out. Having retired extremely early as a player with Derby County through injury, Round initially joined the Rams’ coaching staff. Following this, he took in further coaching roles at Middlesbrough and Newcastle United. In addition to this, he has also served as an assistant manager at Everton and Manchester United.
He was also a crucial member of Steve McLaren’s backroom staff at international level with England. Whilst the tenure of McLaren in the post was ill-fated, Round’s reputation managed to rise. The fact that he was by all accounts one of the most persuasive aspects of John Terry joining the club speaks absolute volumes. To be held in high regard by a player of Terry’s standing shouldn’t be underestimated, and to come out of that disastrous Euro 2008 qualifying campaign with his character more than intact is extremely impressive.
Yet Round hasn’t just stumbled from coaching into a suit. He has planned his career this way and undertook a Masters Degree in sporting directorship to be able to be qualified for such a role as he now occupies. That dedication to achieve his goals rather than rely on his contacts and favours is absolutely admirable.
Especially when you consider the contacts that Round must be able to boast. And having a man with those sort of relationships are invaluable to a club in our situation. As we try to get off our knees and stand up tall once again, the little favours that go unseen could be crucial. That may include things such as securing a loan deal here or there, or perhaps just getting a tip-off about young new talent and being able to get the jump on our rivals.
Round’s role is diverse and touches upon many aspects of the club and that makes it such a pivotal role. He has previously mentioned the many facets attached to his job which involves educating the coaches at the club, developing the academy, and ensuring the injury protocols, and the sports science and medical teams, are running as they should be.
In his own words, ‘it’s about bringing everyone together and leading a team behind the manager’. After the fractious nature of the club during the Lerner era, ensuring everyone is professional and capable in their roles and ultimately pulling in the right direction is a massive deal.
There is definitely a feeling that things are moving in the right direction as a club again and Round’s input into that is essential. Imagine trying to sort out the mess of a huge establishment such as Villa, looking at all departments and staff and trying to pull that all together from the broken state that it was in. Of course, Round hasn’t done this alone, but it has been his job to get things operational and try to bring it all together.
Round’s remit also consisted of revamping the current scouting network, or what was left of it. By all accounts, Villa had just a few scouts working for the club at the time that Xia took over the club. In fact, the system was a shambles, with our Spanish scout revealed to be a journalism student who was studying in Madrid and our European scout having emigrated to Australia. It’s so ridiculous, I feel obliged to assure you that I haven’t made this stuff up.
We had no presence in thriving overseas regions and were pretty much only covering a fairly local area. Since Round joined the club, he has brought in the highly regarded Ian Atkins as Head of European recruiting. Atkins has extensive knowledge of the continent but also has good relationships with many European club owners and agents. Having worked notably at Everton and Sunderland, he also set up a European scouting network for the Mackems. In short, we have a man who knows what he is doing. In comparison to Paddy Reilly, the difference is light years.
Round also brought in John Harrower as Scout Coordinator, a role which seemed to be lacking beforehand. This ensures structure and enables proper organisation and monitoring for the clubs scouts. A simple addition, but crucial. Again, Harrower has experience at Newcastle, Derby and Nottingham Forest. Been there and done it. Exactly what was needed.
Similarly, the clubs youth system is also flourishing again and the cutbacks imposed by Lerner have been alleviated somewhat. Dave Downes, who has been with the club for several years, now has the freedom and guidance needed to source young talent to bring into the academy. Similarly, after years of neglect, an emphasis has now been re-established on developing the talent within the academy and trying to promote as much of it as possible into eventual first team members. Round’s involvement in overseeing this process has also been sizeable.
Whilst his influence within the club may not manifest itself significantly in the headlines and may go under the radar, Round’s work has certainly been a key factor in Villa resembling somewhat of a coherent football club again. And unfortunately Arsenal have become aware of this fact. With two prominent members of the Gunners’ leaving the club, including their chief scout and main transfer negotiator, Round would certainly be able to step in and help with the tasks at hand. The lure of a surely improved financial package and the chance to work with such a well established football club and massively increased budget may prove to be too much to resist.
It may be that Round has already gone a long way to implementing what he set out to at Villa and if he did depart we would certainly be in a much healthier position thanks to his work. But losing a man with such clout in negotiations and his contacts would still be a huge blow for the club.
On the outside, it wouldn’t really attract too much attention. But the impact within the club would surely be felt hard.