With the disappointing championship campaign over, thoughts are already firmly geared towards next season and a compulsory promotion push. For a change, it finally appears that we may be treated to a much more settled summer. Entering the new campaign with minimal upheaval is key. This, of course, means sticking with Steve Bruce as manager.

Sticking with Bruce won’t please a growing vocal majority who would like to switch managers once more. The football from last season was underwhelming, to say the least. It is difficult to pinpoint any real moments where we looked scintillating as a team with quick incisive passing.

Before I go any further, I’ll lay out my own views on Bruce clearly. I’m not his biggest fan and I was left feeling extremely uninspired by his appointment last October. I still do. At the same time, I understood why he was brought in. We needed to settle things down. We needed someone experienced to steady the ship in the midst of the chaos. The team was disorganised. Bruce would at least bring a solidity and authority which was severely lacking. We had been starved of winning games for such a long time; Bruce would at least grind out some victories, even if they were as ugly as the man himself. To be fair, he did that to an extent but for a poor January and February, the season could’ve turned out differently.

Like many others, I do have concerns over Bruce’s ability to get us promoted next season. Whilst he has serious pedigree at this level with four previous promotions, has Bruce actually been left behind in the game a little bit?

We know the football will be tough to watch at times next season. To an extent, I can cope with that as long as the results come in. I understand that being solid at the back is a foundation to build on. Our lack of goals this season was a major cause for concern for me. Taking a closer look at things, that may not be quite as debilitating as it first seems.

Employing such caution in our play is looking more and more like an outdated way to win games, however, scoring bagfuls of goals isn’t necessarily the answer either. Both Norwich and Brentford netted eighty-five and seventy-five goals respectively this season but had nothing to show for it.

Interestingly, Huddersfield Town, who have a chance to win promotion to the Premier League in the playoff final this weekend, actually finished with a minus two goal difference. That is worse than our own total of minus one.

Yet the Terriers were praised all season long for their free-flowing and exciting football. A total of just fifty-six goals doesn’t really indicate that was the case. After all, that is just nine goals more than we scored ourselves. That is a gap which is enough to make a difference, yes, but over the course of forty-six games, isn’t a huge disparity. When you throw in the fact that Huddersfield conceded ten more goals than us, it shows us that goals scored and against as a total can actually mean very little.

Perhaps the most interesting stat of all is that twenty-two of Huddersfield’s twenty-five victories this season came by just a single goal. That includes eight 1-0 victories and ten 2-1 wins. In a season where Villa supporters were, incredibly, bemoaning winning games only by the odd goal, Huddersfield was making a habit of it on an almost weekly basis. To top it off, manager David Wagner was earning rave reviews for doing so whilst Bruce continued to be vilified.

So what is the difference? Apart from the glaringly obvious consistency in results of course. Is Bruce really getting that much wrong at Villa?

Perhaps most noticeably for me whenever I saw Huddersfield play is that they have an identity. They are fast, and pass the ball quickly and move off it. They press when they don’t have possession. There is a vibrancy in their play. We don’t have any of those qualities.

Bruce still has to give his side an identity. It is crucial. We need to get some pace on the side. We are so pedestrian and laboured. That cannot become our trademark any longer. The frustrating thing is that we have the players at our disposal to be exciting to watch.

Many people will highlight the likes of Huddersfield, Reading, Fulham and Sheffield Wednesday as all having ‘progressive’ younger, continental managers. There is very much a school of thought that English managers are being left behind as clubs seek the cheaper, yet ultimately more successful, alternatives from abroad who bring an apparent more attractive style of football. Each of those teams previously mentioned occupied the playoff spots this year, which gives the argument some credence.

Perhaps even more damning is the fact that all five overseas managers operating in the Championship (the other being Rafa Benitez) finished in the top six places this season.

Of course, simply being a foreign manager doesn’t equate to being a success. You are probably We wont compare Garde to Bruce.thinking of Remi Garde right now, but I am loathed to use him as an example due to the absolute mess he was having to deal with in terms of Lerner et al. I still think he’ll do well elsewhere.

I can’t help looking at exciting managers such as Oscar Garcia who is currently at Red Bull Salzburg or Eduardo Berizzo at Celta Vigo and think they could really get something going at Villa. Unfortunately, since I first began harbouring hopes for them a while back, both have improved to a level where they are being linked with Barcelona and Sevilla for their next jobs.

Perhaps it is merely an age thing. I do think there is a certain cluster of more experienced English managers to prefer a cautious approach. Bruce for me can easily be grouped with the likes of Sam Allardyce and Tony Pulis. Those deemed to be ‘old school’ and are known for getting a job done with no frills. Their methods bring relative success, in so much as they are very good at avoiding relegation. Yet it isn’t just the style of football. It is the complexity of the tactics that is an issue also. There seems to be a real inflexibility with these sort of managers to adapt and evolve. Just occasionally, it would be great to feel that Bruce has outwitted an opponent. Even Tim Sherwood was capable of doing that at times. Or was that just pot luck?

There are plenty of up and coming English managers. Lee Johnson and Garry Monk are just two examples who are amassing steadily growing reputations and who look to play more attractive football. Yet for some reason, the foreign managers still appeal more. Is it because it’s more ‘sexy’ and cool to have a suave European prowling on the touchline? Is it the Pep effect? Perhaps. Are Villa in a position to take a gamble on any of these younger managers? I don’t think we are. Not at this moment at least.

The big problem is that Dr Tony Xia would have to massively gamble if he decided to sack Bruce now and it just isn’t going to happen. All the noises coming out from Xia and chief Executive Keith Wyness are about backing Bruce in order to succeed next season. That is the right thing for us at this moment in time. Besides, it is the only option they have right now.

I do think Bruce is somewhat antiquated in his ways. The football isn’t good to watch but I don’t necessarily think that means that promotion is beyond us next season. We have the players, however, Bruce does need to make some adaptations to get the best out of them. There are some signs of life, with the emergence of the exciting Andre Green being given chances in the first team for example. With any luck, that bodes well for a less turgid outlook.

I’m personally resigned to giving Bruce the chance to come out of the blocks flying next season. There is no other choice. Let’s not forget, his last promotion came with Hull City only the season before last. Things haven’t changed all that much in just one season.

This is still the biggest opportunity of his managerial career. The stability in place is a good thing. He now needs to build on that and begin to show his younger rival managers that he isn’t quite the dinosaur that many people see him as.

12 COMMENTS

  1. this season we will have a better defence due to it being settled and de laet should return,, but it will still be a play off back 5 i feel unless we bring another center back in as i am not convinced about baker although if we get a good start there is every possibility he and the rest will improve just through confidence alone
    my problem is the midfield covers the weeknesses in the defence to its detriment
    and this cautious play is something we need to see much less of if we are to be promoted,,, personally i agree with everything above but bruce knows his onions
    and i feel he is managing towards the bottom of what he is capable
    a few more players in the key areas should allow him to get much more from the side
    and if he can get the best from mccormack and hogan then we will be up there in the mix next season

    • Hmmm, let’s mention Johnson and Monk. Monk sacked from Swansea and replaced by a continental geriatric, Johnson clinging to his job at Bristol. The point is, just as with the players, lower league teams are turning to foreign managers just as they have with players. Instead of using the vast wealth of upper league football to nurture British talent we see the fans scream for a forei coach, foreign players then whine that the home nations teams are crap in competition (taking into account what Wales did, perhaps that should just read England). And we’ve done well with continental managers, Remi, Dr Joe, remember him?, Gerrard. A season ago no one could see us avoiding the drop to the third tier. There are loads of different sauces at the club and we can’t expect to just fly. The last thing we need is another manager.

    • I think you have missed the point of the article? My main argument is that we shouldn’t be looking to change Bruce for a gamble on a foreign manager

  2. Bruces critics complain about the style of footie Villa play but what style do we play as it seems to change week from week ? But to be fair the changes are enforced due to players being unavailable and the squad is such that gaps lead to change . Hopefully that wil be rectified before next season starts

  3. Alex I have a question for you Please think before you answer
    would you prefer us play boring football and win the game 1-0 or play fast flowing football and lose 3-2?

    • As I made the point in the piece, Huddersfield won plenty of games by just one goal. Their football may not have been as boring, but I’d take that result every single week at the moment. It wasn’t so long ago that we were going months between winning games.

  4. For me Bruce is EXACTLY the manager the club needs right now. He was always going to struggle this season and the real challenge will be with the number of changes again this summer. The club needs an element of stability and needs some old school man management to galvanise the squad. Bruce has a great record for getting clubs promoted and I genuinely believe we are good enough to go up next season.

  5. Shooting yourself in the foot there Eric, writer mentions English managers but you deride the suggestions but still provide a flippant comment about the article ‘talking up foreign managers’. Who do you suggest?

    There is a thought process that attaches some sort of glamour to foreign managers, I don’t take any heed of this, what I see are more modern training methods, better use of analytics and greater focus on tactics.

    Conversely, kids in England play competitive football too soon, play on full size pitches too soon and if that is the ethos, you can only imagine how antiquated the coaching badge process is. Show me a manager willing to learn his trade being exposed to European training methods and he’ll get more experience than the equivalent who stays in England.

    There’s a reason why this is Bruce’s biggest club and that’s because he’s not very good and only got a chance with us while we are in the proverbial.

    Agree we need to stick with the crap choice we made in October but if he manages to get another 30 points from this team while playing park the bus then Bruce should get a knighthood too.

  6. An intelligent article as usual. Bruce’s record suggests he should get us up easily next season, however us being us, things never go smoothly. If he had walked into Norwich or Derby last season, what’s to say he wouldn’t have finished top 6? Let’s not forget we tried Di Matteo, a foreign manager with a promotion on his CV and look how that turned out. We have tried just about every type of manager over the last 5 years or so. If Bruce can’t get us up then I’d really start to think that internal problems at the club are to blame. I think we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t on this one.

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