There are many aspects of Aston Villa that make them an iconic team in the history of the English game.
They were one of the founder members of the League back in 1888; their home ground of Villa Park is one of the great traditional stadiums that (before Wembley became the de facto venue for any game of import) was a regular host of FA Cup semi-finals; they have a European Cup trophy to their name and even their claret and blue colours can’t help but bring to mind a simpler, more noble, era.
How different from what we see today.
Barely scraping away from the relegation zone (with a somewhat fitting backs-to-the-wall home draw against ten man Tottenham) Villa fans must be wondering if another season in the Premier League is less a reprieve and more an extended stay in purgatory.
Manager Alex McLeish wasn’t the most popular appointment given his previous tenure at local rivals Birmingham City but he has somehow managed to allow that popularity to fade even further by consistently putting out a team that appears solely concerned with stifling the game and incapable of providing anything that resembles entertainment in any shape or form.
Yet McLeish has already indicated that he expects to be back next season leaving owner Randy Lerner with the unenviable task of choosing between sticking with an experienced, yet incredibly unpopular, manager or taking a chance on bringing in somebody new with no guarantee that things will turn around for the better.
Indeed Lerner is not the first American to discover that the secret to success in top flight soccer is not the prudent financial restraint that can be used to build a team in North America but rather the kind of “live for today and damn the consequences” style of splurging that is the hallmark of oil billionaires who hail from countries unfettered by the nuisances of human rights and workplace health and safety regulations.
Whatever Lerner’s financial plans the supporters will be hoping that McLeish is dispatched with haste and that a new appointee (Roberto Martinez will no doubt be mentioned) can make use of the talented youth at his disposal and, with perhaps just a few judicious signings help the club to “do a Newcastle”, although one suspects that the phrase “do a Newcastle” will begin to feel like a lifelong curse to many an owner and coach in the coming seasons.
The more plausible scenario is that Villa will embark on the kind of slow decline that has become the signature of so many of the once mighty teams of the English game who find that the revenue from attendance figures alone is no longer enough to allow to them to compete in the modern era.
Villa then are more likely to “do a Sheffield Wednesday” (another team with a storied stadium) than a Newcastle and, like Wednesday, may soon find themselves rooting for promotion rather than worrying over the possibility of relegation.
If that decline means that going to Villa Park eventually becomes more fun that it has been of late then that may be no bad thing, but the current incarnation of the club makes it hard to believe that only three other English teams have won more trophies than the men in Claret and Blue.
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