Villa currently lie 17th in the league, they are out of the league cup and FA Cup, to Bradford and Millwall, respectively, and have won a mere 4 games all season in the Premier League. This all makes for pretty grim reading, plus, as their next four games consist of away trips to Everton and Arsenal, and a tough encounter with the Hammers on the 10th, it seems unlikely that the fortunes of Lambert’s men will change. I will be diagnosing the mysterious case of the Midlands club: Villa fans avert your eyes.
Paul Lambert has managed Aston Villa since the beginning of the current season, after leaving fellow Premier League club Norwich City, who sit comfortably in mid-table, taking the reins from the doomed Alex McLeish. Initially, the move seemed a positive one, and the challenge of bettering Big ‘Eck’s record at Villa wasn’t exactly a tough one. However, Lambert arrived at the club with a distinct lack of experience in the top flight, having only 1 season with Norwich to his name. Before this, Lambert’s record is very unconvincing, having jumped before he was pushed at Livingston, and resigning at Wycombe Wanderers and Colchester United. Previously, Lambert has inherited good squads, like his Norwich squad, whereas the situation at the Villains is quite the opposite, his man management ability is being tested, with little resistance. Players are underperforming for him, with the exception of Weimann and Benteke, and the results reflect that, losing 48% of their games this season, and drawing 8 of the remaining 12 games.
Additionally, Lambert has an admirable, yet naive transfer policy, opting to purchase young, enthusiastic players who are eager to impress and prove they are good enough or the top flight, or so the theory goes. In reality, however, the results can be very different, with inexperienced, inconsistent rookies buckling under the weight of responsibility in the Prem. Furthermore, Lambert spent £21.5 million this summer, a stunning amount considering they are just staying afloat at Reading, QPR and Wigan’s expense. They spent the most amount of money on Christian Benteke, at £7 million, after paying £9 million for Ashley Westwood, Matthew Lowton and Joe Bennett together, three players acquired from the lower leagues who have played a huge part in Villa’s season. This dependence on young prospects in such a fiercely contested league could be the downfall of The Villains this term, especially as Lambert has so few experienced players in his ranks. Players with a lack of character; a quintessential trait for this stage of the season considering Villa’s current predicament. Couple that with the fact that Villa’s current captain and natural leader is ill in hospital with leukaemia and Villa’s chances of survival appear very slim. So much for ‘Lambert’s Lions’.
Another signing this summer was of Netherlands international Ron Vlaar, a 6 ft 2 inch skinhead, from Eredivisie outfit Feyenoord, for whom he made 132 appearances. This boded well with the Villa faithful as he signed for an apparent snip: £3 million. However, Vlaar, and the Netherlands, had an abysmal European Championship, crashing out at the Group Stage as a result of a dysfunctional defence, a defence Vlaar was at the heart of, not so great, eh? Plus, according to Guardian readers in a poll on the website, Vlaar’s performance in the Euros earned him an overall rating of 4.5 out of 10. Granted, Bert van Marwijk’s men had a poor campaign, yet the stats speak for themselves, Vlaar was an underperformer, and failed to lead a defence that desperately needed some direction. Vlaar later moved to a team with a rich history, in arguably the best league in the world, a questionable transfer, and later captain, for Villa? Without doubt.
On the topic of transfers, Cameroon star Jean Makoun, who signed for Villa in 2011 for £6.2 million, was, apparently, the answers to all of their problems. Gerard Houllier, then the manager of Villa, described Makoun as “an experienced player. He is a proper link between the midfield and the strikers,” before continuing, “He has played in the Champions League. He’ll be a good asset for the future.” These words were somehow lost on the successors of Houllier, as he was shipped out on loan to Olympiakos, where he played 23 games, prior to a second loan move away from Villa Park, at Ligue 1 side Rennes, where he is currently. Evidently, the former Lille and Lyon midfielder has talent, 54 caps for Cameroon and 241 appearances, for Lille and Lyon collectively, emphasises that. His combative creativity and experience would be invaluable to Lambert’s men, especially in their current predicament, but he has been mistreated, not given time to settle, something that could prove costly to his parent club.
Moreover, Aston Villa’s reliance on substandard players is a further factor in their failing season, as academy prospects such as Barry Bannan, Fabian Delph and Marc Albrighton, struggled to reach the heights that were expected of them and signings failed to settle, namely the seemingly incompatible duo of Charles N’Zogbia and Stephen Ireland. These players find themselves in the first eleven, alongside fellow academy prospects that never fulfilled their potential, earning a place in the team, not on merit, but in the hope that this game will be the game they come good; not the ideal basis for the inclusion of about half of your starting eleven. On this note, the returning Stiliyan Petrov should not be hailed as the saviour of Aston Villa’s season. Although, initially, there will be a boost at the club, the player in question, in reality, offers little on the pitch but lateral passing and ball retention. He is certainly not the sort of player to grab a game by the scruff of the neck and turn it on its head, perhaps indicated by his measly 8 goals in 7 years at Villa Park.