There’s a recurring theme with Aston Villa Football Club these days. For the last six seasons, the once-great giant of the West Midlands has hit a crisis point – except this time, that point has come much earlier than expected and it’s deeper than anyone had dared thought.
After struggling over the line last season, after another campaign fraught with relegation worries, Tim Sherwood is already on the stickiest of wickets after just eight games – with the last six being demoralising defeats.
The situation has reached an incredibly odd boiling point with Sherwood seemingly squabbling behind the scenes with the backroom staff appointed by Director of Football, Tom Fox.
The majority of the mainstream media have backed the former Spurs’ coach with rhetoric that – due to Villa’s new transfer approach – the players at his disposal have not been his and that should alleviate him of blame or afford him longer at the helm to solve the issues.
In defence of a ‘proper football man’, what has been conveniently ignored by most are the quite galling, frankly frightening tactical decisions Sherwood has been making; costing points at nearly every turn.
Not content with picking baffling sides and making unfathomable in-game changes, he has also taken to publicly blaming his charges when things inevitably go wrong, angering fans with his third person references and lack of accountability.
Reports have been ‘leaked’ – something he was accused of frequently while at Spurs – that the majority of the signings were not his, despite clearly asserting over the summer that he had given his blessing to each one, personally flying out to Spain to seal the Adama Traore deal, for instance.
Over the course of the last ten weeks, Sherwood has become a walking contradiction, giving off the impression of a man woefully out of his depth, in self-preservation mode, waiting for the axe to fall.
The tension between manager and board are clear and palpable and unless a swift and calculated decision is made, this new turmoil will finally see the club drop – a sad prospect for a club of Villa’s size and stature.
Lerner Not Learning
Are owner, Randy Lerner, and DoF, Tom Fox, capable of making the correct calls, though? Lerner has owned the club since the summer of 2006 and in that time has overseen five different managers. Only Martin O’Neill has been a success and, in truth, it was former owner Doug Ellis who appointed him.
Ever since the Irishman’s departure, the American has made a succession of bad decisions that has seen the club drop like a stone. His appointment of former Arsenal chief commercial offer, Tom Fox, has been criticised in some quarters.
Former Villa striker Stan Collymore was today relieved of his column in the club’s official match programme for his observations on Villa’s structure, issuing a statement that compounded his view that the club would continue to struggle under the current ownership.
This has echoed the treatment of Ian Taylor – another ex-Villan and terrace legend – from last season in which the former midfielder was dropped from club ambassadorial duties for his strong views on Paul Lambert and his side’s performances.
With a club in such upheaval, such dictatorial behaviour is surely not acceptable. Collymore, and Taylor before him, as Villa fans, have a right to their constructive criticism. Unlike well-run clubs such as Swansea, Stoke or even Crystal Palace, there is no fans’ representative on the Villa board – worryingly dismissed out of hand by Fox over the summer.
Sink or Swim
In truth, Fox – despite having little to no experience of running a football club – has been impressive since taking the helm at Villa Park and his sacking of Paul Lambert and appointment of Tim Sherwood did help save the club from relegation last season.
There was a distinct lack of options then, though, which had in essence forced Fox’s hand. Should he choose to pull the trigger on Sherwood now, he will have a much larger pool of quality to choose from with the likes of David Moyes, Brendan Rodgers, Lucien Favre and Remi Garde all being mooted as possible successors.
If Sherwood is to be replaced – and he should be – Lerner and Fox cannot afford to get the next one wrong; not only because it will end in relegation, but because the current options are of a high quality.
Whoever is to blame for the current commotion at the club is now beside the point: eight games into the season and Aston Villa are a crossroads – in reality, it is now sink or swim for one of the historical giants of the English game.