Aston Villa are a great football club.
They’re amongst the all-time leaders in major honours won in English football, have a European Cup under their belt and are the biggest club from the second-largest city in the country.
There’s no reason this club, with the resources at its disposal, is miring around the bottom of the Premier League year after year.
And despite the miserable start the club have gotten off to, a new manager’s ability to avoid relegation this season shouldn’t have too much of an effect on the final decision — because it’s time Villa try to take that step up, back to the top half where they belong.
This is where I’m going to disagree with people.
I don’t particularly want a "safe" managerial appointment, and I surely don’t include Premier League experience in my evaluation of prospective Villa headmen — it’s a silly, overrated metric used by clubs who simply want to achieve what they’re "supposed to" in any given year.
Right now, this once-glorious football club’s "place" in English football is as a doormat. And a "safe" managerial appointment that stresses the wrong things will simply continue the club down that road, one most of us would agree is a pretty terrible road to be on.
And while I certainly understand the desire to play it safe, not put the carriage before the horse, and simply focus on avoiding relegation this year, it risks blowing the club’s best chance to move itself up the table, up that pecking order, and into a world where the club’s "place" is more befitting of its stature, history, and opportunity.
The Aston Villa board could bring in a manger that should secure survival. Nigel Pearson would probably be an apt candidate here — he kept a generally-poor Leicester City side up last season with an inspired, late-season run of form. If he could lift the performances of the Villa side, he could probably take it to safety by the time season’s out.
But worrying about security runs the risk of spoiling millions of pounds of investment from this summer’s sales — ones I still believe will come good, even if they need time to pan out.
Worrying about security moves managers to play Kieran Richardson and Joleon Lescott instead of Jordan Amavi and Ciaran Clark in the name of having more "veteran" players in the squad, and it prioritizes putting guys like Gabby Agbonlahor first on the team sheet over Adama Traoré, all the while leaving Jordan Veretout out of the squad.
For everything around the club, what you see with guys like Richardson, Lescott and Agbonlahor is what you get — they’re not improving at this stage of their career, and Villa are unlikely to recoup the investment put in any of them.
On the flip side, the younger players invested in over the summer have every opportunity to grow. Jordan Ayew could yet be a prolific forward, and we’ll hopefully have the chance to see him grow in the next few matches. Amavi is widely considered a top left back prospect, while Clark and Jores Okore were long thought of as future hallmarks of the Aston Villa back line.
At the end of the day, here’s the situation Villa find themselves in:
Over the summer, the club prioritized investing in young players with high levels of potential — ones who could be sold on for a larger fee after taking the club forward, allowing for reinvestment back into the squad to further improve it.
But Aston Villa are also in a relegation battle, and there’s no clear path to them getting out of it any time soon — even a run of four wins in five would probably leave the Claret and Blues just a few points above the drop, ready to slide back at the first sign of poor form.
The board has to prioritize one of these goals.
The latter keeps the club in the constant cycle it’s in now — enter a season with false hope, quickly realize relegation is still a concern, and spend the remaining seven months of the season nervously looking over our shoulders (or, in today’s case, looking up at the ground that needs to be made up).
But the former gives hope.
If we carry on playing guys like Richardson, Lescott, Agbonlahor and, yes, perhaps even Ashley Westwood, we pretty much know what we’re going to get: a squad that’s probably good enough to get the required 33 (or so) points in 28 games to secure safety.
If instead, however, we bring in a manager who prioritizes what the club did in the summer to bring through our high-potential players. Instead of Richardson, it’s Amavi. Throw Okore in for Lescott and Adama for Agbonlahor. There’s a fair chance that side could muster just 20 points the rest of the way and go down in fantastic fashion.
But there’s also a chance that side clicks, grows together, and in 12 months is sitting sixth in the table.
I’d rather try it.
So, Villa. Don’t look for Premier League experience or a manager who’s been in relegation scraps before — if the right man ticks those boxes, it’s a nice added bonus, but it shouldn’t be the priority.
Instead appoint a man with this question in mind:
Which man gives Aston Villa the best chance to return to its rightful place in English football?
It’s a better question to answer to than any about relegation.
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