On Wednesday night, Stuart James in the Guardian, John Percy in the Telegraph and Laurie Whitwell for the Daily Mail all published articles suggested not only had Nigel Pearson moved into pole position for the chance to occupy the AVFC hotseat, but that he would be accompanied by former Charlton and Huddersfield manager, Chris Powell, as Walsh and Shakespeare (Pearson’s previous long-time assistants) remaining quite rightly at champions-elect Leicester City.
Whilst some fans see this as concerning (another cobbled together backroom team?!), others seem much more relaxed about the situation, with at least one other Villa blogger claiming that Assistant Managers matter little anyway. Is that true?
Brian Clough was undeniably one of the best managers ever, his work with Nottingham Forest nothing short of miraculous, and totally deserved of the title of the greatest manager that England never had. However, all of his best years were when he was working in tandem with Peter Taylor. Whilst no one is suggesting that this was all down to Taylor, Clough’s record without him speaks for itself. In the six years at Forest with him, Clough won the league and the European Cup twice consecutively (a feat that continues to elude some of Europe’s great still, take Barca for example). In the subsequent decade, following Taylor’s retirement in 1982, Forest won two league cups and eventually got relegated from the Premier League in 1993.
Following the East Midlands connection, take Martin O’Neil (you might have heard of him). Whilst obviously nowhere near as successful as Clough, the Ulsterman has had a decent career, as far as they go, with the exception of a puzzling spell at Sunderland- how did the man, who’d guided Villa to 3 consecutive 6th place finishes, who’d seen Celtic lift the title 3 times (back when there was more than one team in the SPL) and won two League Cups with Leicester find himself sacked with his Sunderland team hovering precariously near the relegation zone? One key difference was at Sunderland MON wasn’t accompanied by his usual second in command, John Robertson. Curse of the number 2 strikes again?
Pako Ayestaran assisted Rafa Benitez at Valencia (where they broke the duopoly and delivered two league titles in 3 years) and Liverpool (Istanbul etc etc) but did not join him at Inter (sacked in December of his first season), Chelsea (knocked out the League Cup by Swansea), Napoli (resigned after failing to make the Champions League on the last day of the season) and of course Real Madrid (lol).
If those few examples aren’t enough, cast your eye over the last 3 men to occupy the dugout at Villa Park. Garde may have had his hands tied by circumstance and location, but the contrast between his record with Baticle and Genesio and without is stark. Sherwood may well be intrinsically flawed as a manager (lacking in brain, if not PASHUN) but struggled without the assistance of Chris Ramsey and finally whilst Lambert never pulled up trees with Culverhouse and Karsa by his side once they left (and were replaced with Keane who certainly didn’t lack for angriness, apparently the key reason some fans are calling for Nigel) we went from depth to depth, culminating in his eventual sacking, after that dreadful, miserable night against Hull.
Now that’s not to say a change of assistant is terminal for a manager’s career- take Fergie for example, who has a list of assistants as long as your arm and a title list even longer. Neither did the transition from Pat Rice to Steve Bould at Arsenal, as they continue playing out exactly the same season again and again and again and again. Even O’Neil seems to have found a new lease of life with Keane by his side, although international football is an entirely different kettle of fish to the club game.
The point, if a little laboured, is Pearson is a gamble. He's going to be managing alongside a man he hasn't worked with since 2010, and without the right and left hand men he has done since 2008. Perhaps it's telling that once Nigel left the club they've gone from strength to strength without him holding them back, or maybe it would've happened with Pearson at the helm regardless.
Further, Powell could well be the perfect man to help Nigel- he knows the league and he knows the man he'll be working with thanks to his time at Leicester. He also seems to have an eye for a player, with the astute signings he made before Duchatalet's influence became too strong at Charlton.
Every appointment we make would be a gamble though, just some are more or less weighted than others (lol Gabby).
Pearson’s biggest advantage over his competition is that he isn’t already in a job- when we’re in a league when manager compensation costs the same as a decent defender, that’s a huge plus. Furthermore, if we didn’t appoint Pearson, then Sunderland or Newcastle or someone else will, and when they’re winning the title in two years’ time we’d only have ourselves to blame.
Ultimately, football is a results game, and if Pearson gets us back in to the Premier League then the odd racist orgy, occasional case of telling fans to "fuck off and die" and slight smattering of physically assaulting players will be soon forgotten.
Anyway, once the new man's sacked after 5 without a win in January and the tabloids alleging a racist sex training ground brawl, having Powell waiting in the wings to steady the ship will seem a stroke of genius from the new Football Board. Maybe.
Up the Villa.