A decision on the fate of Steve Bruce and the managerial hot-seat at Villa Park should be made imminently. Reports indicate Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens have this afternoon met with Bruce to determine whether to stick or twist. Should they choose twist, it seems almost inevitable that Thierry Henry will be welcomed to B6.
Villa fans are split virtually 50/50 in their opinions on the Bruce-Henry debate, but here is a rundown of why the wealthy new owners should perhaps put their faith in the Frenchman.
First things first, it cannot be denied that Henry is a gamble. For all his years of brilliance on the pitch, the only experience he has off it is working with Roberto Martinez as one of the assistant coaches of the Belgian national team. He has never coached in English football, and certainly never in the Championship. However, it is also true that gambles can pay off. Experience isn’t the be all and end all. From Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid to David Wagner at Huddersfield, the world of football is littered with the success stories of new managers. Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard are seemingly both expected to do well – why should we not have the same optimism with Henry?
Tried and tested has failed. For all the good Bruce has done at Villa (and he’s done a lot of good), he has ultimately failed in his remit to return the club to the Premier League. That much is irrefutable. The Villa squad has grown weaker over the summer, and is likely to grow weaker still, while the league could well be tougher this year with the three relegated sides, Derby and Middlesbrough all capable of mounting title challenges. Taking this into account, it seems unlikely that Bruce will do any better than he managed last time out.
Under Bruce, Villa have often left fans frustrated with their impressive trick of looking like world-beaters one week (4-1 vs Wolves) and appearing static, unsure and completely devoid of ideas the next (defeats to both QPR and Bolton). In short, the football has been fairly one dimensional and there has often been nothing beyond plan A. Bruce’s tactics can be most called into question when Villa find themselves chasing a game and end up with four forwards on the pitch while sacrificing any creativity from midfield. Many fans felt Villa were tactically outdone in the first half of the play-off final too. If experience doesn’t buy you tactical nouse, what does it buy you?
One of Bruce’s major strengths is the man-management side of the game. The Villa players seem to love him. He united a dressing room better than any Villa manager in my lifetime last season. Indeed, Robert Snodgrass claimed the lads would run through a brick wall for him. Yet, Henry could be capable of similar. Naturally, he will be respected massively for what he achieved as a player, but he has already shown his ability to work with individuals, with many of the Belgian players praising him on this score. You would imagine that young forwards Keinan Davis and Rushian Hepburn-Murphy would love to work with the Arsenal legend.
In terms of the philosophy and the style which Henry would bring, much is unknown. What can be said is that he has played under a number of top coaches, including 2 geniuses of football management in Arsene Wenger and Pep Guardiola. He will have learnt a lot from them and a Villa side under the stewardship of Henry would presumably play creative, expansive football on the front foot. We could see a bolder Villa away from home and, at the very least, a more exciting style of play, regardless of the outcome.
Aston Villa have gambled many times. For so long, those gambles have failed. Maybe this one would pay off. I wouldn’t be overly disappointed to see Bruce stay; he has done a good job overall. But I believe Henry’s Villa has a higher ceiling. And fortune favours the brave.