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Aston Villa: Sleepwalking into relegation
As the fans turn on Gerrard with chants of "We want Gerrard out!", is it time for the Liverpool Legend to move on?
After the final whistle at the City Ground, Villa left the pitch to a chorus of “We want Gerrard out”. Not that Steven Gerrard would've heard it. Just like most games this season, the Villa manager headed straight down the tunnel after the match without acknowledging the travelling fans.
It has become Gerrard’s MO in recent months, as results have not gone Villa’s way on the road, he has become reluctant to face the fans. Win, lose or draw, the least the manager can do is to applaud the travelling faithful for their support.
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You would’ve thought after spending the majority of his playing career at Liverpool and in front of the ‘Best Fans in the World’ who create the ‘Best Atmosphere’, he would understand the importance of the relationship between the fans, the manager and the players.
Dean Smith had been sacked in November ‘21 with CEO Christian Purslow stating that the club had not seen ‘the continuous improvement in results, performances and league position we have all been looking for’.
True, the club were winless in 5, but a win at Old Trafford earlier in the season had shown Villa were far from off the pace in the Premier League and there was a clear game plan and idea of the sort of football Villa wanted to play.
For transparency, I am a VIlla fan. I have witnessed the good, the bad and the ugly over the last 34 years. Not since the Martin O’Neill years had there been such a feel good factor around Villa than when Dean Smith was in charge.
The fans were won over from day one on account of Smith not being Steve Bruce. Add to the fact he was a lifelong Villa fan, it was a perfect storm. When he handed the captaincy to Jack Grealish in March of the 18-19 season, we had one of our own on the touchline and leading the team on the pitch.
10 game unbeaten run, a playoff win and a return to the Premier League all in 7 months. A club you could finally get behind.
Sometimes it wasn’t pretty, sometimes we didn’t get the results we should’ve, but nevertheless the fans would be there in full voice behind the team. The players knew it too. A poor result could be excused if the players left everything on the pitch. Very rarely under Smith did that never happen.
Fast forward almost a year and Villa haven’t moved forward. We have stagnated. 9 points from 10 games. Granted we hadn’t lost in 4 until this weekend's loss to Chelsea, but a draw to 10 man Leeds and Nottingham Forest just simply isn't good enough.
On paper, Bailey, Coutinho, Buendia, Ings and Watkins give Villa one of the best attacking pools in the league. It should be the envy of every club outside the top six. Yet, we look toothless going forward and have only scored 7 in the league this season.
Tyrone Mings being stripped of the captaincy so publicly was an odd call. Like him or loathe him, the guy is a leader. Perhaps Gerrard knew that Konsa and Carlos were going to be his choice at centre back and Carlos’ unfortunate injury has meant Mings has regained his place.
Either way, after captaining Liverpool to many successes, you’d have thought Gerrard would understand what it means to respect a captain as a newly appointed manager. I can’t imagine he or the Liverpool fans would’ve been overly thrilled if Benitez or Rogers came in and took the captaincy off him then appeared to talk him down in the press.
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Whether you agree with the decision or not, the fact it seemed so public and personal leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Especially when Mings actually comes across like he genuinely loves the club. Also, he is an England international.
The fact John McGinn seems to have gotten worse since he was appointed captain too is something that hasn’t been addressed. Of the 9 games this season, McGinn has been substituted 5 times, so it would seem Gerrard knows he isn’t performing well enough. Is Gerrard keeping McGinn captain to save face? You would have to say he probably is.
The best player so far this season has been Ashley Young. I love the guy, don’t get me wrong. Some of my favourite times as a Villa fan were when Young was in the side. The goal against Everton being a particular favourite with Martin O’Neill telling the cameras on the pitch at full time ‘Immense. He’s immense’.
The fact remains though, he is a 37 year old man who was initially released at the end of last season and was only retained to bolster squad numbers. I appreciate we have injuries, but Ash shouldn’t be our outstanding player this season with the likes of Coutinho in the squad.
The fear for a lot of Villa fans, even from his appointment, was that Purslow had appointed Gerrard as a passion project. To elevate Gerrards reputation as a manager in the hope that he would be the natural successor to Jürgen Klopp at Liverpool. Purslow being the former Liverpool managing director.
The prodigal son returns.
For me it was a win/win. Whilst I’m not keen on Villa being a stepping stone for anyone, as a realist and a football fan, I understand not everyone who works or plays for the club will love it as much as I do and it is ‘just’ a job.
If Gerrard was to eventually be given the Liverpool job, it would mean that he had been successful at Aston Villa. He would’ve taken Villa to the next level and proven himself as a top class manager.
He still might prove that to be the case and one day be manager of Liverpool. It’s clear to see though, after his first year at Aston Villa, that that is a long, long way away. The experiment with Gerrard hasn’t worked and Purslow needs to make the tough call and relieve his boy of his duties.
Like with Steve Bruce, Gerrard has a lot of friends in the media that back him regardless of results. Telling the fans he needs more time and that all the blame cannot be laid solely on the manager. The truth is Smith had consistently got performances out of a lot of these players.
Yes, Coutinho might not have signed had it not been for Gerrard and his ‘pull’. The brief glimpses of genius have been few and far between though and the thought of taking him out of the starting XI doesn’t fill me with dread like it would have done with Grealish, say, in his pomp.
Once the fans have turned it is very hard for a manager to come back, so now it comes down to how long the board are willing to alienate the fans further and back their man.
If Gerrard was to leave his post it then poses the question of who would replace him. For a long time now there has been rumblings that Mauricio Pochettino is top of the wishlist. It would certainly be a coup for Villa to get a manager of that calibre and true indication of the improvement the board are looking for.
Whoever comes in will have a big task on their hands. As a long suffering Villa fan I can’t help but feel, even if we were to employ Pep Guardiola and sign Erling Haaland, they’d become Iain Dowie and Ade Akinbiyi reincarnate as soon as they pulled on the Villa training gear.
Written by Tomas Browne
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