A quick search for #LambertOut on Twitter reveals the depth of unrest amongst a number of Aston Villa supporters with their manager. A more than disappointing 2-1 loss to Fulham at Villa Park inevitably produced a number of tweets upon the matter, with disgruntled fans calling for the removal of the former Norwich manager.
Unfortunately for Paul Lambert, it seems as though the majority of Villa’s fanbase have become far too blinded by the Martin O’Neill years or the club’s former glories to recognise the club’s current situation. Without serious financial backing in the modern Premier League, the realistic ambitions of any club in the division are severely limited, regardless of their relative size or prestige.
Considering the number of sackings from clubs occupying the lower reaches of the Premier League, Randy Lerner’s commitment to his manager is proving to be the exception to the rule. Certainly, there have been performances which could have prompted the American owner to think seriously upon the matter.
After the loss to Fulham, Lambert’s side have chalked up a club record ten defeats at home this season, the worst in the club’s 140 year history. Any ambitions of a decent run in the FA Cup were dashed almost immediately when League One Sheffield United emerged triumphant from Villa Park at the third round stage.
Reports that talks are ongoing for a new contract for Lambert has drawn severe disdain from many of the Villa faithful that have been disgusted by what they have seen this season. Currently sat in 13th with a seven point cushion, the club realistically needs at least one more victory to secure their Premier League status for next season. For fans that became accustomed to Villa’s frequent challenge for Europe under O’Neill or remember the glory years in the early 1980s, simply treading water in the top flight is seen as unacceptable.
But the recent O’Neill years came at a price.
Whilst nowhere near comparable to Leeds United’s misguided extravagance, Villa essentially swung for but missed the Champions League spots. Substantial transfer fees and hefty wage packets were sanctioned in pursuit of the promised land, a policy which the club is now likely cursing at this point.
Having pumped much of his own fortune into the club, Lerner is now intent on steadying the ship and transforming Villa into a financially self-sustainable entity. Whilst this approach is undoubtedly frustrating for the club’s fans, it is logical considering the fact that the American recently waived approximately £90 million worth of loans.
Critics of Lambert will point to the fact he has spent an estimated £40 million in the past two seasons as an indicator that the club should be achieving more. But when Gareth Bale alone is transferring for £86 million, Villa’s transfer investment under Paul Lambert is a relative pittance in modern football.
With the club’s well documented financial restrictions, Lambert is forced in his attempts to improve the squad to either purchase on a budget from abroad or from England’s lower divisions. The Scot largely went with the former, a policy which has inevitably delivered mixed results. For every Christian Benteke, there will always be an Antonio Luna.
It may be difficult for some Villa fans to accept but in the Premier League as it stands, their club simply doesn’t have the money or the pull to attract the top calibre of players. Lambert’s options in the transfer market were limited and having chosen to go abroad, players such as Libor Kozak, Nicklas Helenius and Aleksandar Tonev require time to settle before they truly can be judged.
Unfortunately for the Scot, Villa have been plagued by a series of injuries which any Premier League club would struggle to cope with. Kozak and the highly-rated Jores Okore, Lambert’s biggest summer signings, have both suffered serious long-term injuries. Benteke’s recent achilles injury has already ruled the Belgian out of the World Cup and could see him out of action for up to eight months.
To compound Lambert’s woes further, many individuals in his side have struggled for form. Even before his injury, Benteke had struggled for large periods of the season to replicate last year’s heroics. Matthew Lowton, a full back who had previously been praised for making the step up to the Premier League, is another that has struggled for consistency this term.
In such circumstances, Lambert has performed respectably to have Aston Villa sat in 13th position. There is a frustration that greater progress in the current campaign hasn’t been achieved and to an extent they are understandable. The club’s dreadful home form and performances in cup competitions need to improve fast, whilst the style of football on offer leaves a lot to be desired.
But with one of the weakest squads in the top flight which has also been afflicted by injuries, Lambert is only a couple of victories away from securing a mid table finish. It may not excite the club’s fanbase, but for now the Scot is getting the best out of a bad situation.