Paul Lambert’s sacking last week was perhaps more significant than people realised. This was, after all, a previously highly-rated Scottish manager working his way through a tricky project, on the back of a new lengthy contract, at a cash-strapped club.
But in the end, there was a universal sigh of relief from the cohort of Villa fans who still mustered the mental-perseverance to persist with the appalling performances of their team in the Premier League. Despite that, though, Lambert deserves to be cut a degree of slack for the way things turned out in the Midlands.
The first thing that he fell victim to was the value of aesthetics. In the most abstract sense, football is about scoring goals. As a spectator sport, when you pay good money to watch your team, the euphoria of a goal is the moment that you invest your money in.
Lambert, peculiarly, managed to create an embarrassingly blunt team. It would, in a sense, be far better to be losing 4-3s and 3-2s on the same points tally than repeated 0-1s because at least seeing the team score would relieve some fan frustration. To lose often, and without scoring, is the most deadly combination in alienating a fan base.
As much as the fans detest owner Randy Lerner and everything he stands for, Villa’s chairman faced little opposition in terminating Lambert’s contract when the time came, something that should of been contested in a more vociferous sense given the excessive amount of compensation that the manager will have to be paid.
Lerner, of course, has been a key actor in this fall from grace. Employing Alex McCleish and generally sucking the club dry of money soured his relationship with an expecting fanbase, and when he put them up for sale the penny dropped.
That placed a negative cloud over the club for sometime – a hostile vibe that titled the club downwards. The other, most obvious factor to refer to is finance. The Telegraph reported last week that Lambert became so frustrated with the lack of financial support from above that he asked to be sacked – twice.
Compared to Villa’s rivals, Lambert has lacked the complete backing necessary to keep this Villa side competitive. And that invites pressure from the fan base – for a team who have a glorious history of trophies and an untouchable Premier League status, there’s a very expectant audience to appease.
As Lambert himself aptly summarised in his departing statement, the fans ‘rightly hold huge expectations for their beloved football club’ and he empathises with with their frustrations and always shared their view that ‘the football club is too big not to be competing at the top end of the table’.
This was the ‘toughest challenge of my working life’, an acknowledgement of the highly complex situation of satisfying an expectant fan base while juggling austerity measures that demanded the reduction of their overall wage structure.
Fair play to Lambert for rising to that challenge in the first place. He’s hardly blameless, but the helm of the Villa throne looks to be one of the most precarious in the Premier League at the moment. A club with deep-rooted issues, weighed down by expectation, hardly makes for an easy role.
Tim Sherwood’s progress with the team will probably figure as the best yardstick to see how badly Lambert actually did. But for now, blaming the Scot for their regression is unfair in light of the ongoing demise of this once great English team.