Football fans are a funny old bunch, particularly from the perspective of a manager. Bring success and they will elevate you to a mythical, legendary status, forever to be enshrined within the club’s history; ruffle their feathers a little and it’s down the job centre the next morning. The popularity levels of football managers can turn in an instant, and above all it is the supporters who best dictate these fluctuations.
Alex McLeish’s dismissal in the past week has seen a flurry of activity on social network sites, with the predominantly positive reaction in Aston Villa quarters to his sacking displaying the pure vehemence and animosity felt towards the man. As a marker of the sheer inanity of the situation, disgruntled fans even sent Glasgow student Alex McLeish, of no relation to the former Villa boss, a barraged mixture of comical and abusive tweets upon hearing the news.
From the very beginning of McLeish’s reign his card was marked. Regardless of the absurdity of pinching your most hated rival’s manager, Villa fans were quite rightly baffled by the appointment of a man who had overseen two relegation campaigns in his time in charge of a Premiership club. Whilst clearly an unpopular and slightly bewildering choice on behalf the Villa hierarchy, those of claret and blue persuasion in the Second City were consistently militant in their slating of McLeish, organising regular protests and emphatically displaying their discontent in the Holte and beyond. All this led to a poisoned and pernicious atmosphere at Villa Park, with dwindling attendances a prominent feature of Villa’s season. The permanent ‘12th Man’ banner affixed upon the middle section of the Holte End often appeared more a twisted joke soaked in irony and planted by Blues fans than a statement of Villa’s vocal intent.
Though Villa fans have a distinct right to be fundamentally appalled at a disastrous season which so nearly ended in the unthinkable, there are a number of queries to be raised as to the detrimental effects of negative supporter influence upon a side’s performances. Villa’s squad this season has mainly been a ragtag collection of experienced pros brought in by previous managers combined with products of Villa’s youth academy in only their first or seconds campaigns as professional footballers. Marquee signings Darren Bent and Charles N’Zogbia have been relative disappointments, the use of Emile Heskey as a right winger was utter chagrin and the awarding of Player of the Season to Stephen Ireland belies the disappointment of Villa’s year; yet through all the blatant shortcomings of the playing and management staff, the fans of Aston Villa must also assume some form of liability.
For young players breaking into the first team, the dimensions of confidence and belief are of vital importance to their performance. Generally, this is significantly shaped by the prevailing atmosphere surrounding the club, the prominent sentiments being eschewed from the corridors of the training ground to the player’s car park after the game. For the likes of Ciaran Clark, Gary Gardner and Nathan Baker the patent toxic mood which characterised Villa’s season can only have been detrimental to their development. Though only rare spatters of Villa fan’s anguish was aimed at the players, the adverse effects of the outward hostility shown towards McLeish this season would have been felt deeply, particularly by those developed and matured by the club from an early age. With Mcleish increasingly reliant on his young charges as the season progressed, the enmity only exacerbated Villa’s problems and this the failure of McLeish’s reign became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The decision to sack McLeish was the correct one. Aston Villa fans deserve better than extensive flirtations with the Championship, and were right to criticise McLeish’s ineptitude. Yet the downright vexation which was all too evident on matchdays at Villa Park and in the virtual sphere only moved to heighten Villa’s turmoil.
In an age where an innocent student is abused for being the simple namesake of a failed football manager, we must ponder: can too much fan power be truly detrimental to a football club?
Whether you agree or disagree, I’d love to hear your opinions. Tweet me @acherrie1