The age-old proverb suggests that Rome wasn’t built in a day. So as proverbial footballing architects go, you’d imagine that Paul Lambert has quite a job on his hands to develop Villa back up to sort of quality of which its supporters demand. The problem is, after two years of alarmingly rapid regression at Villa Park, patience is a commodity that is proving extremely difficult to attain.
Perhaps the allocation of time and patience in any development, is negotiated as a result of circumstance and unfortunately for Lambert, the potential end game for Aston Villa, dictates that the stakes are very high indeed. The club doesn’t have the laurels of the Europa League to rest upon after a failed top-four attempt or the humdrum of mid-table mediocrity to ease minds if the Lambert project hits murky water. If things continue to stall throughout the season, the prospect of relegation is a very apparent reality. The safety net is gone, so to speak.
The fear of the drop is a very real and pertinent issue, but the general weight of expectation at Villa Park, gives Lambert something of a double-edged sword to contemplate. The Alex McLeish reign didn’t just leave the ex-Norwich man with the task of rebuilding an underwhelmed and underprepared group of players, but also with a set of fans that, quite rightly, demand a better turn out this season. After sitting through perhaps one of the most uninspiring seasons in recent memory, bar getting relegated, there is a feeling that that things couldn’t possibly get any worse.
So after a league start which has encompassed a disappointing four points in five games – culminating in a 4-1 away hammering to Southampton last weekend – you can forgive fans for exhaling a real sense of frustration. After watching their side finish sixth for three consecutive seasons and coming within touching distance of Champions League riches, they’ve had to sit back and endure their side self-destruct in just a little over two years. Just how fast things have come unraveled at Villa Park and how little it’s taken to deconstruct years of hard work, is perhaps what hurts more than any dose of Alex McLeish inspired football.
And make no mistake; Lambert has a real task to imprint his signature on this team and start getting Villa consistently winning football matches. Much like the fans, the steely Scot has inherited a team low on confidence and short on ideas, after a season playing under McLeish’s rudderless pragmatism. Trying to get the players actually playing football again after the last 12 months isn’t an easy task and it won’t happen overnight
Furthermore, the looming presence of one Randy Lerner over the football club, ensures that a manager coming into Villa Park in 2012, is already working at a disadvantage, McLeish must take his fair share of stick for the predicament Villa currently find themselves in, but you can trace Villa’s ominous slide down the table back to the transfer dealings of 2010.
The sale of James Milner to Manchester City was closely followed by the departures of Stewart Downing and Ashley Young certainly raised a lot of money at Villa Park, but its reimbursement back into the club, has ben fraught with peril. As the club seemed to hemorrhage all manner of midfield talent, near on £18million was pumped into the purchase of Darren Bent. The likes of Stephen Ireland, Jean Makoun, Alan Hutton and Charles N’Zogbia, have all been high-profile investments on high-profile contracts, which have so far failed to justify their investment.
But Lambert can’t be given a magic wand or a blank chequebook to give this squad the overhaul that is so desperately needs. He hasn’t been afforded the money to spend on fees and players that most around him in the table have been and as a result, he’s been forced to shop in the bargain basement. He has a superb track record at getting the best out of players from the Football League but he’ll have to. Eyebrows were raised at Lambert’s decision to stick to his Carrow Road philosophy to buying players, but the Villa Park wage-bill goes some way to vindicating this.
But as disappointing as the Southampton result was, fans must keep the faith in Lambert and what he’s trying to achieve at Aston Villa. Speaking to Football FanCast earlier this week, ex-Villa striker and Soccer Saturday pundit Alan McInally suggested that although supporters could be in for a rollercoaster season, they must stand by their man. He said:
“They’ll be loads of highs and lows at Aston villa this season. I think Paul Lambert is absolutely the right appointment to be given the managers job at Villa and I don’t think there is any problem, but it’s a tough job.”
And as tough a task as it’s been proving, there has been enough to suggest that fans can look forward to more highs than lows this term. Of course, the nature of the loss at St. Mary’s was painfully disappointing, but improvement has been there. A point away to Newcastle is nothing to be smirked at in the form that Michael Laudrup’s side have started the season, their 2-0 home win over Swansea was also to be commended. The hard fought-4-2 win over league champions Manchester City in the league cup this week, suggested that the team are beginning to forge the sort of steel and hunger that Lambert demands from his sides.
But if the fans are to continue to invest their faith, Lambert must show them something in return. And as Alan McInally explains, their new boss won’t be reserved any particular level of respite:
“Aston Villa is not a club where you can say; “I’ll get three or four games where it doesn’t really matter what happens’.
“I don’t think that’s the case at a team like that and it’s down to him to turn it around and turn it around quickly.”
Villa fans aren’t delusional and they certainly aren’t expecting miracles to be performed over night. But what they want to see is improvement. And as long as Paul Lambert can prove that the wheels are in motion, the rest will surely follow.
How do you rate Paul Lambert’s prospects at Villa Park this season? Do you believe he’ll sort things out or does a potential relegation dogfight await? Let me know what you think on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and bat me all your views.