Four months have now passed since Dean Smith waltzed into Villa Park promising a fresh brand of attacking football. Upon his appointment the former Brentford boss claimed he wanted us to play at “an intensity” and that he believed that “we have the players to do that.”
Smith’s assumption that this group of players ought to have enough in them to compete comfortably in the top six of the Championship stems from a culmination of factors. This Villa squad is littered with experience and then there’s the price tags certain players have commanded along with the eye-watering wage expenditure of the club.
Much like us all, Deano has been duped into thinking that he had all the ingredients at his disposal to help get this team moving up the table but there were certain things that he perhaps hadn’t accounted for.
Lacking in motivation
The desire and mind set of a professional footballer is often overlooked by supporters. It’s just so easy to pin the blame on the man in the dugout after all.
Although not season defining by any stretch, you do wonder whether or not Christian Purslow’s candidness has played a small part in our poor showing this term, especially of late.
Ever since Purslow came into the club as CEO in August last year he has been very open and forthright in our need for a new direction. Developing young talent, being smarter in the transfer market and moving towards a self-sustainable model is something that he has my full backing on that’s for sure.
But criticising past transfer dealings – which will include some players in our current dressing room – and predetermining a summer clear out is bound to have a negative impact on those players that already know they won’t be plying their trade here come six months’ time.
And then there’s the crop who’ve come here on much bigger money than they’ve ever earned before and think that they’ve now finally made it. Because let’s face it, we have a bunch of players that will struggle to pick-up a similar wage, let alone more, anywhere other than at Villa.
I strongly suspect that our squad – barring a select few – just aren’t motivated enough to give more than what they deem necessary. And Smith’s brand of high-intensity football can ill-afford so many passengers.
FFP & ‘Square pegs in round holes’ (for now at least)
‘Give your head a wobble’ is my message to anyone who believes that Financial Fair Play has little-to-no bearing to the future transfer dealings of Aston Villa Football Club.
Purslow may well have been on the panel that set the rules of FFP and he may outwardly project that “we are navigating within FFP rules” but why would the boardroom level objective of self-sustainability be in place if FFP isn’t a concern?
It’s because we’ve got nowhere else to turn. We either fix up or face to the consequences of our continuous overspending (as covered in this article that I published last month).
Following our defeats to Brentford and the Albion last week I saw fans on social media criticising our January business. But I’m not really sure what more we could have possibly done.
Despite not having the best of starts everyone was excited when we brought in Croatian stopper Lovre Kalinic. And the capture of Frédéric Guilbert (who will finish the season with Caen) was only made possible due to Yannick Bolasie cutting short his loan deal and the money that we saved there.
FFP meant that we couldn’t go out and spend any more and so we had little option but to turn to the loan market to bolster our squad in the interim and get us through to the summer when the clear out can get well and truly underway.
Between now and the season’s end Smith is having to work with square pegs not through want of choice and, although not immune to criticism, I struggle to see how we can judge him until a team built by him takes to the field of play.
What to expect between now and the end of the season
Not a lot is my honest assessment. Our season is all but over and the only thing we’ve got left to play for is to finish above the Blues.
Some supporters will argue that it’s down to Dean Smith and his coaching team to at least try and get more from the players and hypothetically speaking they are right. But there are number of extenuating circumstances that are having a detrimental impact and much of this will only be able to be addressed come the summer and beyond.
I’ve seen fans posting in Villa forums suggesting that they haven’t seen any changes since Smith came in but I’d beg to differ on that. We can clearly see that Smith wants to adopt a high-press harrying strategy for one and it wouldn’t surprise me come the start of next season to see a Ryan Woods type of player come in and pull strings from deep.
With a player of similar ilk to the ‘the ginger Pirlo’ it will give us confidence to play out from the back and set the trap of luring opponents onto us and taking advantage of this newfound space. With his own players I expect a much more free-flowing playing style.
Patience is key
The supporter mentality of this football club simply has to evolve. As above, I predict that we’ll struggle between now and the end of the season and things may even get worse than they are now. It’s just a matter of accepting that and seeing it through.
The next big test for many fans will be affording Smith the time to go and put things right by bringing in his own players. But don’t expect these signings to be household names which is something that it seems some of the fan base demands (because that’s served us so well). This isn’t because of ‘Smith’s inability to manage big name players’ (as I’ve seen one fan post) but – believe it or not – that’s the norm when you’re a Championship club that’s having to operate on a Championship budget.
That also doesn’t mean that it ought to be our ambition to become Brentford (as I’ve seen several fans post) because that would be silly considering that they currently sit 16th in the second tier and haven’t played top flight football in over 70 years). But that doesn’t mean that we can’t take learnings from a model that has served them so well and enabled the small West London outfit to punch well above their weight for a period of time now.
You only need to look at top-of-the-league Norwich City and the turnaround in fortunes that they have had having stuck by Daniel Farke through the sticky times. Those Canaries’ fans are now eating their words.
The mission objective of achieving promotion remains the same, only the manner in which we set about accomplishing that goal has had to change.
The sooner supporters come to terms with this the better, not only for their own health and sanity, but for the football club in its entirety.
Keep the faith and UP THE VILLA!
Written by Ryan Pitcher