In a few years time Lambert could take Villa where Moyes has taken Everton, that is not out of the realm of possibility.
Saturday 15th September 2012 may go down as a historic day for Aston Villa football club. A 2-0 win against early high fliers Swansea indicated that Paul Lambert's influence and impact had hit the club. The side was a transformation of that seen against Everton and particularly anything seen last season. The fans were at their most vocal also, support and noise not heard for several years at the club. For a Villa fan, it appeared to be the start of something new and positive. It felt like a landmark day for Villa, the start of Lambert's revolution.
Before the transfer window The Whitehouse Address argued that if the board did not back their manager before the window closed, then Villa would be serious canditates for relegation. In a season where new TV deals will mean a 70% increase in revenue, the need to stay in the Premier League is a matter of significant importance more so than before for clubs this season.
Aston Villa have never been relegated from the Premier League since its inception in 1992. Yet last season it appeared that through mis-management at both board level and with the team, Villa’s Premier League existence looked precarious. Another season of McLeish would have meant relegation. Football with no tempo, players with no desire and fans with no heart meant Villa were a club who had lost its soul. A major change was needed.
There was no doubt in my mind that Paul Lambert was the man Villa need to reinvigorate and improve the side. After two seasons of mediocrity in terms of poor managers, poor vision and importantly poor handling of the club from Randy Lerner, the club needed a strong leader with conviction and quality who could galvanise the club.
As a club today Villa cannot be considered one of the best. They cannot achieve anything higher than 8th in my opinion, and if we did finish there I would consider that an incredible achievement. Quite simply we are owned by a man who had much intention and desire to make Villa great, yet although a “billionaire” lacked the necessary funds to reach the heights of football’s elite. When City and Chelsea are spending over £500m to compete, Villa’s measly £100m pales in insignificance.
As austerity hits the club, a manager was required who could achieve when the purse strings were tightened. Lerner therefore needed a man who could achieve something on very little. Out of all the available men, there was only one who real candidate and luckily for Villa, they got him.
His achievement with Norwich, like that with Rodgers at Swansea, indicated that despite a lack of “financial muscle”, quality coaching can prevail. It appears that too often in the Premier League, teams rely on money instead of coaching.
Look at sides like QPR now and see what they are trying to achieve; throwing money at survival on players with “experience” yet who are deemed by many to be past their best. Is this sustainable? Will this achieve survival? It all seems very desperate and hopeful. The belief that throw enough “quality” and “experience” together and you’ll achieve something is not a guarantee of success and is especially not a good policy for sustainability.
Coaching, development and team building are much more important for long term success. Those coaches who appear to exceed expectations are relying not on their bank account but on their abilities as coaches. For a side like Villa whose finances are poor, a man was needed who could achieve much on little. A positive sign for Villa is that Lambert is achieving this feat already.
Compare the decision of Lambert to that of Rodgers. It is interesting to consider but did Lambert pick the better option? Does he have the pressures on him which Rodgers has? Pressures of success and achievement which seem totally unrealistic based on the competition around him.
How can Rodgers take Liverpool back to the top of the league with what he has? And doing it on an ideal which will take years to implement successfully. Will FSG and especially the fans grant him the time necessary to achieve anything? I highly doubt it.
Lambert’s task is to keep Villa in the league. Anything else is a bonus. Perhaps it sounds negative, Villa are one of only five English teams to conquer Europe. Yet realism and pragmatism are words not used enough in football. Ambition, misguided and unrealisitic permeates most clubs and fans.
They all wish to be better yet fail to understand the implications which this desire comes. A good manager can be deemed a failure based on unrealistic ambitions and expectations. Villa must believe in their manager and importantly wish that he remains for many years to come.
Lambert has spoken of being ambitious and I believe he will end up at one of Europe’s biggest sides in the coming years. Perhaps a return to Dortmund or even at Old Trafford. You may think me delusional yet I see in Lambert something which many other than the real top managers possess. His ability to bring out the best in players deemed “second rate” and his ability to build a cohesive and collective team are characteristics which resemble Clough, Ferguson and Mourinho.
Out with the medicore, in with youthful energy
Since Lambert arrived he has sought to find out those who are committed and willing to work hard for the team and those that are more content on picking up the wage and offering little. For a few years now Villa have possessed mediocre players with no desire to work for the team. It has been an embarrassment at times. Now Lambert has rid the club of the high earners of past regimes; exits of many of the “old guard” from the O’Neill era. Out went Cuellar, Heskey and Collins and Warnock has just left on loan. Expect to see the exits of Dunne, Hutton and perhaps even Agbonlahor, Ireland and N'Zogbia next summer.
Uninspiring arrivals or hungry "unknowns"?
Lambert has brought in his players and his side against Swansea was "Lambert's side".
However, these new arrivals were names that many had not heard of or if they had would never have considered them for Villa. They actually had supporters calling in to radio shows in disbelief and shock as to the type of player Lambert was buying.
Yet, it is amazing that those fans forget so quickly what Lambert did at Norwich and importantly what type of player he desires for his sides. Reputation means nothing to Lambert in terms of the level a player has played. His intention is to bring in the most suitable player to fit into what he wants to achieve.
And his most important asset is that a player is willing to do everything for the team. His phrase “willing to run through walls” should be noted. And this is what was seen last weekend against Swansea. It was one of the most impressive, hard working performances seen at Villa Park for many years. This was Lambert’s side, his players and his style.
Lambert has realised what many already knew, that Shay Given is not the player he was. Thus Brad Guzan has been brought in and impressed. A decision which many questioned has no appeared justified and Lambert can feel very much vindicated.
Lambert brought in El Ahmadi bought for 2.5m, who at 27 gives Villa a replacement for the ill Petrov. Ron Vlaar the Dutch international who has 11 caps was bought for £3.3m from Feyenoord it can be seen as quite a scoop for Villa, Lambert has spoken very highly of him and has already made him captain. The poor Euro championship was perhaps a reason why Dutch defenders were not particualry sought out, yet this enabled Lambert to land a top quality defender for a snip.
On top of these two experienced players Lambert has invested in youth, his clear favourite tactic in the market. His desire to mould players who have energy, desire and upside allows Lambert to see a few million as an investment. Matthew Lowton, aged 23 was bought for £3m from Sheffield United. Joseph Bennett, aged 22, was bought from Middlesborough for £2.5m.
Jordan Bowery was bought for £500k from Chesterfield and Ashley Westwood, the 22 year old captain of Crewe for £2m.
His final transfer day signing was to bring a stronger option up top. Villa have not replaced John Carew effectively since he left the club, a player who gave Villa such strength and power up front. The Belguim international, born in the Congo, Christian Benteke has come in to be the force that Villa have not have in recent years.
Although Bent gives a goal scoring threat, he offers little else. Gabby offers speed yet no direction or enough quality. Benteke will give Villa something more than both these players, a player in the mould of Grant Holt of who Lambert made so prolific. At only 21 Benteke has a bright future for Villla. At £7m he is Lambert’s most expensive signing of the summer, yet he is a necessary purchase for the style Lambert seeks to achieve and importantly a player who can take the pressure of Bent for scoring goals.
Lambert's pragmatic quality
Lambert’s style is not like these “idealists” who lust for Barcelona tiki-taka. He realises that that style requires “world class” technicians and that those who attempt it without the key components, will only fail and end up drowning in their ideologies.
No, Lambert's style of football is a mix of the possession and with relentless harrying once out of possession. His is not afraid however to play more direct and the acquistion of Benteke indicates as much. His use of Grant Holt in the air terrorised defences last year and yet Holt was also asked to play on the floor when required.
This is Lambert’s beauty, an almost unpredicatable style which teams cannot always prepare for. Take the Spurs game last year when Norwich won 2-1, Lambert got his tactics spot on and Spurs had no response.
The future is bright for Villa. Lambert’s new era of high tempo, tireless work in order to close down their opponents made Villa unrecognisable from the side under Alex McLeish last season.
Lambert has indicated his role is to bring out the best of the players he has; "The ability is always there, that never leaves you. It is just trying to bring that out of them and I am proud of them at the minute. We have real talented footballers, You just have to give them that belief to go and perform. And if they do that, and the crowd go with them, this will be one hell of a place."
The players are clearly responding to Lambert's methods and starting to feel liberated, rather than burdened, when they pull on a Villa shirt and the fans have seen the changes Lambert has made already.
A positive and bright future looks possible for Villa now, yet rest assured that it won’t be an easy season. Being realistic to what the club can achieve, anything above 18th is a success. Villa and Lambert’s desire this year is to be in the Premier League this time next season.
As Lambert is given more time at Villa, the hope is that he builds his side, in his image. In a few years time Lambert could take Villa where Moyes has taken Everton, that is not out of the realm of possibility.
Last season was one of the darkest in living memory for Villa. We survived and now a new dawn is upon us. Lambert needed investment and support from Lerner, he received that and the performance against Swansea indicated that Lambert deserves everyone’s trust. He knows what he is doing, let us support him and make Villa a team to be proud of again.