Is Paul Lambert’s long-term project compromising Aston Villa short-term ambition?
Aston Villa supporters discontent with Paul Lambert has started to grow over some of the limited performances they have been witnessing from the team in recent months. While the team is six points up on corresponding fixtures from last season, recent performances suggest that won’t last for long. The Villa bosses’ stubbornness in interviews increasingly riles them too.
While the lack of patience shown with Lambert by some fans is rash (his was always a long-term project) the question that does beg itself is what is Villa’s ambition in the short-term?
If Paul Lambert was the manager of a newly promoted team his reputation would be undisputedly glowing. What he’s done at Villa, namely purchase younger players from lower leagues and overseas on low-end price tags and wages, would have served well the likes of Crystal Palace, Hull and Cardiff.
If a club’s aim was to stay in the Premiership and slowly build a team that could be competitive and establish itself in the league, without taking the risk on paying out huge wages on journey men pros, then Lambert’s approach is spot on.
Such club’s supporters would afford him patience and in turn, rally behind the underdog make-up of his young team. At Aston Villa though, supporter expectation and ambition are invariably pitched a little higher.
The problem is the club’s ambition has in recent decades has always been questionable. Remember when Gareth Southgate and Ugo Ehiogu left Villa for Middlesborough citing the club’s lack of ambition as their prime motivation?
One of the best recent examples of Villa failing to grasp the benefits of acting in the short-term was when John Gregory had Villa top of the league in the 1998/99 season and in the form, that when you include the last 11 games of the previous season, would have seen them as league title contenders (if all those games came within one season).
The story goes, when Gregory requested the one or two players to give the squad the necessary strength to mount a title challenge after Christmas, Doug Ellis said no. The midfielder Muzzy Izzet was one of the players ear marked by the Villa boss. Surely a manager who had got Villa to the summit, should have been granted such a purchase?
Such a scenario is typical of the restraint to Villa ambition in recent decades, that has constantly left Villa supporters frustrated.
If you don’t stay on the top of the mountain, then the only way is down it, as Villa have found in subsequent lean times.
Hope came in the form of Lerner’s cheque book, but unfortunately that time they got the short-term all wrong, with alarming wages shelled out on some decidedly average players.
Villa made headway up the mountain, but unfortunately, it seemed their guide in Martin O’Neill had taken them up the wrong route to reach the upper plateau. When the club reached a dead-end, off the Villa manager ran into the wilderness leaving the club to slide back down.
As I wrote at the very start of Lambert’s tenure, in the current climate of splash the cash football management, which Villa were unable/unwilling to do now, he had a plan to make progress back up the proverbial mountain. It was a long and dangerous way round, using a route that not many clubs would dare take.
Considering his zero tolerance cull and the introduction of several Premier League novices, the first season of Lambert’s reign was always going to be about Premiership survival. It was at times a white knuckle ride, but ultimately a success.