Friday, July 14, 2006

This was a big day in the recent history of Aston Villa. Today the club’s players put their names to a collective statement criticising Doug Ellis’ handling of Villa, a bold and rare move that speaks volumes about how troubled this famous old club – the club which spearheaded the formation of the English football league – has become.

Only you probably didn’t notice, because they released the fucking thing on the day that one of the biggest stories in world football broke. The statement quickly slid down the pecking order on Sky Sports News as the verdict came through from Turin that Juventus, Milan, Lazio and Fiorentina had all been found guilty of match-fixing. There’s a certain irony in the release of a complaint about mismanagement being so poorly managed itself.

It’s a shame because the statement itself is eye-catching by virtue of its comedy value, accusing Ellis of failing to stump up £300 to water the pitches and barring staff from putting a cup of coffee on expenses at the airport. As John Gregory noted, Ellis’ stinginess has been never been any secret – but this statement blows the whistle by supplying concrete examples beyond the constant lack of cash for players. Oh, and they mentioned that too, mainly the fact that Ellis refuses to find the money to sign James Milner, probably the club’s best player last season, on a permanent basis.

To be fair to Ellis, he didn’t go mad when everyone in football was spending silly money in the late 1990s, and we never got into financial trouble as a result: whoever you want to blame for the ridiculous inflation on players’ salaries in recent years, you can’t blame Doug. Furthermore, on the occasions when he has put up the money for new players in the last few years, the acquisitions have usually been uninspiring to say the least. Players like Juan Pablo Angel, Eric Djemba-Djemba and (shudder) Bosko Balaban have flopped at the club (Angel has played well at times, but not well enough to justify what he cost). When he gave David O’Leary the means to sign eight new players last year, he had the right to feel dissatisfied with the club’s poor showing this season.

However, it’s less surprising how poorly the club is doing considering the picture which the players have painted of life at Villa Park. One imagines that they sit around of an evening like Monty Python’s Four Yorkshiremen, comparing hardships: ‘I ’ad to pay for me own massage after training today.’ ‘I ’ad to do me own massage today.’ There’s no confidence in the club, and with a perpetually small squad, the players are entitled to feel that they are being unreasonably expected to out-perform teams with far better resources. This is a self-sustaining state of affairs, because decent players – even decent players who we could afford – won’t come and the club won’t get better. And Ellis, in characterising that, is blocking the team’s progress. Not that things are likely to get better in the immediate future, now that the players have gone public with how much they hate him.

The phrase ‘lack of ambition’ is so firmly attached to Villa these days that it might as well be our club motto. You should be able to buy mugs with it on from the club shop. If they sold well, maybe we could put up the cash for some new players.

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