An Eck of a job
Alex McLeish is a good manager, says Jeff Stelling, but his hands are tied by Villa's transfer policy.
Last Updated: 26/04/12 2:55pm
It's a terrible shame to see Aston Villa where they are.
As the manager, Alex McLeish is getting a lot of stick and it has now got to the point where owner Randy Lerner has had to publicly back his man.
Since he arrived in 2006, Lerner has invested a huge amount of money into the club but, speaking as an outsider, I think he still has some questions to answer in regards to Villa's transfer policy and their subsequent slump in the table.
When you look at the out-going transfers and compare them to the incoming deals, the club surely must have made a handsome profit.
In July 2011 Stewart Downing moved to Liverpool for around £20m; the summer before that, Ashley Young headed off to Manchester United for £17m and James Milner was bought by Manchester City for £26m - a tidy sum.
Rewind another year and City signed Gareth Barry for £12m, while the sales of Craig Gardner and Zat Knight realised £3m and £4m respectively.
On top of that there have been potentially big-earners going off their books - the likes of Nigel Reo-Coker, Brad Friedel and John Carew.
To summarise, there have been some transfer fees coming in and some big names off the wage bill while last summer they spent a combined £13m on Shay Given and Charles N'Zogbia after splashing out £18m on Darren Bent in January 2011.
So where has the rest of the money gone? Why has Alex McLeish not had more financial backing?
I remember him saying a few weeks ago 'you never know, there may be a big transfer signing coming in during the summer transfer window'. Well, I'm afraid that Villa need more than one big signing to improve their recent track record.
As things stand their sellable assets are Bent and, to a lesser degree, Gabriel Agbonlahor; with the best will in the world they are not going to stay at Villa if the club is relegated.
So if things look grim now, what are they going to look like in a few months' time?
Villa's team isn't an eye-catching one at present.
On Tuesday their line-up included plenty of youth - Eric Lichaj, Nathan Baker, Chris Herd, Andreas Weimann, Marc Albrighton - and Barry Bannan came off the bench, as did Nathan Delfouneso.
If you haven't heard of Daniel Johnson, Derrick Williams, Jack Grealish or Samir Carruthers - all of whom were on the bench against Chelsea last month - you are not alone because none of them have started a Premier League game.
If these kids are the future, I'm afraid there are going to be some horribly hard times before the good times return.
So perhaps Alex McLeish isn't doing too bad a job with both hands tied behind his back. People are quick to accuse him of being desperately defensive but I'm not sure what alternative he actually has.
Villa have endured some misfortune along the way.
Stiliyan Petrov's battle against leukaemia has deprived them of an assured, experienced and inspirational leader, while without Darren Bent's goals they are desperately light up front.
As I said on Soccer Saturday a couple of weeks back, Robbie Keane did a good job for them in the early part of the year but it was like putting a sticking plaster over an open wound in the sense that it disguised their problems and the need to buy someone on a permanent basis who could score the goals that would maybe keep them up.
Looking at Villa's remaining games, I fear for them. They've got West Brom away, Spurs at home and Norwich away. Quite frankly, they might not get another point this season.
The Baggies would take great delight in helping to send Villa down and confirming themselves as the No 1 team in Birmingham, Spurs still have Europe to play for while Norwich are, on the face of it, strong at home and will want to finish what has been a fantastic season for them with a flourish in front of their own fans.
It's a horrific prospect for Villa, particularly with all of the teams around them picking up points; they are right in the mire and it's hard to see how the can turn it around without investing heavily in the team in the summer. I guess then we'll see how interested Lerner still is in the club.
My message right now for Villa fans is be careful what you wish for. Alex McLeish is a good man and a good manager; even if he suffered the ignominy of a second successive relegation, I don't think it would be a total indictment of his managerial abilities.
If he did go, there would be no shortage of candidates to replace him because Villa remains a big club. However a lot of water has flown under the bridge since those glory days in Europe.
They seemed even further away on Tuesday when I watched Chelsea clinch a place in the Champions League final at the same time as Villa were losing at home to Bolton and dropping ever nearer to the relegation places...
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