With news arriving this morning that Roberto di Matteo has been sacked there’s a real sense that the next step is key. Tony Xia arrived over the summer with promises of spending and, to that end, he has held up his side of the bargain with significant expenditure on players such as Jonathan Kodjia and Ross McCormack.
Results, however, have not supported the level of investment and so di Matteo has seen the axe fall on him a few short months after Xia strongly supported the idea of the Italian as the manager to take the club forwards. Now, Villa face the familiar challenge of hauling themselves up from the lower reaches of the league, although this time it is the Championship rather than the Premier League.
The challenge for any chairman – just as it will have been one for Xia – is deciding when enough is enough. Given that we will never have the opportunity to analyse an alternate dimension when di Matteo stayed longer, hypothetical questions about if the choice proves to be right are ultimately moot – what’s done is done.
That said, there are questions that need to be asked regarding Xia’s strong support for a manager cited as one who has won the Champions League. Whilst di Matteo did oversee Chelsea’s Champions League final success, it would be rather over the top to put the Italian down as the man who laid the foundations for such as success, even though he did play his part.
Xia heavily lauded di Matteo as the man for the job but it has proven that such a choice was ultimately wrong – one win so far this season against a team who have had a rather porous defence is hardly success by any standard. Unlike many managers who have preceded di Matteo, the Italian had a full and significant financial support – something that was rarely extended to many, or indeed any, of those who have been in charge post Gerard Houllier.
What Villa need now is a strategy. The concern for the club is that whilst di Matteo has had an awful win percentage to date, will Villa find themselves in a position where the axe is wielded at the first sign of trouble? £50m spent on players that one manager likes is not necessarily synonymous with the next manager having the same preferences.
Villa seem to have adopted a mentality of buying in the most prolific goalscorers, but that doesn’t equate to progress in itself. Up front there is potential for a lot of goals, but teams are based on far more than just sticking lots of people in who can score goals – there needs to be cohesion, and so far Villa have found very little of that.
Whether one wants to blame di Matteo’s tenure on a strong focus on scoring goals but a dismal return on actually putting the ball in the back of the net, or misfortunes around injuries that have disrupted the team, the fact is that things have gone awry.
Who the chairman chooses as the next manager is key. We’ve seen previously a chairman who was swayed by a manager clearly overplaying his past experiences as relevant when Tim Sherwood stated the importance of his role in developing Harry Kane, will Xia and his management team be able to see past manager keen to put their ring in the hat with a lot of talk but little to support it?
The club needs a man who can organise the team and get out of the league by any means possible. Whilst the reality is that Villa are unlikely to be promoted at the first time of asking, there needs to be some consistency, some cohesion if the club are to move forward positively and avoid become another Leeds United – fixated on sacking any manager as soon as things get tough.
The next manager may well be a rather boring choice – one who does not excite the fans, but who gets the job done. Let’s hope for the sake of the club that Xia doesn’t respond to trite but popular requests from some who think success means the manager must be related to the club as a fan or a player, but instead focuses on what will benefit the club over the long term, and not just react to what appears to be successful right now.
If the next manager can get the job done, Xia’s tenure will no doubt look more stable. If not, the questions must be asked as to exactly how things are different from the previous chairman given Lerner similarly threw money at the problem in his early years, only to find himself scrabbling around in the dirt years later as FFP proceeded to be a significant part of how the club have ended up in the Championship in the first place – for the sake of the club, let’s hope Villa significant spending a league further down doesn’t cause similar issues a few years from now, albeit under a new owner.
Dr. Xia – it’s over to you.