Middlesbrough came calling Saturday at a rather important juncture in Villa’s season, and promised a stern test. However, Villa largely brushed Tony Pulis’ men and tactics aside to cruise to a vital 3-0 win that saw us climb back into the promotion places for the first time since something like the sixth week of the campaign. Not a bad day.

The Good
Anwar El Ghazi and John McGinn taking their chances. Can’t really overstate the importance of this. Boro were decidedly parking the bus, and the two chances (AEG’s being a bit more clear-cut than McGinn’s) simply had to be converted to open things up. On AEG’s goal, it was McGinn with a brilliant, sweeping, cross-field pass that sent him in. On the second, Grealish controlled beautifully, and while Abraham largely missed the resulting pass as Jack was fouled, it ran through to McGinn, who, with two defenders closing in tight from either side, was barreling toward the box and struck quickly and decisively from the top of it to slot home and basically end the match.

Glenn Whelan had another very good outing and almost looks a player reborn, though his face hasn’t changed much. Tyrone Mings and Kortney Hause once again were excellent, with only one real chance presented to Boro in the middle of the box (which they obviously failed to convert). Each is comfortable on the ball, and many times confidently worked themselves free to defeat high pressure and get the ball out without inviting sustained Boro possession, or mistakes leading to easy chances. And both of them have the ability and confidence to switch play with long passes to unmarked wide outlets. They’re not punting; they’re helping launch attacks. And I’ve started to fear conceding corners less.

Jed Steer had very little to do, but was assured. Albert Adomah finally got back on the scoresheet after Randolph bobbled Keinan Davis’ shot and was there to slot home and make the scoreline more reflective of the performance. Once again, goals throughout the side, and McGinn, in particular, back to his best.

The Bad
Boro, really. No surprises in how they play, and for a while it was working. But you’d expect all the resulting one-way traffic and possession ceded to Villa to eventually tell, and it did. Negative football getting just what it deserved. Wait, that’s good, right? Never mind. Have to put something in here. And you could maybe say we were a little bit profligate.

The Ugly
I was going to say Pulis’ footballing philosophy, but I’ll just leave it alone.

Final Verdict
Four out of four is impressive, all the more so given three games in a week against sides all better positioned. There was no let-down after the emotional derby win against small heath, and the side really impressed in negating Forest’s early goal and coming right back to take the lead, along with whatever wind Forest might’ve had in their sails. The third challenge might’ve seemed a bit harsh coming so quickly given how big the preceding wins were. but Villa didn’t seem at all bothered by the energy expended earlier in the week, and looked very mentally balanced. They looked to be on the hunt, and Boro definitely looked spooked.

Whatever you say about Boro’s performance, Villa did what they had to do, which was find a way to unlock the stingiest defense in the league. And that’s where the talent told. McGinn finding AEG looked to be the result of real understanding developed on the training ground, and was just the sort of visionary pass and run necessary to create a breakthrough. Up until then, it looked as though Boro might weather the storm and get the game played their way. Going down would’ve been tough to come back from. But Villa weren’t having any of it, and Pulis will be left rueing the decision to pack the middle and sit deep rather than come out and press Villa higher up the pitch. Truth be told, though, on the day it didn’t look like anything he’d done would’ve changed the result. They’d probably only have lost by more if they’d come out to play.

Further, it was another real team performance. Grealish had less to contribute than in the two previous matches, and it didn’t matter. Three games in seven days was always going to be a big ask after a 13-match layoff. But he still had the quality where it counted, and everyone else played with a confident, attacking mindset. The pressure all over was very good. Whelan was well positioned throughout, providing an outlet, cleaning things up, and even beating men to loose balls to keep the pressure on. Mings and Hause kept everything under control and weren’t bothered when Boro did try to press them. And the side kept going forward for the full 90. McGinn was immense, and AEG had one of those games that showed what he can do.

Late in the second, there was one passage of play between Grealish and McGinn down the middle that was both sublime and illustrative of the understanding they’ve developed. Shame it didn’t result in a goal.

So, we’ll get different challenges coming up, and there are plenty of teams nipping at our heels, five of them, in fact, within three points. As everyone knows, Villa have to just keep winning.

But right now, confidence is high and Villa are as well positioned as anyone to grab fifth or sixth. When you see that we’ve  only lost three more than Norwich, it’s clear that all the draws over the 13-match span in which both Grealish and Tuanzebe were out have been costly. On the other hand, those draws, instead of defeats, have kept us in it.

Given the defense is now much more stout and the midfield is giving them much less to do, never mind that the attack has looked all but unstoppable, you’d like to think that any of the draws during that stretch would now just as likely be wins. Which is grounds for confidence with eight to go and all to play for. Likewise, where I’d ordinarily be upset about a break, I think the team could use one, especially as we wait to hear the extent of Abraham’s niggle. Whether he scores or not, he’s all over the place, attracts all sorts of attention, and will be back in the goals soon enough.

We’ve all been here before and no one’s getting carried away. But it was a fantastic week where Villa had answers for every question asked, and everyone should enjoy the break, albeit with that ever-present cautious optimism we know so well.

Over to you.

Comments 93

  1. Good script JC, it highlights everything I’m thinking. I haven’t been this optimistic since we started banging them in before long term injuries to our best players kicked in and put the brakes on. That we have goals in us is just what excites the fans and we are now looking much more solid at the back. Play Offs? We’re coming for you.

    And it was after a great win against small heath last season that the wheels came off and cost us automatic promotion. This time our form has been good after the event and improving each game.

  2. Talking of small heath. Today is the first day of their hearing with the beaks over FFP breaches. Rumours circulating that they could be in for a 12 point deduction. That would put them 2 points above a relegation slot. Plus a transfer ban but I guess that as they don’t have a pot to pee in it’s no punishment.

    This is only the first of 3 charges against them. Two more will be coming up soon.

  3. Thanks JC- From memory a fair few of our draws under Smith have been games we should of won. We have gone ahead many times only to throw it away with poor defensive play/errors.

    You have to wonder why as a team we lack cohesion without Jack beyond his obvious ability, we seem to lack belief even? Errors can be from being caught in two minds, or lack of concentration/hesitancy.

    Under Bruce this season we managed on average less than 5 passes every time we possessed the ball, under Smith this has shot up to over 5 and we have seen in some games they could still attack they just didn’t maintain it, slipping back into old ways maybe?

    I’m struggling to see why this should occur when we have come back against the likes of Sheffield utd and been 2 up against Leeds with 3 RB’s in defence? why do so many seem to lack belief in themselves?

    Mings and Hause seem unfazed by anything, blowing the Big club mental thing away for me so the only conclusion I can make is the mental screening of players has been poor? Smith has stated he looks for this mental side foremost in players beyond talent even, I wonder if he has a method or an innate ability to see through players?

    Anyway just some thoughts.

  4. Mk
    Mental screening of our players/staff frightening thoughts
    Lescott/I can use my phone in my pocket
    Gabby/Food babies
    Richards /I won premier league
    Hutton/forest gimp run boy just run

  5. MK,

    Seems to me a couple things at work. I just don’t think the midfield personnel add up without Jack, as we don’t have another player who can maintain possession like he can. McGinn is very good protecting the ball and turning players, but isn’t the same in terms of gliding past players with his head up looking to make that simple pass in the middle third of the pitch. With Grealish, McGinn’s freed up. He’s got a great range of passing (that ball to AEG for the first was sublime), all the rest, just isn’t a possession midfielder. Neither are Hourihane or Whelan.

    I think because of this, when Jack is in, they’re all freed up to play to their strengths. Along with Jack’s natural arrogance and calm, it all creates more confidence throughout the side.

    I’d have to watch replays, which sadly don’t exist anymore, to see why Whelan is suddenly looking more effective, but I’m thinking it has something to do with gaining more of a foothold and bringing others into the play, which pushes the other side back further and allows Whelan more room and time to work with. Of course he started looking a different player a couple games before Jack came back, so maybe it has more to do with finally being in better condition. Which seems a bit odd, he’s never looked unfit, but being older, maybe it’s just taken him more time.

    Then, since Mings and Hause are faster, stronger and more mobile than what we’ve had at the back, generally are able to push up further, which also helps. Haven’t looked at the stats, but we seem to be winning more aerial duels further up the pitch, for example, and the midfield has less distance to cover when tracking back.

  6. You do not have success without a good defense.

    Mings has been a one man wrecking machine. Our Van dyke. what a signing. House super too but cant wait until he goes lb and axel comes in alongside mings. we wont concede again!

  7. MK,

    I do think mental toughness really has been an issue for years. Again, could be a number of things (since we don’t really ‘know’ the players). Most just aren’t aggressiveness enough to wrest control; we’ve not had a lot of good ball winners; there’s a lack of belief in each other; lack of confidence in their own abilities. Also, if you’re being coached to go one up and then fall back, you’re focused on not making mistakes rather than keeping the opponent on their heels.

    I’ve always thought that fatigue breeds cowards, so fitness, knowing you can stay after the opponent for 90mins, has to be a big part of a winning mentality. Way back when I was young in the 70s, the emphasis in training (apart from nothing more than two touches) was on fitness: “We’ll win a lot of games in the last 15 minutes.”

    Really seemed to the case with Boro. They were very cautious to start, so they ceded the initiative to Villa. Then they concede anyway having barely had a sniff of the ball in our half for the first 20-25. You know you need to get forward (Pulis bringing Downing on), but then you’re still thinking about conceding a second. Always caught in two minds.

    For us McGinn, he never stops chasing. Neither does Tammy. Mings is just ill-tempered, wants to win every battle he’s in, and he’s willing to step up to make sure he does. Hause is in the same mold. When Tammy knows the wingers and central players are going to close up the outlets, he knows he’s not wasting energy chasing down from the front. Every pass becomes a nervy one under pressure, and the quality diminishes with each successive pass. That equals turnovers. Seen with us a million times.

    I’ve also wondered time and again why the CBs for virtually ever team we’ve played over the last few seasons are glued to the backs of our front men challenging every ball to feet, and then are moving so quickly to cut things out, while ours always play off. My conclusion has been that our CBs don’t feel confident enough in their ability to challenge like that, don’t want to get beat in one-on-ones, so they play off. They’ve not been bad reading the game, etc., but just aren’t comfortable being that aggressive. Mings is just going to go through you and concede the foul, if nothing else…and a little further up the pitch to mitigate the danger from the resulting set piece.

  8. Heroes…

    Mings has made a big difference. The first mean CB we’ve had in ages. Just what we needed.

    And to be fair, we’d started playing better without Jack in the couple-three games before he returned.

  9. Not much to add, as most of it has been said already in your excellent summaries JC.

    I will say that the big difference in Villa is cumulative with the introduction of Steer giving so much more confidence to the back four, which has in turn given Mings more opportunity to martial the back four, at the same time, having an understanding with Kortney Hause that has come naturally, and they have become mates on and off the pitch. El Mohamady has also found a better understanding with both Mings and Hause, which at the same time has eased pressure on Taylor, who is also built more with El Ghazi, whose recovery is improving all the time.

    McGinn is so different now he has Jack to control the mid field, and move the ball, during Jack’s absence he tended to run round like a headless chicken, winning the ball, losing the ball, and often misplacing a pass. Now he is back at his tenacious best, which in turn has eased the pressure on Whelan, who is now exceptional and playing out of his skin, making him one of the first on the team sheet. Tammy has not altered much, as he has always been in the thick of things, now it is a matter of making Green, Adomah and Kodija compete for the places up front, and it is good to see Keinan Davis back in the mix.

    Pleased to hear that Hourihane became a Dad on Friday night, and will be back in contention after the break, giving Dean some headaches over who he chooses now for the mid field.

    Joining Conor for selection after the break should be Axel , who could really be massive alongside Mings, with Hause moving to left back, and Taylor dropping to the bench. Lansbury and Carroll will also be pressing for inclusion, but I do not see too many changes coming in the coming weeks, as this team has gelled so well together.

    I must also point out that as the team has improved, so have the fans, and they were really in good voice for most of the match. The only sad point to me is the very few that felt it necessary to boo Stuart Downing, we should just appreciate the guy for when he did play for us, and just get on with giving our boys all the vocal support they need.

    Really looking forward to the Blackburn game and the chance to make it five in a row!

  10. JC- I agree with all you have just said I just don’t get why our players defeated themselves rather than just being out played, thats both under Bruce this season and Smith with or without Jack. The focus had been squarely on the keeper at first and we have used 5 but they haven’t been the only players that appeared to lack concentration. I don’t think Steer’s fixed anything much? maybe better communication? could that be our shrinking violets problem, they are not very vocal?

  11. That said , Hutton, Elphick, Chester, Bree, Nyland and Kalanic either got injured or loaned out, that at times has been most of our defence, coincidence? I’m leaving Tuenzabe out for obvious reasons 🙂 we have had 15 iterations of players in the defence this season, maybe it is/was just down to quality.

  12. MK,

    Don’t agree with you about Nyland and Kalinic. Foreign goalkeepers just find the lack of protection difficult to cope with in English football, which is why they never instilled any trust in the defence in front of them.

    The difference since Steer has played has stood out and you can see that the players in front of him have their trust in him.

  13. MK,

    I know what you mean. I really think it comes down to confidence. How much difference Steer has made, I dunno. Lately he’s not had much to do.

    What I do see is Mings being very vocal and leading by example, and I think that flows up the pitch. If you’re less worried about the back line, you’re less worried about dropping back, or not committing fully, in order to protect them.

    I think Jack’s a leader because he always wants the ball, never hides, plays both ways, and is always looking to get it forward. Since he can make it stick, he inspires confidence that moves aren’t going to break down quickly and that gets people flying up to join in.

    PP’s comment about McGinn looking like a headless chicken without Jack is on the money. Was trying to do too much, and wasn’t freed up to play to his strengths. Hourihane is never going to boss anything. But he’s good at knowing where he needs to be as an outlet, and also like to get up front. Tammy’s always exhorting players to get up and join in the press.

    So, I think we’ve been lacking leaders, really. Guys who refuse to lose and hold everyone accountable. And Jack’s only recently grown into that role.

    Smith wants to play to win. Maybe it is all the weight of expectation that players revert back to playing not to lose. I always understood why Bruce wanted veterans, was only ever a question of whether they still had the legs and stamina to go at it with younger sides with nothing to lose over 90 minutes.

  14. JC mentions above that our CB’s push up more and the midfield have less distance to cover when tracking back. Spot on JC. I’ve always thought you play the game in 1 half of the pitch only. The whole team should move up and down as a unit like a piston. Of course, if the piston is in your opponents half, there is a huge space behind the defensive line to attack and the need for pace at the back becomes critical. We’ve not had that under Spud so the rearguard have held back to avoid getting caught and the team became stretched because of it. Things have changed for the better.

  15. PP- Maybe they do find it tough but so far neither have played with a solid defence and Grealish in the side, even when we were going great guns before jacks injury we were all over the place at the back most weeks we just scored a lot. Nothing against Steer I just haven’t seen him stretched yet the way the other two were and I can’t say I have noticed much other than he is quicker coming out which is a bonus. None of them command the area for me but thats being picky these days.

  16. MK,

    The difference with Steer is his experience. He makes the job look easy, and does not need to be spectacular because he is always in the right place at the right time, which is the sign of a good keeper. The defence know that he will not be caught out. Kallinick and Nyland would be positioned badly and concede shots they should have saved.

  17. That is interesting, Mark. You know we’re at our best when we look like the photos with everyone heading to the box. Generally see that overload on the left, though, with Grealish drifting that way.

    Funny how it’s complicated and not. I mean, we know that’s why we love the game, but how something so simple like fitness underlies all the rest. And then a philosophy like “attack, and win the ball back” has so many fine differences in positioning and responsibilities.

  18. And Steer is quicker coming out, yes. I’ve also liked the decisiveness when he decides to punch. Gets two good fists on it and doesn’t screw around trying to catch it in all the traffic.

  19. There used to be a hockey player who was talented, tough, and hard to play against. Geordie Howe. One of his claims to fame type of games was a Geordie Howe hat trick—a goal, an assist, and a fight. This is the attitude that Ming’s brings to the game. Opposition players are wondering if they can get through or loose a tooth trying. Steer comes out and challenges and this puts forwards on hesitation mode. Being willing to push back, steer has changed opposition forward’s thinking. Hause and Ming work well in this scenario. And it extrapolates up the field.

  20. PP- I would argue that part of the reason Steer is in the right place is the defence is less open and the attackers have less option, if your not left guessing you have more chance. How many times have we seen our players shoot at the keeper or wide of the post over the last few months? part and parcel of defending is shutting down the angles, makes the keepers job easier. Lately our mids have had all sorts of time to shoot and have done so well against some vastly more experienced keepers than Steer.

    I would like to see him tested, so far he really hasn’t been but hasn’t done anything wrong. The other keepers have had games like that and Steer has had games before when he has got nowhere near shots. Defending has improved and may be more a result of Mings and Hause than just steer, Steer in the old defence would have similar results I would think.

    A keeper earns his bread when he keeps us in a game we shouldn’t be in imo, we look so solid I haven’t seen this from steer in this period but I have from the others particularly Nyland, Equally I’ve seen the same mistakes you have.

    I’m happy if Steer is that magic no1 we need and he deserves his chance I just haven’t seen enough yet to convince me as this defence is so new.

  21. JC – I really think it comes down to confidence

    There was a moment later in the match where Elmo received the ball at the back and had a Boro player closing down on him. He coolly took the ball past him and started his run down the flanks. That moment showed that maybe the old days of panicked hoof ball are over and the players now believe in their own ability.

  22. JC- Yes the concept is simple but finding players able in both mind and body to do what your asking is not so easy. Pressing can be either closing down the player with the ball or the angles for him to pass, one is easier to teach than the other.

    I always wondered why Villa didn’t look more Bruce like in their play than they did? One thing thrown at Bruce was the lack of a style. Lets face it they could be all over the place at times and still can and those that came in didn’t really improve that. I sort of put it down to the quick succession of managers that left a hodge podge of players at Villa, plus Bruces remit of promotion and scatter gun approach. We went from a Counter team to all out attack under RDM to playing the percentages under Bruce.

    If you watch Sheffwed under Bruce I’d say he’s inherited a pretty balanced side and has gee’d them up a bit, similar scenario to the sides he inherited at Blues and Hull, don’t think he made any transfers and never turned up until Feb. Read this next snippet and it will bring back memories 🙂

    “We took our chances at the right time. On our first real attack we scored and that calmed everybody down a bit – and just at the right times we’ve scored again. It should have been more comfortable than what it turned out to be.

    “Blackburn are very decent up the top end of the pitch and they’ve been going along very nicely up until the last month or so. You can’t underestimate any team and, make no mistake, Blackburn caused us a few problems.

    “The bit of quality we’ve showed down the right from Dom (Iorfa) – maybe I’m playing him in the wrong position! He’s made one goal and got another and I’m delighted he’s settled in so well.

    “There were one or two things that alarmed me later on – we went a bit deep too quickly and couldn’t get to the ball quick enough and that was a concern.”

    Oddly enough they have Josh Onamah already who has been injured since Boxing day.

    Blackburn next up who I thought were pretty decent are struggling because they have lost one player ( Lenihan0 according to Mowbray and can’t defend the 1st ball, funny old game.

  23. MK,

    “Yes the concept is simple but finding players able in both mind and body to do what your asking is not so easy. Pressing can be either closing down the player with the ball or the angles for him to pass, one is easier to teach than the other.”

    Indeed. And I think this goes to the point in your next paragraph about them not looking more Bruce-like. From what we were hearing, it just didn’t seem like there was enough focus on fitness, preparation, and so on.

    So they had to be more fit to play the style, and they had to actually get trained in the style, both the obvious and not so obvious.

    Reminds of the bit about game days, having breakfast together, then sitting down and going over the plan. Looking at film and photos at half-time. I mean, I wasn’t there with Bruce, either, but I just don’t think there was enough ‘coaching’ and overall player management going on. So whatever the system, or intent, they weren’t going to be very good at it.

  24. And I don’t think I was very clear, Mark.

    Had to be more fit and coached to play Smith’s style, for sure. With Bruce, a question of just being asked to play a much less expansive style, less thinking and adventure perhaps, but still a system, and they still weren’t fit enough or drilled enough.

    So, Bruce gets frustrated, but isn’t doing what’s necessary to make it work. And he also simply didn’t have Boro-type set of players to work with. There was enough talent and goals to get close regardless, but it never looked like I would think he wanted it to. He seemed (and I stress ‘seem’) to think that it was just something that you go out and do. My impression, anyway, putting little puzzle pieces together.

  25. IanG
    I’m glad to hear your bowls are moving again. All the medication clogs up the system, if it hurts I suggest lots of prune juice to soften everything up and you’ll be fine.
    How you doing old fella?

  26. JC- Think that’s about it, maybe that was how it was done in his day and most Brit players understood that?

    Looking further into pressing it matters who you are attempting to press ie targeting susceptible players etc. That’s were the planning comes in .

  27. To add, Luckily we have three anti press players, hause mings and grealish , the longish accurate passes out of defence lately and skilful evasions haven’t escaped my attention , if tuenzabe adds his runs we will be hard to pin down

  28. MK,

    Interesting in your quotes from Bruce on the Blackburn game that he does not mention Barry Bannan, who was once again the mid field master of the team.

    Axel gave a good interview on AVFC, which is available on the official You Tube channel, and is raring to go and be part of the team in the Blackburn game.

  29. PP- might not of noticed he’s there 🙂 Of all the teams we have to face its sheff weds that looks the likely slip up.

    IanG- might be mate its a cr*p shoot

  30. IanG

    I’m okay. Trying to survive the latter days. Three weeks to go, we get a little break.
    We strike on April 3. I don’t think it’ll work for us but don’t want to be a scab either.

  31. Mark,

    I’ve actually almost fainted seeing those long diagonals upfield from our CBs. The accuracy has been pretty impressive.

    And yep, knowing who to press and where/when. I think you posted quite a while back a link to someone from a smaller club saying something like: “You know if x gets the ball out from the back, you want to come press from the left, keep him off his good foot,” that kind of thing. Or maybe it was coming to keep him away from getting to the outlet he’ll favor and force him to do something else he’s not as good at.

  32. Spud knows a CB when he sees one. Shipped out Elf on loan so he could become their rock at the back. Tell us all that Jedi was a CB. Signed Axel and never played him at CB. Tried to sign McKenna.

    I’ve just seen this Kazak guy jump all over McKenna for his teams third goal.

  33. IanG, those rule changes for next season are mind boggling. Hand ball will become farcical as players kick a ball at their opponents arm when in the penalty area. If they wish to improve the game, make it illegal to run the ball into the corners when running down the clock. This is not in the game’s spirit.

    Hope you had a loo brush handy mate.

  34. Kortney, Axel, Tyrone as a back 3 please. Kortney, Axel, Tyrone as a back 3 please. Start with Green and El Gassy as wing backs Mark.

  35. Plug
    Nah, fortunately had one of your lot did the job.
    As for the rules, some are fiddling while Rome burns, then trousering loads of money.

  36. Ian g
    New rules too complicated for me all they needed was
    1 only captain can speak to officials
    2 offside ,has to be clear gap in players,if any part of defender lines up with attacker ,attacker is onside
    3 stopping play for injured player,for player safety if play stopped he injured player has to go off for 5 mins stop time
    waisting,if genuinely injured take 5 mins to recover

  37. I think the rules will last as long as all the other ones have like moving the ball forward for moaning, keeper 6 second rule, throw in from where it went out and keeper 6 paces rule…….

    Korean V- I wouldn’t worry they are deducting those and more themselves at present .

  38. Korean,

    small heath’s points deduction doesn’t put them in a relegation battle…..yet.

    But their next three games are Leeds, Sheff U and the yam yams. At the end of those games they may well be in the thick of it. Then they have games against their fellow relegation teams. What’s the chance of another last game escape?

  39. This time last season we had 12 more points than we have now. We also had a goal difference of 24 against our current goal difference of 14. And we were pushing for automatic promotion with the play offs almost guaranteed as we had an 8 point cushion to P7.

    But I am considerably more confident of promotion this season than last. It is my mindset and I guess the players have it too.

  40. Plug- I feel the same, I wouldn’t swap for the world, we would still have the Doc, Wyness, Bruce etc and be moaning about the football. For the first time in a long time I feel like we are finally moving in a good direction.

  41. Does anyone know if normal employment laws apply to footballers, or are there clauses in their contracts that exempt them?
    I don’t understand how we are stuck with having to pay Ross McCormack for yet another season.
    The man refused to come to training at Villa; was chucked out of Melbourne for consistently turning up late for training and failed at Motherwell because he wasn’t fit enough to play.
    In the real world hed go through a formal disciplinary process and he could avoid the sack at several stages by simply doing what was asked of him . . . turn up to train!
    Why are footballers immune?

  42. r0bb0
    Footballers – employment?
    Bit of an oxymoron if you ask me.

    Mark/Plug
    Totally agree, with the Villa haven’t felt this lack of double stress for years.

  43. r0bb0,

    It’s a good question, and I really have no idea. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of transparency regarding what’s in players’ contracts, or what can or can’t be put in them. We hear about the wages, we hear about sell-on clauses, we hear about release clauses.

    Never have heard whether there are incentives. Contracts in the NFL, for example, contain all sorts of things that add up to a total package: signing bonus (the big upfront money that can be the bulk of the contract’s value); a smaller annual amount of salary; then incentive marks for how many games started, how many yards, how many touchdowns, tackles, sacks…

    And all those packages vary based on a player’s age, previous performance, injury or attitude concerns. Virtually all but the very best/dominant players have contracts where they can be cut or traded at any time, for any reason. There’s a lot of rules about how all of this gets counted against the salary cap, some teams manage it better than others.

    So if Messi walks in, you just hand over the money, no questions asked. You either want him or you don’t, and you know the market value.

    Grealish to Spurs, that would probably get structured with some upfront money/salary, then add-ons like incentives for starts, goals, assists. Abraham penning a new deal at Chelsea would be the same, like a scoring threshold that would kick in extra money. £2m/yr guaranteed, rising to £3m-£3.5m if he gets 10 goals or something.

    I think problem with football is that unless all teams were in relatively the same boat in terms of available money and salary caps (making them all need to manage risk differently), it seems like a four-year deal is a guaranteed four-year deal, no matter what, and teams don’t have much leverage to say “You need to come to training camp at x weight and fully fit (parameters defined), or you lose money (via a fine, or not qualifying for an incentive bonus)” or even “Nope, move along.”

    Players just won’t sign up for that unless it’s the same kind of contract structure everywhere they turn.

  44. JC
    You don’t really answer r0bb0’s question as to why employment law doesn’t seem to apply in football.
    It is employment rather than self employment & the contract point is more about the football culture of fear & of losing the ‘unhappy’ player & therefore possibly impact on profit.
    In other words the clubs are being held to ransom, & then being robbed.
    The power has swung too far in the direction of players, who are often not capable of dealing with it in an intelligent & business way.
    The clubs can legally fine, sack or otherwise discipline players, but choose not to most of the time, unless they can do it without being perceived negatively by the punters, which usually would backfire on the club financially & in terms of a successful product.
    The exception being the current social ‘crimes’, with being sent to ptison their get out of jail card.

    There is also too much USA cultural virus being injected into our game IMO.
    And some here seem to think that shows a varied knowledge, but that is unconvincing when applied to AV & our traditional game, which thankfully is still with us.
    I would prefer it if we don’t hasten that process of homogenisation.

  45. From the outside it appears to be its how stupid the club is at the time of employing the players ours being very stupid under two owners.

    On the other hand it is up to the club to get the best out of the player and if he’s successful that makes the club money by winning stuff or selling him on. Not sure there are to many employment contracts that make the person a saleable item.

    I do agree that if the player flat refuses to honor his part the contracts broken unless there is an underlying personal problem like mental issues. as JC pointed out we don’t know enough.

  46. When you think about it you don’t want performance related items in a contract as a player, the bigger the basic the better or you might find yourself not fancied by a manager and earning a lot less, maybe thats why Kodjias sulking.

  47. IanG, Mark.

    Couple things…

    1) Obviously looks you can negotiate clauses. Players would prefer not to, and as as long as other clubs aren’t necessarily going to put those in front of players, then players don’t have to accept them.

    So, in the case of McCormack, and many of the bomb-squadders over the years, is it that Villa don’t want to look bad by ‘sacking’ them? I’m guessing they’ve simply got guaranteed contracts.

    2) I think the biggest difference in US sport in this regard (apart from the nature of the sports themselves) is the transparency. All the big sports have different salary/financial rules, but quite often most everything is widely known about a player’s contract, and the teams’ finances are very clearly reported—you don’t have this cloud of mystery about FFP, for example. Everyone knows exactly where every team is in terms of available money at any given point in time.

    Regular labor law doesn’t really apply to the various sports, since they’ve all got unique arrangements that are legal. Broader things, like discrimination, would transcend any league’s set-up, but when you can cut players without ’cause’, it’s very hard to prove.

    Anyway. Not that one is better than another, but when we wonder why Villa are stuck with certain players, it’s just a thought experiment about all the consequences, intended and otherwise, that follow from different arrangements in players’ vs. clubs’ rights.

  48. Mark,

    Kodjia…? I dunno. Given the way we were splashing cash, if McCormack’s got a guaranteed deal, I’d think Kodjia does as well. (I’d also say all players want to play, but then you’ve got McCormack and Richards, so I guess that isn’t true.)

    Most everyone thought he was fairly selfish before he got hurt, but since he was scoring we all just sort of shrugged. What I wonder is whether he’s being realistic about what he can do these days, and/or does he think he’s being unfairly sidelined. Might think if he played more he’d be back to his old self and he doesn’t like not being the hero.

    I applaud him for wanting to play, and looks like he’s willing to work, more than he did before, anyway.

  49. JC
    Codger has a typical french attitude along with a seemingly selfish football attitude.
    Not a seamless mix in UK football.
    I’m not dissing the french either, as I have spent a lot of time there over the years, & have some good friends there who aren’t footballers.
    I don’t think he fits the way the team plays so much as he did in the last regime, & his style doesn’t suit a pressing game as one of a front 3 on the right side.
    He is willing to work hard for sure, he just doesn’t seem to do well when he is not the main man as you say, but fair play, he does put the work in, & every now & again there was usually an end product, but not at the moment unless he learns to be more flexible, as the team is not picked around him.

    As far as McC is concerned , he seems to have a mental health problem, which would account for him not being dealt with more strongly.
    A lot of fragile prima donnas these days, the same as in the outside world.

  50. Thanks for that info MK.

    Now beginning to understand why the contracts work as they do. Could you imagine what it would be like if normal employment laws applied. Clubs and players would be constantly in court room battles over a huge range of issues. The club forced me to play when I was injured. I was left out of the team, so I am seeking constructive dismissal. The list could go on and on, and club and players do not want bad publicity.

  51. PP
    The actual employment laws do cover football as everything else.
    But the civil laws have a pattern of first mediation [if possible], & then if that doesn’t work the courts, where obviously the more money involved the more complex & devious it gets.
    I agree that the practicality doesn’t work well with football players, but the same laws do work with the boardrooms more.
    It’s always seemed to be slanted towards the wealth, with the money getting leeway & the wage slaves [such as the AV staff] often getting short shrift.

    Of course instead of footballers understandably getting a leg up from their short careers, as in the past, the expectation of many of the most successful is to be filthy rich [while paying lip service to their origins], with an ever increasing list of parasites such as agents, earning off their backs, encouraging them to hold everyone to ransom, in an echo of reality shows.

    Now it all seems to be the subtle worshipping of wealth & power in my eyes, linked to the traditional sport of scapegoating the peasants.
    You can see this with the cost of ticket prices [with safe standing being cheaper & banned in favour of those with more money].

    Now of course the upper echelons of footballers are on par with movie stars in the short term, then when their star fades you see the qualities of the person in their actions, with some helping others & some mimicking such as Ronaldo, in sucking the life from all around them.

    Football wasn’t that when I started watching it, just a bit better paid, & they were truly one of us.

  52. I was only kidding about Kodjia 🙂 he’s basically not a team player and no longer has the confidence and athleticism he once had which is a shame, funny enough he’s the opposite of RMAC who generally played in teams that played the passing game, playing with Kodjia and Ayew must have been like pulling teeth, the greedy twins.

    Wasn’t that long ago the players couldn’t go on a free at the end of contracts so they do have rights and are no longer just assets bought and paid for. That could change when we eventually leave the EU, no more Bosman ruling.

  53. Sleepy week!
    U21s didn’t do so well without their main promoted players, I hope they are back for the tournament in the summer.
    Baggies v Small Heath on Friday.
    Roll on Saturday!
    ZZZZ

  54. OK guys, the excitement is beginning to build. Time to grab another 3 points. If we play to a level that we’ve managed recently, then a win is on the cards.

    I’m also intrigued to know what team DS puts out now that Axel is back. Will he rest his troops that were on International duty last week? Will small heath go under again tonight at the yam yams? Many questions. Answers coming soon.

  55. Watched the Blues on TV yesterday. Gary Gardner was awful. So lazy, he was just walking throughout the game. I think his Villa career is over.

    Hat-trick for Tammy today?

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