Is Paul Lambert committing career suicide at Aston Villa?
Paul Lambert is under pressure, and making elementary mistakes. His reputation as a progressive manager has disintegrated as his Aston Villa team – lacking shape, pace, resilience and discipline – have endured a catalogue of calamities. Another defeat, at home to Newcastle tonight, does not bear thinking about.
On the one hand, sympathy is inappropriate and unjustified. Aston Villa might have the feel of a big club, but there’s no substance to the pretence. Lambert’s behaviour as the club’s figurehead has been abysmal. He embarrassed himself after the FA Cup defeat at Millwall with an adolescent, petulant refusal to engage with a reporter from his local newspaper, the Birmingham Mail. That usually signals a point of no return.
Villa fans may not care about the absurdities of Lambert’s public relations policy, believing impertinent scribblers deserve to be patronised or pilloried, but they have every right to question the work done on the training ground. Judging by consistent lapses in positioning and concentration at set-pieces, that appears to be little more than a few keepy-uppies and a brisk five-a-side.
Panic is in the air. Lambert’s substitutions have been scattergun and without any apparent strategy. Yet, for all that, I hope he emerges from this season as a wiser, more considered Premier League manager. Relegation would be financially challenging and prevent others from attempting to copy Villa’s brave but flawed policy of focussing on youth. Their principles, at least, are worth preserving.
It all seemed so different six weeks ago, when a Villa side containing five academy graduates won at Anfield, suggesting that the policy of purchasing young, ambitious players from the Football League was both prudent and effective. Since then, Villa have fallen apart like a circus clown’s comedy car. It has been excruciating.
Suddenly, the figures don’t add up. The £20m invested on eight callow or unproven players might have been better diverted to the purchase of three experienced players who could have added quality and personality to the squad. There is a suspicion that economies of scale have encouraged Villa to cut too deep, too quickly.
Randy Lerner deserves to be in the dock alongside his manager. For an owner who came into British football on a tide of populism and positivity, he has recoiled from adversity. General Charles Chandler Krulak, the former commandant of the US Marine Corps who is Lerner’s sidekick at boardroom level, is another conscientious objector.
Lerner’s overblown vote of confidence yesterday changed very little. Lambert will not be sacked, even if the worst happens and Villa are obliged to rebuild in the Championship. But that begs a revealing question: can Lambert allow himself to be embarrassed so consistently? If he does so, it could be a career-ending mistake.
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