WIGAN, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 25: Aston Villa manager Alex McLeish looks on before the Barclays Premier League match between Wigan Athletic and Aston Villa at DW Stadium on February 25, 2012 in Wigan, England. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
We here at 7500 to Holte have made our opinions on Alex McLeish pretty clear. We've accused him of throwing players under the bus, laying down for big matches, not having a plan, having a plan that is so terrible that you can feel your soul ebbing away, being megalomaniacal/monomaniacal/just plain maniacal. However, I think we've gone out of our way to be fair to McLeish, whether he deserves it or not. I'm hesitant to speak too authoritatively about what my fellow writers think, but I'm reasonably certain that we all agree that he gets a lot of stick unnecessarily, especially as a former Birmingham City manager. The "Bluenose Out" philosophy doesn't have a lot of credibility here, largely because it's naive tribalism, and while I think we all enjoy indulging in a bit of that from time to time, it's no way to run a club.
All that said, the verdict on McLeish (as espoused most recently by Kirsten) is that he has been a bad hire, and a resounding disappointment. But before you start scrawling "McLeish Out" all over your bedsheet, consider David Conn's recent article on Aston Villa's seismic financial losses*. When we consider the relatively dire financial straits the club have found themselves in, it becomes pretty hard to countenance sacking another manager.
Alex McLeish is on a three-year contract for a substantial sum of money. By all accounts, the contract that Villa offered McLeish was a large part of his motivation to quit Birmingham and cross town to Villa Park. In the aforementioned article, David Conn notes that Villa have been on the hook for their last two full-time managers, paying sizable compensations to Martin O'Neill and Gerard Houllier in order to get them off the books. Understandably, Randy Lerner will be reluctant to dig into his pockets yet again to buy out the remainder of McLeish's deal.
What a lot of people don't understand is the degree to which Martin O'Neill salted the earth at Aston Villa. The self-styled disciple of Clough has earned his reputation for fiscal profligacy, and as a result, Lerner & co. have had to spend quite a lot of money on transfer fees and wage bills since they took over from Doug Ellis in 2006. Since then, they have had
very little nothing to show for their investment. As counterintuitive as this may seem, people as rich as Randy Lerner take the phrase "record losses" very seriously. Unless it turns out that Lerner is sitting on an unlimited reserve of petrodollars, he has to cut costs by any means necessary, including selling any players of value and not wasting money on the managerial merry-go-round. He fired Houllier because he was unpopular. You only get to play that card once if your bankbooks look as bad as Villa's do.
One last thing, in the form of a hypothetical: if you were a manager, would you take the Aston Villa job?
Here's what you get to deal with:
- An aging club full of unsellable misfits
- A sell-to-buy transfer policy
- Anemic scouting (Martin O'Neill never hired anyone to look at foreign players. Whoops.)
- Empty seats at home games. A lot of them.
- A dwindling support that will turn their backs on you with the slightest provocation.
Guys like Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rogers have bright futures ahead of them. They can leverage their success at smaller clubs when they decide they want to move on. Why would they want to go to Aston Villa when almost any club in the Premier League these days is willing to change managers? What makes Aston Villa a desirable situation?
I don't like him. You don't like him. But Alex McLeish isn't going anywhere.
*A point worth making about the finances: the recent sales of Stewart Downing, Brad Friedel, Ashley Young, et al. are not taken into account. By the same token, nor are the recent purchases of Shay Given, Charles N'Zogbia, and Alan Hutton.