“Compare and Contrast” was always a favourite way to start a question back in the days when I studied for my English ‘A’ Level. It is a great phrase and one that could be used to highlight the difference in attitude between Ashley Cole and the Aston Villa squad. Following on from Ashley’s tantrum, the whole of the Villa squad have signed a statement openly criticising the chairman, Doug Ellis. Or are they? The club have issued a joint statement from the Chairman and Players stating that it was not a representation of the collective feelings of the squad which was bound to happen. But simply because the club have put out an official statement does not mean that they are representing the views of the players either. It would not be surprising if some of those that issued the original statement did not have the courage of their convictions when confronted individually. Some people find hiding in a crowd an easy option.
The players are not alone in their clash with the Chairman. Over the years most fans and managers have berated him at some point. Ellis has been involved at Villa for many years, tight purse strings have long been his trademark as a way of keeping the club on an even – keel. In terms of history, Aston Villa are a “big club” but in reality it has been many years since they have realistically been in this category, perhaps as far back as 1981 when they were League Champions and in 1982, European Champions – won incidentally during a brief hiatus by Ellis from involvement at Villa Park.
I do not recall such a high profile criticism from players en masse. Certainly the Manchester United players were conspicuous by the absence of any comments during the Glazer’s takeover of the club. The Villa players bemoan the lack of investment in a number of aspects of the club, predictably the first team squad but also behind the scenes. The statement almost accuses Ellis of a betrayal, “The chairman should be behind the club and not working against what we’re trying to achieve. There’ve been a series of cutbacks and we feel we have to mention this because they are now starting to affect us“. Amongst those cutbacks highlighted are the absence of a masseur at the club and a physio who had a claim for a cup of coffee rejected. However, it is a double-edged sword for both the Chairman and Players. For the Chairman, it is making the sale both easier and more diffiicult. It is easier because buyers may be attracted by the dissension, believing it to be an easier target and perhaps a seller more amenable to a better price for them. More difficult as he is no doubt holding out for a better price which may be playing on their history too much, ignoring the reality of the fact that Villa are no better than a mid-table team at present. For the players, they are the prime cause of the predicament. If they were successful, it would be easier to attract investment from existing shareholders or new money. Until performances improve that money will not realistically be forthcoming from existing sources. And in the end, football is about winning at their level. That they are not regularly competing for European places is but the fault of themselves and the manager. Either the tactics are not working or the players are not good enough. Simple as that. And it is the expectation that the manager will put both of those right. In O’Leary’s case, it is debatable whether he is the man to do that. It is all very well having plenty of money available as at Leeds but it is in situations such as Villa that he will prove his managerial credentials, e.g. getting the club to good positions in the League and into Europe without spending huge sums.
As always, it is the supporters who have to sit and suffer through all of this – hoping the players perform and that the Chairman gets out of the club. There seems little reason for them to be optimistic about either happening in the short-term but at least they know that the players are prepared to stand up and be counted off of the pitch. It would have been easier for the players to sit and say that enough is enough, this club is going nowhere and we want out. Instead they are prepared to put aside personal disgruntlement and deal with the situation head on.
Contrast this with Cole, who is doing nothing more than complaining how he has been ill-treated by his employers when in fact it is his own, we’ll call it naivety, that has got him into his current predicament. Continually fanning the flames of his particular fire will do no more than anger a significant section of the clubs supporters and whilst it may get his move, it will earn him a similar distrust that Michael Thomas received with his move to Liverpool and that Sol Campbell received after moving from Tottenham. Cole is a carbon copy of both players in that he was considered “one of us” having come through the ranks and become a local hero on the pitch, seemingly giving his all to the cause. It took many years for Thomas to be completely forgiven and going further back, Frank Stapleton was never completely forgiven for his move to Old Trafford. Not that Cole cares for if he did, he would work hard and allow the machinations to work quietly behind the scenes. Unfortunately for him, he has either been badly advised about how such things work or he has ignored that advice and cares not one jot about how other perceive him.