Amid heavy pressure from Villa fans, and threats of a Holte End protest Paul Lambert has done what he does best and bring new, cheap talent into the club by purchasing former Valencia and Elche man Carles Gil for a price somewhere around £3.2 million. But before we get into this let’s start with why the move was necessary.
First and foremost, Villa can’t score goals. They are on pace to be a historically low scoring team. They have only scored 11 goals all season and are on pace for 20 goals all season if this keeps up. That would tie the Premier League record for fewest goals in a season, and to make matters worse, no club in BPL history has ever scored fewer than 28 goals and avoided relegation. So that’s cheery. And this whole “lack of goals” things sure makes it hard to win. Villa are win-less in their last 6 matches, and in that stretch lost games to midlands rival West Bromich Albion (a team flirting with relegation all year) and Leicester City (when they were bottom of the table no less). So clearly, as things currently stand Villa are flirting with disaster and relegation. Time for change then, yes? Yes.
But what kind of change? Well, Villa’s defense is clearly not the problem, and is in fact and massive, Herculean strength. The fact that they have only scored 11 goals all year, and are somehow in 13th place is absolutely astounding. The two teams with the next lowest scoring totals are Sunderland and Burnley with 18 and 19 respectively, so it isn’t even close. Aston Villa is the worst offensive team in the League by far, and yet Burnley is in 17th place and Sunderland is in 16th place (just outside of the relegation zone) while Villa sit (relatively) safe from relegation (for now) in 13th place. This shouldn’t even be possible, but thanks to Villa’s spectacular defense, it is. In fact, their 23 goals allowed number is 5th best in the League, and the only four teams who have allowed fewer goals than them this season? Are the 4 teams on top of the League. So clearly a defense this good belongs at the top of the table, not down in the basement flirting with relegation. Again, the offense is the problem.
Time to sign a flashy new striker then? That’s what struggling offensive teams do right? Wrong. In this case anyone. Christian Benteke has all the talent to be one of the ten best goal scorers in the Premier League. The guy is amazing. Seriously. Just check him out.
He basically just embarrassed the entire Crystal Palace team by himself there. And if you noticed there wasn’t a single other Villa shirt nearby helping him there. And then of course there’s the fact that he’s capable of this…
So clearly, the issue isn’t our Striker. The problem is that no one can ever find him with the ball. We have apparently 0 setup men on this team. Its the midfield where our offense stalls. Enter: Carles Gil. A natural central attacking midfielder, the hope is that Gil will be able to get the ball up to our freak of nature finisher and generate some goals. We’ll find out if that’s how this game-plan plays out tomorrow when Villa take on Liverpool, but from what I understand of the guy that shouldn’t be an issue. Gil’s main issues in Spain were playing time related, not talent related, so as long as Lambert gives him consistent time on the pitch (something he hasn’t been kind enough to do for other players in the past) things should work themselves out.
So… that’s how we ended up in this predicament of fan rage and potential protests, and Lambert’s plan to fix the problem. Honestly I have a fair amount of confidence that Gil will be a success. This is due to the fact that Lambert’s best attribute, as far as I can tell, appears to be finding quality talent at bargain prices.
Aly Cissokho (another signing from Valencia) has been great for Villa all season, and Lambert dug him up for only £2 million. Philippe Senderos was a great plug in for the injured Ron Vlaar early in the season until he himself went down, and Lambert brought him in off a free transfer. He also brought in Jores Okore (along with Ciaran Clark one of the two young players Villa fans hope will be the core of their defensive back line for a decade) last year for only £4 million. And let’s not forget that during his first year with the club Lambert brought in Benteke, Westwood, and Vlaar… three of the core components to this club. And Lambert has done all this without the budget of an Arsenal or a Chelsea. The man is clearly good at scouting talent and paying the right price for them, and under his reign Villa’s roster may be more talented than its been for years. So why aren’t they winning?
Villa fans, in my opinion, have every right to be angry. Villa is a big club. A huge club. They have more rich history than nearly any club in England, and are even the oldest club in the country. They’re a founding member of the Premier League, and they don’t deserve this. They are not a 13th place club. They are not a club that should score the fewest goals in Premier League history. And they are certainly not a club that should be worried about relegation.
I, however, still have mixed feelings. To put things in American terms, I have to assume that Lambert simply isn’t a good coach. He can’t make his players perform on the pitch no matter what his talent pool looks like. He has never succeeded at Villa (unless you consider avoiding relegation success… which at this point I almost do…) no matter how much talent he brings in. However, whatever his shortcomings may be in terms of on field tactics, his marketplace tactics are absolutely superb. He finds players who are undervalued by other clubs and swoops in for bargain deals on Premier League caliber plaeyrs. He has done this so consistently that it is obvious to me that, again in American terms, he is the best General Manager in the BPL. And for that reason I would be incredibly unhappy to see him go.
I feel like I’ve seen the reverse of this situation many times in American sports. A guy will be a great coach and succeed so wildly that ownership let’s him be his own GM and pick his own players. Almost invariably, however, the guy ends up shooting himself in the foot and making terrible personnel decisions, signing guys to horrible contracts and wasting money left and right, drastically crippling the club. In fact a little bit of that is going on right now with my hometown Detroit Pistons where new Coach and President Stan Van Gundy made the horrendous decision to keep Josh Smith on the roster resulting in a 5-23 record to start the season. So in any event, it seems easy to me to strip a Coach of GM duties and let him keep coaching. It seems impossible (especially looking at the way the BPL and world football function) to remove coaching duties from a manager, but let him continue making personnel choices.
So in the end, I really hope this Gil signing works out. I hope Aston Villa’s offense shows stupendous promise, they avoid relegation, and everything begins to improve as we set the table for a more successful season next year. I’d love to keep Lambert on the team, and I would hope he could surround himself with enough quality assistant coaches to improve the on field product if his coaching ability is truly lacking. In the end though all I really want is for Villa to win, and I don’t really care if that is with or without Lambert. I just want the frustration to end, and to get some hope back. So Carles Gil, welcome to Birmingham. I hope you’re ready to create some goals.