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Sunday, June 19, 2011

THE MIDLANDS SAGA


What a year it has been in the midlands....three clubs in the premier league, each one of them had a mixed season and only West Brom emerged with some credit to their names after a wobble in the winter that threatened relegation. The two Birmingham clubs have had a season of extremities. The Blue half had a memorable one, a season that they will never forget, City made the trip to Wembley and won the Carling Cup and then got relegated on the final day of the season. The defensive resilience and the discipline that characterized the side had been missing for best part of the season thus the main reason for relegation, their inability to score goals from open play hit them hard as they were among the lowest scorers in the League.

Now lets come to the Claret and Blue half of Birmingham, Aston Villa, what a way the season started for them, Talismanic General Martin O'Neill walked out of the door the week the premier league was to kickoff, chaos reined at the club for the best part of three weeks as the club officials flirted with the idea of having Kevin McDonald as the boss only to find out that he was best suited for nurturing the lads at the academy. Upwards of 18mn pounds were required in the name of signing Darren Bent to save the club from relegation. The journey to safety has not been easy, it has been chaotic, indifferent and laden with infighting, indiscipline. The club that had the air of stability and the swagger of a potential top 4 side under O'Neill vanished overnight and although it took time for Houllier to bring in a semblance of stability at the club, his handling of the players or the outdoor bonding camp fiasco or even the Anfield antics did little to help matters. He managed to save them from relegation and just as he was beginning to settle into the job, an old heart problem struck him again making him unable to continue.

And thus started a game of musical chairs of Who wants to be the Aston Villa Manager? Mark Hughes was the best man who could take the club forward and he was poised to take over the job as his resignation at Fulham clearly suggested, but Randy Lerner developed cold feet and backtracked and Hughes was left jobless, ending up chastisized and laughed at by the media and fans alike. Steve McClaren, Carlo Ancelotti, Rafael Benitez and then Roberto Martinez who almost took the job had it not been for Dave Whelan's terrific emotional blackmail. And this was just the beginning as the huge saga had just started to unravel. A certain Alex McLeish from the Blue half of Birmingham resigned as the manager by e-mail and reports started emerging that he was approached by Villa and then there were the tapping up claims, City were furious and so were the Villa supporters. Hate protests demanding against the move, Twitter and Facebook campaigns went on in full flow, club officials did not bother and went ahead and appointed Alex McLeish as their new manager and this provided for the crossing of the psychological wall that divides the city of Birmingham into two halves, McLeish by agreeing to take the job has angered both the set of fans in a city that is famous for its inter-club rivalry. This will be without the shadow of a doubt the toughest job of his managerial career, it will be a huge challenge for him to now try and stabilize the club,unify the polarised dressing room and start getting results. The only way he can get the fans on his side is by getting results and failure to do so could spell one hell of a trouble. Alex's reign will be in uncharted territories amid troubled waters, his every move will be watched at and the slightest hint of a shortcoming and the fans will come down heavily on him.



The club is itself is facing a lot of trouble, it has the air and look of a sell-on club, something that was considered as the major factor for O'Neill's resignation last summer. The sales of Barry, Milner and the prospective sale of Ashley Young are testimony to that, Talks of interest from Liverpool in Stewart Downing are gathering pace and unless McLiesh can convince the club player of the season to stay, it could be difficult for the club to hold on to its good players in the future, the players who can take the club forward. Start selling the best players like the past few seasons and flirting with relegation could lead to a full fledged relegation battle next season. If the side is shorn of quality, Villa could start to slip into a mediocre mid table side in the bottom half of the table and start scrapping for safety if proper steps are not taken that will ensure the club heads into the right direction that's why signing of Alex McLeish makes total sense. Randy Lerner is ready to spend big as the Darren Bent signing testifies. How much of a transfer warchest will McLeish be handed to splurge on players will be interesting. Villa boasts of one of the finest youth academies in Britain with brimming talent. Marc Albrighton, Ciaran Clark, Nathan Delfouneso are to name a few youth team graduates that could well form the bedrock of a successful team in the future.

The divide has been crossed by McLeish , we will have to wait and watch how he shapes Villa into an disciplined and resilient side that will have a flair that was so so lacking in his Birmingham side that slipped down the abyss into the championship on the last day of the season.


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