The standard end to that saying is “repent at leisure”, however after Alan Hutton’s two-footed horror tackle on Shane Long last Saturday, no such repentance has been forthcoming from various sources at Aston Villa.
Peter Grant, assistant manager at Villa, yesterday wandered into cliché corner in saying Hutton “is not that sort of player.” Of course, there is no surer condemnation of someone as “that sort of player” if someone is forced to go on the record, after seeing the potentially career-ending actions of a player, and say that’s not something that they do. (Go figure).
McLeish’s staunch refusal to denounce Hutton’s tackle is not only symptomatic of Modern Manager Myopia (MMM), but also hypocritical and evidence of his lack of being able to coach a team to success without fouling the opposition. In the build up to the West Brom game, he had told his charges to “get in the faces” of the opposition. Would it be rude of me to suggest “play better football” is a better tactic for winning matches? It may be obvious, but if Gabby Agbonlahor or Darren Bent had been the recipient of a similar challenge, McLeish would have been screaming blue murder, not saying that tackles like that happen in every game (they don’t), and that people don’t say anything when the player doesn’t get injured (they do). It’s an insult to every team Villa will come up against to be so wilfully ignorant of the actions of one of his players.
Villa are slowly morphing into the turgid anti-football team he nurtured across the city. Randy Lerner may not be committing the same amount of his resources to the club as he did under Martin O’Neill, but has certainly backed his man well enough; £9.5m for Charles N’Zogbia, £3.5m for Shay Given, £1m for Jermain Jenas (loan), and also Hutton will be on a fair chunk of wages as well. N’Zogbia has failed miserably. Jenas is yet to play, but will do nothing at all if his career so far is anything to go by. Hutton has never looked capable in the Premier League. Given appears to be the only decent signing, though his refusal to come off his line at set pieces has been and always will be his achilles heel.
McLeish’s teams have nothing that marks them out football-wise, other than they are usually 4-5-1, inflexible, and dull. Villa fans don’t tend to speak too highly of the reign of Gerard Houllier, but there were certainly some signs toward the end of last season that his philosophy was becoming ingrained in the team. But Houllier has gone, and gone with him the more cultured, continental approach to the game. In comes the “get in their faces” approach. And two-footed, mid-air studs up tackles.
McLeish assertion that “in ten years’ time you won’t see any contact at all in football” is not only pathetic scaremongering, but also an indication that he has no idea how to cope when being “physically assertive” towards the opposition is no longer allowed. Ostensibly non-contact football already exists; it’s called Futsal. Instead of whingeing about the demise of being able to clobber opponents, he should be trying to find a way to make his teams cope without it. And Hutton should be banned for 5 games – maybe then he’d think twice about nearly wrecking someone’s career. If McLeish needs to ask the question “how can you stop in mid-air?” then I’d suggest he asks his players to try those tackles again – using him as a guinea pig.