It’s the off season, the 1st week of June and the tension in the fanbase is clear to see.
A simple search of #avfc on the Twitter search bar returns hundreds of concerned Villa fan’s opinions and cries of discontent. Radio silence from the top brass, specifically club owner Dr. Tony Xia, on the club’s finances continue to feed the wild rumor mill.
One of the main question mark attached to next season’s team is, who the manager of the team will be: Steve Bruce’s future is uncertain, and it seems the Villa fans are split on whether they want him managing next term. I’d like to offer my thoughts on how Bruce has fared managing Villa up to this point: the good, the bad, and what the future should hold.
Steve Bruce inherited a team in October 2016 down on its luck, freshly relegated, who made a habit of throwing away games under then-manager Roberto Di Matteo. The defense was all over the place. An unsettled back four, shaky-at-times Pierluigi Gollini, and unbalanced squad largely led to RDM’s dismissal. The January loan signing of netminder Sam Johnstone and left back Neil Taylor, along with the renaissance of Nathan Baker brought about renewed steel in defending. Although 2016/2017 was a major disappointment with a 13th-place finish, the club finished the second-half strong under Bruce.
Fast forward into this past season and Bruce brought in legendary defender John Terry (only possible because of the Bruce link) as well as a second go-round with Johnstone in net. Aston Villa finished the year with 43 goals conceded in 49 league matches.
Bruce created a great bond between the players and fans. Adding the leadership qualities and experience of John Terry and Robert Snodgrass to the dressing room no doubt elevated the professionalism at the club, which was badly needed after the antics of the relegation season by the some of the ‘senior’ players. You could see after a goal how all the players would celebrate towards the fans and this change of attitude by the players towards the supporters has been welcomed as much as it was needed.
The brilliant performances of Grealish this year is no doubt a highlight of Bruce’s tenure. He has added a new found maturity into his game, proving just as important to Villa defensively as offensively in a deeper box-to-box midfield role. Grealish himself has credited Bruce with allowing him to play with confidence as well as praising him as a person when Bruce regularly contacted him while in the hospital. His trust in Grealish alone has elevated the player into a £30-£40 million discussion for the club’s higher ups.
The end game of football lies in the results. The reality is Bruce has had almost 2 seasons to get the club promoted and hasn’t been able to do it. These are his players which he has had 3 transfer windows and has thrown a lot of money into the squad, most notably on £12 million Scott Hogan. He’s gotten the players he wanted, wasted some in the process – routinely sitting outside the XI, and could not achieve promotion.
Use of Substitutions:
When Villa were trailing late on in games the modus operandi of Bruce seemed to be to throw on as many strikers on the pitch as possible in an attempt to rescue the game. To no one’s surprise, taking out the entire midfield opened Villa up to counter attacks.
Style of Play:
A lack of pace and slow and ponderous build-up play cost Villa in games. A negative approach in the first half cost the claret and blues in the play-off final, and it was a theme throughout Bruce’s 1.5 seasons.
I have nothing but praise for Steve Bruce in the way he has conducted himself this season, especially after losing his parents just a few weeks apart. He has carried himself with pride and purpose and it’s clear he gets how big Villa is and is proud to manage them. However, with the restrictions of Financial Fair Play now even more tight than last summer, he has even less to work with. This means it will be a tough ask to build a better squad than last term and I’m not sure Bruce is the right man in this current environment.