John Brewin: Aston Villa need to tread carefully with next appointment

After Steve Bruce’s Aston Villa tenure went off the boil with a cabbage throwing incident, John Brewin looks at who could be next for Villa…


“Unfortunately, it sums up the society we are in at the moment,” said Steve Bruce. “There’s no respect for anyone.”

Raging at having a cabbage lobbed at him by an Aston Villa fan, Bruce had probably forgotten root vegetables’ deep tradition in football.

Graham Taylor was doomed as England manager almost as soon as a Sun sub-editor labelled him a “turnip”. Successor Terry Venables briefly became “Terry Vegetable” while Sven Goran Eriksson was derided as a “rotten Swede”.

And the tradition extends far beyond English football.

Italy’s footballers returned home from the 1966 World Cup, having been beaten by North Korea, to be greeted at Genoa airport with a hail of rotten tomatoes.

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Still at large, the Villa fan who launched that cabbage was merely reviving a tradition that derives from the medieval tradition of locking a local miscreant in the stocks and allowing the passing public to pelt them with all manner of vegetable matter.

It turned out to be the final insult of Bruce’s Villa Park reign as he was shown the door on Wednesday afternoon.

The writing had been on the wall for Bruce since the final whistle sounded as Villa lost May’s Championship Play-Off final to Fulham.

As the club changed ownership from Dr Tony Xia to the Egypt-based NSWE group, he spent a summer week in limbo as Thierry Henry was touted for his job.

Despite the new owners rescuing the club from imminent financial doom, in the process holding on to Jack Grealish, Bruce’s position was just too precarious to last.

Villa are 13th in the table, and actually only two points behind sixth-placed Brentford, but had beaten only Rotherham since the second weekend of the season.

Tuesday’s 3-3 draw with Preston, during which that cabbage was launched, needed a Yannick Bolasie equaliser in added time to prevent defeat by the bottom-placed team in the division. Not for the first time in his managerial career, Bruce had lost his way, having previously appeared the club’s best chance of reviving itself.

Christian Purslow, the executive who previously sacked Rafa Benitez at Liverpool, did the deed and the club looks for its next saviour.

Any manager coming in should recognise the task in hand. Co-owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens are sifting through a mess left by previous owner Randy Lerner’s ruinous tenure, let alone Xia’s.

Lerner shot for the Champions League, got cold feet, and tried to do it on the cheap.

Martin O’Neill’s walkout on the eve of the 2010-11 season began a mudslide towards where Villa are now; relegation came after the 2015-16 season. There have been seven managers since then, with Bruce having seen out the last two years, after succeeding Roberto di Matteo, who had lasted just four months of Villa’s first attempt to climb back up.

Under Bruce, the chosen recipe for promotion was big wages paid to experienced players, with John Terry’s presence last season blowing much of the budget. The new man, expected to be someone with a proven track record, “high profile” according to multiple well-sourced reports, may have much the same ideas, with NWSE having eased the club’s financial constraints under Xia.

That would appear to rule out Brentford’s Dean Smith, whose team play among the best football in the Championship, and who made his bones in the West Midlands with Walsall.

It would be a progressive if risky appointment, but no more risky than Henry the rookie.

The Arsenal legend, recently bumped up the Belgium coaching ranks after turning down Bordeaux, would fully fit the criteria of being high profile, but being a big name is little guarantee of success in football, especially not in the muck and nettles of the Championship.

Which is where more experienced campaigners come in. Sam Allardyce has managed just once in the Championship since taking Bolton up in 2001, but he hauled West Ham back up through the playoffs at the end of the 2011-12 season.

Brendan Rodgers’ spell as Celtic godhead looks to be drawing to a close, as dissatisfaction begins to bubble in Glasgow.

Would the Championship be too much of a step down for Rodgers? Perhaps not, he has always enjoyed the role of empire builder, and Villa is a giant in need of reviving.

Beyond a foreign name, the list of high profile names is thin beyond an emotional return for Martin O’Neill.

Whomever comes in, the heaviest task is lifting the club’s malaise. Villa has been in the doldrums for too long.

A series of comparably sized clubs has clambered over them; Manchester City and Chelsea were smaller clubs when the Premier League kicked off.

More worryingly, clubs that were of a similar size back then are landlocked in the second tier having suffered even further falls: Nottingham Forest, Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday have trod water for years, but Leeds, coming up for 15 years away, was the last to be in the Premier League.

Fear of that fate forced Bruce out and is why the next man must be chosen very carefully.

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