Aston Villa’s on-field performances provoke so much head scratching it’s enough to give one a rash. An embarrassing 4-0 trouncing at Manchester City; a gutsy, 3-3 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Of course, there are no shortage of questions off the field, either. What has become of Stephen Ireland? Does the club have any sort of transfer strategy? When did Robert Pires become Gerard Houllier’s press officer?
The latter question is particularly illuminating. With the club coming under increased levels of criticism and in its most precarious position since the days of David O’Leary, Pires - he of four appearances in a Villa shirt - has emerged as the default mouthpiece.
It’s as ridiculous as it is informative. Given that the 37-year-old only joined the club in November, under no circumstances should he so much as open his mouth about team affairs. That he has reveals two things.
One: there is nothing resembling leadership in the current squad. It’s a void that was never properly filled when Martin Laursen retired, and with Stiliyan Petrov out of commission for much of the first half of the season, the lack of it was especially evident. Richard Dunne has had a terrible campaign and doesn’t seem to command significant respect among his teammates. And, according to Pires, several players have already clashed with the manager. Dunne is obviously one of them.
Two: Houllier doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing. Tactically, his 4-2-3-1 formation seemed inspired when he first arrived at Villa Park, but its effectiveness lasted all of three games. As a man manager he has been even more inept. He’s been at the club less than four months, but is already dealing with player revolts. According to Pires, he’s not doing a very good job. “There will be a lot of departures,” claimed the midfielder.
That Pires has become, and has been allowed to become, Aston Villa’s resident expert on team morale and transfer policy is preposterous. He has no business saying anything about either issue. But it’s important that he has. It says a lot about the state of the club at the moment. And it’s not a healthy state.