By lunchtime, the white painted words “Bluenose scum not welcome” and “SOTC” had been scrubbed away, but in their place arrived a much more formidable form of protest – a Facebook page entitled, “Aston Villa Supporters – We don’t want Alex McLeish,” which by five o’clock in the afternoon had attracted 15,600 members.
By six o’clock (just before this column went live), Villa fans had already begun to mobilize at Villa Park for a protest endorsed by the Facebook page administrator Kevin Powell, who in a letter to Lerner wrote, “You may be the club’s owner but this appointment would alienate the real heart of the club – us, the supporters.”
He continued, “Without the supporters a football club is nothing. We have come to the conclusion that if we do not have an official statement from the club about the situation by 6pm on Tuesday the 14th, we will be staging a protest at Villa Park the following day at 6pm.”
A statement was, indeed, released by the club shortly thereafter, although its content only spurred more Villa fans to take up the anti-McLeish cause.
“The Club understands that Alex McLeish is a free agent,” it read. “We therefore intend to interview him imminently in order to make a decision regarding his candidacy to become Villa manager… We are determined, still, not to allow that three-and-a-half year post [at Birmingham City] to disqualify him should he be the best candidate for the role of Aston Villa manager.”
Then, as if more gasoline needed to be thrown on the fire, Villa director Charles Krulak remarked that the uproar over McLeish was “uncalled for,” adding, “He has proved he can manage in the big leagues – just imagine what he could do if he was with an owner who supported him.”
Problem is, that owner – Lerner – is simply so disconnected from his club’s support base, and perhaps from the sport of football in general, that he had no idea the storm he’d stir by effectively giving the finger to the fans and interviewing the just-departed boss of their archrivals.
Lerner, don’t forget, comes from a National Football League culture where hiring a rival’s head coach isn’t even blinked at, where a travelling fan culture doesn’t exist and where rivalries are more the sofa/gambling variety than the type he should have come to know in his five years at the helm of an English football club.
None of this is to say he hasn’t invested in the squad – something his few remaining advocates are quick to point out. But the fact is that over the past ten months – from the foolish hiring of Gerard Houllier and all the nonsense and infighting it produced to the parade of potential managers who hung up the phone as soon as Lerner called – Aston Villa have become something of an organizational laughingstock.
Roberto Martinez’ rejection of Lerner’s advances is case in point. A bright, young, up-and-coming manager, Martinez chose to remain at Wigan rather than join a historically bigger, more fashionable club because, quite frankly, the situation at DW Stadium under Dave Whelan is far more stable than that at Villa Park under Lerner.
All in all, you get the feeling that Villa are currently a club that lacks a sense of itself – a phenomenon that can be traced directly to its leadership, and ultimately Lerner.
When the owner of a football club is brazenly thumbing his nose at the folks he hopes will fill the stands in two months time, one of two things need to happen. Either the fans bring him back to his senses and show him the way, or they show him the door.
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