If Aston Villa don't bounce back straight away, how much wiggle room have they got?

Newstalk.com's Raf Diallo speaks to Gregg Evans of The Birmingham Mail and Off The Ball's Kevin Kilbane

BY Raf Diallo 12:47 Friday 21 October 2016, 12:47 21 Oct 2016

Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce. Picture by Barrington Coombs PA Wire/PA Images

In this season's English Championship, the competition is littered with fallen giants.

Two-time European Cup winners Nottingham Forest have been battling at this level - and the one below it - since 1999.

The 1975 European Cup finalists Leeds United slipped into the second tier five years later and like Forest have even sunk as low as the third tier at one point.

Now, Aston Villa are mixing it with them, 34 and a half years since they won the European Cup - and mixing it too close to the relegation zone just months since they meekly fell through the Premier League trap door.

After 13 matches of the season, Villa are in 18th place, two points above the drop zone and seven points off the playoff places.

And clearly that poor start has been noted because Villa recently sacked Roberto Di Matteo to bring in a more astute hand at this level in the shape of Steve Bruce.

On the face of it, ex-Chelsea manager Di Matteo appeared to be an odd appointment in the first place this summer.  

Speaking to Newstalk.com about the situation at the club so far this season, The Birmingham Mail football journalist Gregg Evans says the former Italy international had not been the most obvious candidate when it came to the task of getting Villa back up at the first attempt from a tough and competitive division.

Roberto Di Matteo

"He did get West Brom promoted previously. But he had been away from English football for a while. And there were candidates that stood out more like Nigel Pearson, David Moyes and Bruce himself," said Evans of a coach who had struggled at Schalke in the 2014-15 season.

While his replacement Bruce has previously led Villa's derby rivals Birmingham City and Hull City (twice) to Premier League promotion, his previous association with the blue half of Birmingham meant a move to Villa wasn't always going to be straightforward in the eyes of the fans.

"Initially, the reaction was a little bit mixed because the fans knew he had managed at Birmingham City and also played for them. But a lot of fans then realised that he was the best man for the job based on what he had achieved in the Championship before," says Evans.

Off The Ball co-presenter and ex-Ireland international Kevin Kilbane knows a thing or two about Bruce's qualities, having played for him at Wigan Athletic between 2007 and 2009.

"I used to like working under Steve Bruce for a number of reasons. I think he used to play the game a bit," said Kevin, first of all citing his man-management abilities in terms of being able to drop players without too much friction.

Steve Bruce

"I think he's quality. He had Eric Black with him, who was his No 2 at the time, and Eric was a great coach. I just think he used to keep things very, very basic and simple. He got us well organised. He had a way of making certain players feel good about themselves, certain players he got the best out of them.

"He would organise his side, work on 11 versus 11 or certainly 11 versus eight on the training ground and it's come and break the defence down. Your almost working positionally off each other so you know exactly what position your team-mates' going to be and you can almost fill in for him if necessary," Kevin adds. 

He also echoed the point that even if some Villa fans may have initially seen Bruce as a Birmingham man given his history with their rivals, but that there would be a swift recognition that the former Manchester United centre-half is the best man for the task at hand.

"I think Villa are realistic in this position in that they need someone who's going to get them up. He's got pedigree for that," he says.

"He's certainly a manager who's more than capable of doing it. He knows the league, knows the players, knows what it takes within the Championship to get up. So there's a number of reasons why he's a good fit for Villa. And Villa need something. They need a spark." 

As the January transfer window remains some distant weeks away yet, coaxing the best out of the current squad is vital for Bruce.

But he won't be able to utilise Jack Grealish for the next few games as the midfielder was given a retrospective three match ban for a stamp on a Wolverhampton Wanderers player during Bruce's first match in charge on October 15th.

However, while many of Grealish's previous headlines have come off the pitch he has played reasonably well on it so far this season, with two league goals this season and sits third on the list of chance creators at the club this season.

Jack Grealish

Evans says Bruce has spoken to the player already given his importance as a creative source.

"He has been one one of Aston Villa's most consistent performers this season. He has played well and has provided real flair when Villa attack," says Evans, who adds that his importance will be amplified if he can keep himself out of the headlines for the wrong reasons after previous indiscretions.

And while a change of manager may spur Villa further up the table towards the promotion places, other changes occurred before the new season, namely the takeover by new owner Tony Xia who put an end to the increasingly unhappy Randy Lerner era.

While apathy had reigned in the latter days of the Lerner era, Xia has attempted to inject some enthusiasm as well as funds to try and get the club back where it should be sooner rather than later.

"He's a man of huge ambition and stumped up £60 million in the summer, so he's putting his money where his mouth is," says Evans.

"He has been speaking regularly to the players and has also been to the training ground and given motivational speeches. He also wants the supporters to interact more with the team."

Villa Park

And the impatience, for want of a better word, is warranted given that failure to achieve promotion within a relatively short timeframe can be hugely detrimental as other big clubs in the division have discovered.

The promotion playoffs are still a realistic target if the momentum gained from four points from six games under Bruce so far is turned into a consistent run of positive results.

But if they miss out this season, it won't be the end of the world according to Evans. However longer-term failure to get out of the Championship from the right side of the table will do damage. 

"The focus has been on getting promoted this season and they did spend £60 million on players to get that done. If they don't go up this time, there is a plan in place to compete again healthily next season. The problem is if they don't go up within two years," says Evans.

The way parachute payments work after Premier League relegation means Villa will get funds for a three-year period of time. That figure has been put at £87 million according to The Birmingham Mail

The paper breaks down the figures as £40 million received in the first season from that total, with the amount dropping until the final season of parachute payments in 2018-19.

Hence the earlier Villa can get back up, the better for the club. The encouraging thing for them this season is that there are still 30-odd games to go and Bruce has the experience of knowing what it takes to escape the division. 


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