What’s Going Wrong With Aston Villa and Should Bruce Stay?


Tony Xia’s revolution is stuttering badly. The original plan was simple – take what was seen as a good gamble buying one of English football’s bigger clubs in a cut-price deal, get it promoted within two years with the aid of parachute payment money and with promotion assured, then use the riches of the Premier League television rights money to re-energise the club, expand its fanbase in Chinese and international markets and also help bolster the kudos of the Recon brand.

Xia has certainly put the money into his gamble, whether it has been covered by parachute payments and player sales, the intent has very much been there. In fact, you couldn’t ask for more.

Villa have spent more in the two transfer windows than several Championship teams have in the entire history of their club’s existence. But when Villa recently played a prime example of such a team, Barnsley, it was clear to see such financial outlay doesn’t necessarily bring dividends on the pitch.

Other club’s supporters have referred to Villa has doing a Chelsea and Manchester City in the Championship. Considering Villa’s policy of buying some of the best players in the division, it’s fair comment.


Yet, instead of talking about promotion this season, Aston Villa are casting a nervous glance over their shoulder. After such a concerted effort in the transfer windows to build a team for promotion, now not to be in even touching distance of the second tier play-offs has to currently be considered a failure.

If part of rebuilding Villa was rectifying past mistakes like getting rid of the old ‘Bomb Squad’ and ‘Moneyball players’ of the summer of 2015, then the fact the club loaned out in January, £22m worth of the players they had just recruited in the last summer, suggests history is repeating itself.

Villa have had the financial backing, they have the players – a collection of Premier League and top-level Championship players – and they have so far this season enlisted the services of two managers who have a proven track record at Championship level.

A period of transition is to be expected, but with it should come hope and constructive steps in the right direction.

On paper everything looked good. The right steps have been made. So what has gone wrong?


Going into the season, perhaps there was an air of complacency about the club. After the investment, the Villa board expected promotion and so did the players. MOMS has seen DM’s from players from the start of the season where they were so confident of promotion, it was as if it was a given. The bookies and other clubs and their supporters also expected Villa to be a force this season at the top end of the table.

Logic dictates that after signing a number of marquee signings in terms of the Championship, like Mile Jedinak, Ross McMormack, Jonathan Kodjia and James Chester, promotion (or the play-offs at least) should have been nailed on.  After all, most clubs at this level were lucky to be able to sign one such player, never mind a hatful of them.

Yet while Villa got the players, they didn’t seem to get a ‘team’.

Marketability After Practicality

It’s a badly kept secret that Nigel Pearson was the manager selected by Steve Hollis’s recruitment team, headed up by David Bernstein and Brian Little, if Lerner didn’t sell the club before the summer. Whether it would have worked or not – and you can argue both sides – Xia wanted a sexier option.

Roberto Di Matteo’s Champions League winning credentials proved too attractive, but the fact he had next to no experience of building his own team was seemingly overlooked. As MOMS pointed out previously, Di Matteo had constantly inherited ready-made teams, had initial success with them, but never lasted two years at any club.

He was certainly not the man for rebuilding a club to the extent of what Villa needed. If Villa needed stability, then Di Matteo showed very little on his managerial CV that he was the man for the job.

Xia’s decision to go for the Italian was his first costly mistake owning the club.

Jelly Spine

There was much talk from the owner, board and manager about building a new spine for the team. After all, it was very much needed. The likes of Tommy Elphick, Mile Jedinak and Ross McCormack were logical considering their previous experience, but Pierluigi Gollini and Aaron Tshibola were also being touted as part of that spin. That was puzzling.

At the time of signing, both players were 21 and between them only had 13 games of Championship and above experience in English football.

Sign them by all means, but splashing around £4-5m on each of them didn’t exactly represent good value for the immediate needs of the club.

As Bruce informed MOMS in a recent meeting, Villa had previously complied several scouting reports on Gollini over the years and they had generally came to the same conclusion – Don’t. Sign. Him.

Di Matteo went against this advice and not only that, made him his number one keeper.

As MOMS stated when Brad Guzan was sold, with the stakes so high, it was time to get a steady ‘7/10’ experienced keeper in simply to take no chances in the position. It’s not rocket science. If promotion is vitally important, you eliminate as many possible risks as you can. Not add to them.


The decision ultimately cost Di Matteo his position, as the seven or so points directly dropped as a result of Gollini’s individual errors would have surely given the Italian more time as the Villa boss.

False Messiah?

Steve Bruce coming into Villa Park was seen as a logical choice by most and at worst, a necessary evil by fans who couldn’t see past his Bluenose history.

Bruce topped a list of 10 candidates collated by Technical Director Steve Round that was presented to the Villa owner. While it’s very unlikely Bruce would have got a chance if Villa were in the Premier League, his record of Championship promotion drowned out the doubts that some fans (including MOMS) had about his suitability of being a long-term Villa boss. His reported rolling contract seemed to suggest the Villa owner wanted to hedge his bets.

In terms of ‘horses for courses’, Bruce was the right choice though.

Initially, Bruce managed to bring an increased resilience to Villa’s play, the team grinded out results, but the performances were still poor and pointed to the limitations of what the team could do this season. Five out of seven of Bruce’s wins came against teams that were in the bottom six, before the start of play. When true tests of play-off potential came against the likes of Leeds and Norwich, Villa came up short.

Bruce though cuts a likeable figure to both the media and some sections of fans, who now preach that stability is the key and change can’t happen over night. Yes, stability always helps, but while the players have demonstrated little on the pitch, Bruce has increasingly shown little evidence of being able to improve matters.

There is no cut and dry formulae to turning a team around and the latest call for stability and patience may not necessarily bring the desired results, if the club continues down the same path.

Surely Bruce should have made more of an impact by now?

When Roy Keane came in as Sunderland boss after the 2005/06 season had seen the club relegated from the Premier League with just 15 points, he turned them into Championship champions the following season.

The best example of changing a team’s fortunes this season can be fond in Lincoln City. The team was languishing in non-league limbo for several seasons after relegation from Division Two, but new manager Danny Cowley refocused the whole club in the summer and now they are top of the National League and in the FA Cup 6th Round, having beaten four league clubs along the way.

With the right attitude and plan, quick turnarounds can be made. Most clubs don’t have the kind of financial backing that Villa have been privy to, to change their fortunes. Should Villa have done better? Yes. 100%.

Patience is fine, but there has to be purpose to it. But can we see this Villa team developing and evolving in each game? Not yet. Villa now have an expensively assembled team that is woefully underperforming and there is little sign that Bruce is impacting anything.

Bruce knows all the problems and some, but why is he coming up short in addressing them?

Will Bruce be the Villa boss next season?

The short answer to this is the Villa manager will have to prove himself in the rest of this season to keep his job. This is not even opinion, but fact. There is too much at stake for Tony Xia.


Roberto Di Matteo’s league record at Aston Villa was 10 points from 11 games. That earned him the sack. Steve Bruce’s record from his last 11 league games? 8 points.

If Villa were to play the same way next season, don’t expect apathetic supporters to gleefully flock to Villa Park. More importantly, Villa wouldn’t be going anywhere and would be left staring into a Championship abyss like Forest, Leeds, Wednesday and Derby have been in recent seasons.

Bruce has to demonstrate an improvement with the team and create some forward momentum that can be carried into the summer and onto next season. If this is not apparent in the next few games and weeks then the Villa board would be foolish not to weigh up its options going forward.

Yes, the chopping and changing of Villa managers doesn’t help and has even got boring. But the decision to whether Steve Bruce is Villa manager next season isn’t to be made now simply for the sake of stability. We all have to see legitimate evidence in the next few weeks/months to feel comfortable that it actually will be the right decision.

Considering the current form of the team, this season is pretty much a right-off, but the silver lining is Bruce does have the luxury of using it to experiment and seriously put his mind to addressing the problems the current team have.

Call it an extended pre-season with proper competitive match conditions. It can only be a positive thing, considering the series of inconclusive preseasons Villa have experienced in recent years trying to get their house in order.

The Villa boss surely now has the majority of the tools needed for the job of promotion he needs to carry out and, as they say, a good workman never blames his tools.

‘I am the man for it, I’ve got the stomach for it and the fight for it,’ said Bruce in his pre-Newcastle press conference.

If he’s true to his word, then there will be nothing to worry about.


Follow MOMS on Twitter by clicking @oldmansaid or on Facebook here myoldmansaid


  1. I can’t understand why this debate has started again. Bruce has sorted the immediate problem in defence and villa has learnt to win games. The midfield and attack is poor and without Kodjia it would be a relegation fight. But there has been an improvement and he has to have time to get the problems sorted. Why start this argument again?

    Trevor Fisher.

  2. There may well be deep-rooted problems at the club but tradition always has it that players don’t get to worry themselves about those [as long as they are paid]. The thing that bemuses me is that our vogue for surrendering possession every second half has been going on for years despite changes in players, management, coaches and owner. I can’t fathom that one out. Does anyone else yearn for the days when winning the toss meant that we actually planned to attack the Holte second half not watch it from a distance stuck in our own penalty area defending corner after corner? Bruce has done nothing to change this, in fact he has made it worse, True, we are a little bit harder to score against but that is also down to the poor standard of our opponents. There is no evidence of intent to play the sort of attacking game that would see off most teams in this division by half-time. Nor do I see a judicious use of subs especially when it is apparent that several of our players are out on their feet by 70 minutes. Also, whatever midfield we put out they do not appear to know how or where they are expected to play. Consequently we never control a game. There is no evidence of decent coaching to enable players to improve as individuals let alone as a team and that has been a constant for 6 or 7 seasons [Hutton’s inability to cross a ball being a prime example]. All of this worries me. We need continuity of management but the present lack of style and ambition will drive fans away big time. if it continues into next season. As many fans said when Bruce was appointed-let him get us out of here [hope…] then appoint someone with ambition, flair and a proven pedigree at premiership level.

  3. what people on here do not say is that we are rotten from the top down an owner who is clueless a chairman who was out of work for seven years a dinosaur round a clueless muppet who has brought ten coaches ans scouts all jobs for the boys clueless all of them they employed spud another dinosaur and what ever you say he has only managed small clubs none the size or stature he simply is not good enough the style of football is that of a dinosaur to join the rest either the doc sacks the lot or needs to sell up as he is a fool and the club is 100 time worse than at any time under lerner 91 mill spent on pure shyte

  4. Steve Bruce is not up to this job. Aston Villa need a top class, European quality manager, you only need to get an experienced Championship manager in if you are an average championship team on a tight budget, not a huge club like Villa with a massive player budget. If this club keeps thinking small time with their managers (and their transfers), they are going to stay small time.

  5. It’s not good having to consider sacking a manager like Bruce so soon into his tenure, but that’s football. The fact is, despite his spend, we are still massively imbalanced and the departures of Gestede, McCormack, Ayew and yes, even Westwood, leave us with virtually no options. For Bruce to think that Gabby was the answer – and now he’s touting Richards as his next nailed ion saviour, I’m seriously concerned that the big, fat, kebab-chomping, anorak wearing dinosaur should be thinking of becoming a dribbler in an old-folks home as opposed to trying to ply his trade in a game that now looks light years away from the one he grew up in.

    Our age old tactic of fly it down the wings and wang it over to a target man looks about as modern as a dirty post-card collection on the Antiques Roadshow. It’d made worse by playing awful fullbacks – who can’t stop themselves playing as wingbacks – and more often than not, having them run on into two attacking wide men. This means we are doubling up in wide areas and leaving our midfield and defence exposed time and again. All the clued in teams we play against, exploit his by slamming their counter straight down the middle, with 3 attackers pulling our 2 remaining defenders (the cb’s) apart. It’s happened time and again. Then to hear SB state in a TV interview that he doesn’t know what our problem is, only compounds my fear for his state of mind.

    Bruce is also supposed to have fantastic man-management skills. Well that didn’t work well with McCormack – and the subsequent public spat of the McGatestuck will only have served to ensure that when he leaves us, probably in the summer, we’ll have lost about £9m from his value. he’s not been too inspiring for the lost souls that is Grealish either. Has he been on the phone to try to persuade Gil, Sanchez, even Veretout that there’s a job for them in B6? doubt it very much – but the reality is, each of them is badly needed to help bolster our underperforming squad – in a league that should have seen them all excel in a Villa shirt.

    Finally, he seems married to the very shaky Johnstone – who he bought in to displace Bunn who, strangely enough, had just begun to look quite commanding between the sticks for the first time in claret & blue.

    We need to stop living in the past as a club. Past glories, past rivalries and past managers. This is a younger, brighter man’s game now. Dean Smith, Rowett, Heckingbottom – even Danny Cowley at Lincoln, all seem to be more future people than last year’s men. I’d swap one for Bruce in a heartbeat.

    • no manager with a future is coming to Villa Park. Unless the toxic nature of the club is sorted, and its been like this since the days of MON if not before, bright young managers are not coming. They saw what happened to the bright young manager Paul Lambert and my own choice, sean dyche, made it very clear he wanted to work with a well run club.

      Not aston villa. approach the big issue. Bruce does not know what is wrong. Nor does anyone else.

      Its a toxic club. WHy?

      Trevor FIsher.,

      • The toxic nature of the club goes far back beyond MON as I noticed it on one of my rare visits to VP in the 70’s , but it seems to drift in & out of vogue as the success of the early 80’s gave fans fresh hope of a bright future but it was short lived , and just before Lerner arrived we had DOL & his fickle fans
        But Lerner with all his dosh brought fresh hope & hightened expectations . But it was short lived partly because other clubs aquired richer owners , & partly due to Lerners private life causing a big hole in his wealth
        But apart from his dosh Lerner had little to do with the club & those he entrusted to run things for him & the fans letting everyone down . But what of the toxic nature of the club ? Is it caused by too many lost horizons & false hope or does it run deeper ? Why does the club keep rising up only to fall backwards ? Easy to blame Managers & CEO’s but could the problem lie deeper ? Is there a sub culture @ Villa ? Certainly I’d heard that the finance dept was a mini Empire that just kept the club ticking over yet did not really promote the clubs future .And when the interim Board was appointed the 1st to leave was our DOF after King had commented that things were not quite as he expected them to be & that some support services were missing !
        But what has that to do with footie ? The simple answer would be Everything & Nothing except that a poor work enviroment can generate poor performances , a bit like that of “Sick Building Syndrome” a problem well known to the HSE but nowt to do with old buildings as the problems can effect those working in new buildings as well
        But what can we expect from the rest of the season ? That depends on us as fans ! All is not lost & there is still a remote chance of reaching the playoffs !
        But will we ?

        That may well depend on fans cheering the team on even when all seems lost !

        • yes we need to look at the deeper issues. Which sadly the Trust and the web sites do not do. Director of FInance going,… its very worrying. The sick buildings analogy is spot on. When the manager, players and owner all change and there is still decline and poor performance, there is something stinking in the atmosphere.

          WE must keep behind the team, but at the same time fans cannot go on ignoring the fact there are design faults in the club structure. Sacking the manager only covers up the problems. Bruce I think must win the Derby game to avoid going into a relegation fight. But the current season is not the problem. As you rightly say, decades ago VIlla were known to be in trouble. Graham Taylor said when he arrived, Bodymoor heath was a holiday camp

          Trevor Fisher

          • Villa are a club that names a stand after an unpopular chairman that only won some League Cups. Such accolades should be reserved for true club legends. There’s the root of the kind of thinking that blights this club.

  6. Potential is used quite freely now in the world of football. Although it would seem all the tools are there, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of expectation. Exeperience is priceless as Cardiff and qpr have proved with their championship proven managers. But maybe villa is a poison chalice and players and managers choke on expectation, time will tell. Personally my own expectations for the team I love was survive this year, build solid and get back to where we belong. Football has short memories and forget how bad we have been for a very very long time! Utv

  7. 2 points-
    1. It’s alright to keep referring to Sunderland going straight back up again under Keane, but this was very much the exception rather than the rule. For every case of this, just look at teams like Sheffield Utd, Charlton, Wimbledon and Bolton – all finished bottom of the PL, went down and then kept going. The norm for teams like us is to float around the play off places, maybe go up and come down again, like Palace, Hull, Norwich etc. or never make it back up at all, like Forest, Derby, Leeds, Sheff Weds. I think everyone can see the latter 4 clubs would all be seen as ‘bigger’ than the first 3 – maybe there’s a clue there?
    2. Steve Bruce has solid experience of getting teams promoted to the PL, he’s done it more times than anyone else. Agreed, things aren’t going well at the minute but why is he being described as clueless? He clearly isn’t, otherwise he wouldn’t have consistently got teams promoted to the PL. We all harp on about how we ruin so called good players when they join the club, why don’t we think the same theory about the managers? And again, those calling for a new manager, WHO? Based on hard facts, there is absolutely no one out there who is better qualified to be managing our team at this moment in time than Steve Bruce. We need to keep Bruce till at least 10 games in to next season, whether we get relegated or not. The managerial merry go round hasn’t worked for the last god knows how many managers, so now’s the time to draw a line and show some real commitment.

    • 1. Sunderland – an example to debunk the myth that it has to take time (i.e. several seasons). Villa have spent more on players than any Championship team this season and all those teams you mention in previous seasons. Once parachute payments evaporate, the club could be in serious trouble if they don’t make progress soon. Already, the stripping of operations and outsourcing is very telling.

      2. If Bruce gets Villa relegated this season, he gets fired, end of story.

  8. at the start of the season I bet the guy who does my computer and is a villa fan £10 we would get relegated. Its nothing to do with RDM or Bruce or the next manager who should be employed on a four month contract as we will sack him after 4 months.

    Sherwood got it right. There is a defeat mentality at the club. 11 wins in the last 71 games. Don’t blame or sack this manager. Its deep and fundamental and only a man who can last the pace can solve it. The next three games will be crucial as if we do go into the bottom 3 its going to be hard to stay up. But that is now the target. And there is no reason to think that anyone can do better even if we do lose all three.

    DIagnose the disease before going for a cure And blood letting has a track record of failure at villa, so be careful what you wish for.

    Trevor Fisher

  9. Way i look at it is Calderwood is the fly in the ointment Bruce as not got his partner with him Clemence you need a management team like Clough & Taylor Saunders & Barton before we will ever see the team we want.

  10. right lets be honest everyone and his dog thought automatic promotion was a certainty, or via the play offs the amount of people in the ground in pubs, clubs, on trains and on the way to the stadiums, who said it was a certainty was unreal. now all off a sudden no one seems to have said it we all wanted rdm out after 11 games as we thought our chances of promotion were been affected so we called on dopey [bruce] and look at us now. rdm didn’t have his own team yet he had us playing some excellent football at times and we were very unfortunate not to win the majority of those games yet we were hard to beat.then bruce came and managers are like bitches they make changes not for the good of the club but for their ego what manager wants a winning team that another manager built hence players are frozen out at the expense of villa football club costing us millions in the process managers like bruce,conte Guardiola and klopp can only build teams with millions as they buy players for certain positions and if they don’t fit in they just go and buy another till they get it right then you have managers like rowett and wagner and warburton who was told at rangers here is the squad get on with it you will have no incomings unless you sell and they cost next to nothing and look at the great jobs they did with substandard teams [imo] bruce is utterly clueless on team selections ,tactics ,player positions and substitutions and motivational skills he is a damn right idiot in other words this club is going backwards that fast I think we will discover time travel relegation is a distinct possibility with our inept performances after our next 2 humilliations [Newcastle, derby] the fans will be calling for his head and then when we go down or as damn near to it as possible we will all be saying he should of gone earlier I hope I’m wrong I would love to see us win our last 10 or so games but that is not going to happen we once had a great manager who while managing the national team was vilified and called a turnip yet we call a inept clown a messiah some or most of the performances under bruce have been humiliating to say the least less than 30 percent possession,no shots on target in games having players having less than 30 touches between them while in the engine room of the team its no joke bruce cant rectify these problems as he is the cause if villa get relegated and it looks a fair bet then its all over for our club there will be no way back for us as tony wont put funds into a league one club if he is a rich as some people say a loss like the money he paid to buy our club and on player expenditure wont hurt him at all it will be a tax right off if he is not as rich we will be asset striped and left to rot in league one permanently we have to sack him now it wont cost us nearly anywhere near what relegation will cost us we need a manager who can work with what he has got and lets be honest 23 teams in the championship would love to have most of our players except;[jack,hutton,bacuna] and[amavi,johnstone,kodija]yes kodija scores a few but costs us dearly with his selfishness and lack of effort not a team player either not what we need at the moment I fear for this club now with bruce at the helm be brave tony take us to the next level without bruce.

  11. All reasonable comments, but I think that our situation is a far more serious than we think, if we loose to Newcastle ok it’s not a given but on recent form we should and probably will loose, problem is if one of the bottom clubs should get a result we will find ourselves 3 points ( one match ) away from the drop zone. It’s all very well saying give Bruce until the end of the season but in two or three weeks time we might well find ourselves in the bottom three and if that happens Bruce hasn’t the tactical nouse to get us out of it. All negative I agree but we are going backwards at an alarming rate and albeit I don’t like it but I feel we must bite the bullet and get in a new manager while there is still time to turn it round, don’t wait until we are in the drop zone.

  12. after watching bruces sky interview I’m even more worried we could get relegated.
    give me a graham taylor, a big ron or better still a ron saunders.
    then we would all be down villa park.
    this is the type of manager we need.

    • And what sort of manager were they ? Just because they once brought success does not mean they would stand up to the scrutinty of all the trophy winning experts from FM !

  13. I really do not think we will go down but then again I never ever thought we would go up. The supporters who expected promotion or even a play off spot were living in dreamland. When you consider 5 managers in two seasons its ridiculous. Some of the players who have been around a while, and I count Grealish, Green and players like Gardner & Gabby have played under 7 different coaches and trainers during a the last three seasons. Manager bring in 6 or 7 players and in no time those managers have gone. The incoming manager then decides he doesn’t want the ones shipped in during the last window. So there’s no continuity and no regular playing system. I wasn’t a Bruce fan when we got him but now we have to stick with him. He has to have time to get the 7 players he’s just bought in to gel as a team. If he goes now the next one will have an expensive team he didn’t choose and we will end up loaning out more expensive players while still paying their wages. The problem we will have next year will be the three teams coming down will have the new £100 million parachute money whereas poor old Tony will be brasic. Is it me or has anyone else noticed how we were doing quite well when Bruce was on his own then he bought in Calderwood and we haven’t hardly earned a point since. Have we changed the system yet again maybe.

  14. Looking @ the post transfer squad we now have I’d agree Bruce now has the tools for success , as despite the points RDM gained the squad he had left little to the imagination
    Will we go down ? Now that’s a conversation I had only with a ManU fan with contacts @ Carrington & despite usually trying to wind me up he was confident we’d stay up & could even make the pl;ay offs . But that was before the 2 losses & I’ve not seen him since to talk to ,
    But ignoring how close the relegation zone is getting there may still be time to rescue our season . And no better place to start the revival than @ St James Park where we still need to wipe out the memory of a post MON humiliation . And Toon with their desire for al 3 points might just play to our advantage , as few teams have outplayed us even if a lot have frustrated their way to victory

      • on the day when Lincoln City get through in the FA cup nothing can be ruled out. But I certainly don’t expect a victory there, the big challenge is going to be the Derby game. If we cannot beat a fragile Derby side that went 0-3 down to Bristol city I really will start to worry.

        Trevor Fisher.

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