|Paul Lambert (source: guardian.co.uk)|
Whilst all the attention's been poured over Christian Benteke, not many of us actually realise how important our manager, Paul Lambert, has been to Aston Villa since joining us last summer.
When he came to us there were so many comparisons made between himself and former manger Martin O'Neill. The dress sense and turn of phrase. We see Lambert hopping around the touchline in his tracksuit and rimless glasses, much reminiscent to that of Martin O'Neill four years ago.
Yet they are both completely different.
Martin O'Neill, the man who took us to a League Cup final and FA Cup semi final in the same year. Let's be honest, at the time we all enjoyed having O'Neill as the manager of our beloved team. He brought exciting times back to Villa Park, and most importantly; winning ways. There were highlights; European football, in the shape of the now known Europa League, pushes for fourth place and notable victories over the big names, most memorably Manchester United in their own back garden.
But its still hard to swallow his exit, leaving the club in dismay just five days before the start of the new season with no warning.
|Martin O'Neill (source: telegraph.co.uk)|
Before that day, he had spent more money than any other previous Villa manager. Under MartinO'Neill we brought in James Milner, Ashley Young, Stewart Downing; looking good isn't it; Marlon Harewood, Nicky Shorey, Zat Knight, Luke Young; not so good now. We made a profit on the first three, yet many losses on the so called talent we brought in. Dare I mention Gary Cahill, a fine product of our academy, however thrown out by the Irishman to Bolton Wanderers who is now in a Chelsea squad who won the Champions League.
The fact that Martin O'Neill left us in a financial mess has been evident to see ever since. Despite his positives, he came with his negatives and when things weren't going his way and money started to dry up, he jumped ship.
So what's different?
Paul Lambert shares his similarities with Martin O'Neill but the difference is clear to see. In Martin O'Neill's first season at Aston Villa he brought in six new signings in both the summer and January transfer windows, spending £17.25 million on Stiliyan Petrov, Didier Agathe, Chris Sutton, John Carew, Ashley Young and Shaun Maloney. The following season two of those left. Paul Lambert on the other hand brought in nine new names over the course of the season for around £12 million.
Out of the six signings Martin O'Neill made, only one player remained out the club. Three were influential in the following seasons with the others leaving shortly after.
Martin O'Neill couldn't keep hold on his star man in the form of Ashley Young, yet Paul Lambert has managed to tie Benteke down for at least another season. Aston Villa are a club that's been known to be a 'steeping stone' for players yet I believe with a manager like Lambert and the policy we now have in place we can avoid this tag.
O'Neill brought in players at big price tags, and then let them ago a few seasons later for cut prices, whereas Lambert is buying sensibly and affordable players from lower leagues and unearthing unknown gems. Yes, this could come at its own risk. Just like Benteke thought, one good season in the Premier League and your ready for a big name team. But, if we can make strides as a club again, into the higher positions in the table, then maybe we can stop that.
Where O'Neill was signing players and not going unnoticed, Lambert's choices have done just that. If you ask most other football fans if Villa have signed anyone this summer, they might know about one but many won't know about any at all.
This has been the beauty of Paul Lambert, he's stuck to his guns and what he knows best and so far, despite the rocky road, its worked.
|We're going in the right direction. (source: guardian.co.uk)|
This is Lambert’s vision – ditch the journeymen and build a fitter, hungrier squad that will grow together as a group. Yet as we know it’s a strategy fraught with danger. Young players will produce both nerveless performances and naïve mistakes, sometimes in the same game.
Patience is key. Something that Martin O’Neill didn’t have it. Lambert has it in spades.
Martin O'Neill built Aston Villa for a season, Lambert's building Aston Villa for a very exciting future.