DANNY MURPHY: Gerrard isn't blameless for Aston Villa's below-par form

DANNY MURPHY: Steven Gerrard isn’t blameless for Aston Villa’s below-par season! The recruitment has been all wrong, a £25m net spend was low and the owners haven’t lived up to the hype

  • Steven Gerrard is not blameless for Aston Villa’s poor start to the new season
  • He wasn’t backed in the market, with their £25million net spend incredibly low
  • Whoever Villa now appoint, they will need to be backed better in the window
  • Gerrard may have to go on a journey if he is to make it to the top of management 

Knowing Steven Gerrard as I do, he will analyse closely what he did right and wrong at Aston Villa so he can improve for his next management challenge.

I’ve not spoken to him since he lost his job. He isn’t blameless for Villa’s below-par season but I find it disingenuous for him to carry the can without others also being held to scrutiny.

Only 11 months ago, he arrived at Villa Park to great fanfare. There seemed no limit to the ambitions of owners Wes Edens and Nassef Sawiris and CEO Christian Purslow, yet the subsequent evidence hasn’t lived up to the hype.

Steven Gerrard is not blameless for Aston Villa’s poor start to the Premier League season

There seemed no limit to CEO Christian Purslow’s ambitions but he hasn’t lived up to the hype

Villa owners Nassef Sawiris (left) and Wes Edens (right) could have invested more money

Signing Philippe Coutinho was positive support for Gerrard but if you look deeper into last summer’s transfer window — when serious Premier League clubs lay down a marker — Villa’s net spend was only £25million. That was only the 14th highest of 20 clubs and below that of Wolves and Southampton, let alone Newcastle.

It was significant to me that their central midfield linchpin, Boubacar Kamara, came from Marseille on a free. Newcastle spent £35million on Bruno Guimaraes in January and Manchester United paid double that on Casemiro. Yet Gerrard was expected significantly to improve Villa, who were 16th when he arrived, on a limited budget.

The powers-that-be now seem intent on bringing in another glamour manager. Whether Thomas Tuchel, Mauricio Pochettino or even Unai Emery want to take up the challenge of getting Villa into the top six on £25million per window, I am doubtful.

The marquee signing of Brazil midfielder Phillipe Coutinho at Villa has not worked out at all

Mauricio Pochettino may replace Gerrard but will need more money if he is to success

However, I’m not trying to rewrite Gerrard’s own performance just because I’ve known him 25 years from our first days at Liverpool.

The biggest issue was recruitment. OK, funds weren’t as big as people think, but they were still spent patchily. Lucas Digne was signed when Villa already had a decent left-back, Matt Targett.

I could see the attraction of Coutinho but it nullified Emi Buendia, another No 10 in the same mould. I’d imagine Gerrard himself would concede the Brazilian’s move hasn’t worked out.

He did try to bolster the centre of defence with Diego Carlos from Sevilla and it was sheer bad luck to lose him to an achilles injury on his home debut. To the manager’s credit, he did then recall Tyrone Mings when he could have been stubborn and continued to sideline him. Mings did well until the last couple of games.

Diego Carlos was seriously injured on his home debut and that was incredibly unlucky for Villa

Tyrone Mings (left) played fine for the former Liverpool captain until the last couple of games

Tactically, Gerrard might be more flexible in his next job. He stuck to the narrow 4-3-3 that worked well at Rangers but this situation was different. Villa couldn’t dominate games and too often the system looked negative. Their best performances I saw came when their tempo was higher and they were more on the front foot.

People have made a big thing of his No 2 Michael Beale leaving, to be replaced by Neil Critchley. I’ve watched a lot of Villa this season and personally haven’t seen much of a change in the way they play.

To Steven’s credit, he never tried to hide from the criticism or shift responsibility. The progression of a young player like Jacob Ramsey under his watch should be a source of pride.

Gerrard has never tried to hide from the criticism or shift responsibility and he won’t do now

His prospects of being Liverpool manager look more distant today than ever but I’m not sure he was ever as obsessed with that prize as everyone else is.

If he’d only had eyes on Anfield, he would have been better to stay at Rangers, competing in Europe and challenging for trophies every season. I suspect other reasons drove him to Villa: being in the Premier League and also having more time to spend with his young family. 

He’s never been one to give up. I would be surprised if he’s not keen to come back as a manager when the right chance comes. He’ll want to learn and become better.

He may have to go down a different journey if he is to make it to the top of management

Where that chance occurs, we will have to see. It won’t come quickly in the Premier League, so he may end up going on a different journey, be it dropping down a division or broadening his horizons abroad.

All the best coaches have dips at some point. The Villa players were not at their best for him. Ollie Watkins put himself about even when he wasn’t scoring but Leon Bailey has disappointed, Danny Ings hasn’t been himself, Buendia and Coutinho didn’t hit the heights.

In the end, if recruitment isn’t right and players are poor, the manager will be sacrificed. Steven Gerrard will accept that but let’s not think he wasted great resources. That simply wasn’t the case.

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