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Howard Hodgson Blueprint for the future of Aston Villa

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Post by HH 8166 on Thu Jul 24, 2014 11:30 am

Whilst investor meetings are ongoing I thought it would be fair to share the vision that I have written and is being presented on how I see the direction required for Aston Villa to stabilise initially and prosper moving forward as both a business and a football club. I'm ultimately a fan just like you and I firmly believe, in the absence of a huge benefactor owner and in the current climate of financial fair play, that this is the best and only way forward:


Howard Hodgson- Plan of Action for Aston Villa

Narrative

The business model has largely failed to date due to expensive signings both in transfer fees and inflated wages which have led to a position where the club is severely limited financially as players are sitting on contracts, no other clubs want to pick up, so are unsellable.

Thankfully the majority of these deals are reaching a conclusion so a new era can start but its vital moving forward that the lessons are learnt so the following must apply:

1. A proper management structure must be put in place- IE A technical director to work alongside a top European coach in conjunction with an executive Chairman .
2. The executive team need to then implement a strategy of scouting and sourcing the best young talent in the UK, in Europe and the rest of the World. A first team can not run alone in a fiercely competitive league like the Premiership on young players so the age bracket of signing players should be 20-26 with perhaps the odd astute Bosman on more experienced players to guide and nurture (Obviously character key with this type of signing).
3. A culture also has to be implemented and stuck to. No more “See you next Friday” if you win like in the Martin O Neill days. We want a lean, mean, professional unit full of hungry, ambitious individuals that want to improve themselves and most importantly the team/club. The talent has to be there.. You don’t win things or improve teams on work rate/attitude alone which Lambert seems to have forgotten when he started his “Project” two years ago which he now seems to have completely abandoned looking at his purchases this summer to date (Cole, Senderos, Richardson).
4. Coaching/Style of play is of paramount importance in the modern game. For far too long Villa have suffered by having a succession of managers who all have a one trick pony game plan of sitting deep behind the ball and counter attacking. This explains why on occasion last season we got some favourable results V the top sides as they came on to us and allowed this tactic to work. However the vast majority of the rest of the Premiership have worked this out and don’t allow this to happen. Instead they sit deep and ask Villa to try and break them down. This is something Villa fail to do because they refuse to commit men forward beyond the ball for fear of getting caught out on the break! This leads to aimless long balls which is ineffective and with a porous defence often leads to defeats of which there were many last season.. (20 in total, 10 at home, both of which are unwanted records). A new head coach would have to get rid of this style of play and implement something far more progressive and pleasing on the eye in the style of Swansea/Arsenal etc. A possession game with an emphasis on passing and moving. This will require a level of patience as it is developed but undoubtedly the club can’t move forward without us being committed to playing this way.
5. Aston Villa possesses a fine training ground and Academy. It is regarded as one of the very best in Europe let alone England. Sadly however, unlike Southampton, it hasn’t produced the level of first team player that the money invested in it should be. The U21 team has had some great success but the transition of youth player to first team just hasn’t really materialised. I believe this to be the case because there is no synergy between how the U21 and younger teams play to how the first team play so again the structure here would have to be worked on and made sure the coaching and ethos is identical throughout the club so that when players do come through they are comfortable in the style and in their role in the team. The academy director and coaches therefore need to have a very close relationship with the First Team Coach, his assistants and the technical director. If this is followed then I believe you will start to have far more productivity from the academy which as been seen at a club like Southampton, will provide invaluable to the business model and potential success on the pitch.
6. Scouting and dare I say it, poaching young talent from other clubs locally and nationally is also a key component to success which is what often Southampton have done EG Adam Lallana from Bournemouth. Villa also did something similar many years ago with Gareth Barry from Brighton. Partnerships with feeder clubs with a two way relationship is also something that can be developed both in the UK and overseas. I have a good relationship with two Spanish clubs where something can possibly be developed.



If the above steps are taken then there is no reason that a club the size and potential of Aston Villa cannot follow the example that has been set by Arsenal in the last 15 years. If you rewind the clock back to Arsenal pre Wenger, Villa were very much on a par with them. The clubs are now poles apart but Wenger has demonstrated that with shrewd scouting, investment, coaching, a synchronised academy with the first team and knowing when to buy and sell players what can be achieved if you have the right club to start with. Aston Villa is undoubtedly one of the few clubs left capable of doing it and certainly that is available, at this price point. Let us not forget it still remains the 5th most decorated club in English Professional Football, was a founder member of the English league and in fact William McGregor who was club president at the time, is regarded as the founder of the English Football League. The club is also an ever present in the Premier league since its inception and is one of only 5 English teams to have ever won the biggest prize on offer to a European Club IE The European Cup which is nowadays known as The Champions League. There is little doubting it’s a special club as supported by Prince William and David Cameron with a special past with an iconic stadium that now needs first class, appropriate management to restore better times and have it deliver its potential once more. The facilities IE Stadium, Training ground and Academy are all first class which is very helpful as investment can be focused on first class manpower that can ultimately deliver a return.

Income is very important to be generated from off the field activities also, something the current board have actually been reasonable at i.e. Hospitality, Merchandising, Overseas brand development, Naming rights etc but ultimately if you don’t get your main product right IE On the football pitch then it’s a fruitless venture. If we follow this plan we have a great chance of seeing major improvement which will result in the market value of the company/club rising accordingly over an appropriate course of time.
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Post by Guest on Thu Jul 24, 2014 1:01 pm

Very interesting read that , Howard.
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Post by Richdalton on Thu Jul 24, 2014 3:07 pm

Excellent read Howard and I agree with the majority of the 'plan'.

Without any doubt the clubs current decline is down to a very poor management structure from boardroom level right through to the first team. I think most will agree that the MON era has put us where we are today, along with some dreadful errors over the past few years which could have been avoided with a proper structure in place. Unfortunately this is where we are at and we need to move forward asap.

The only way we are going to get these changes is with new ownership and that will not happen much before Xmas (best case scenario).

I went to my first Villa game in 1985 and this is the only pre season I can remember where I would be delighted with a 17th place finish! Football has changed considerably over time and as with any business it is vital that clubs move forward and innovate or else they will be left behind. Aston Villa have not moved forward. Clubs such as Hull, Southampton, Sunderland, Swansea and West Ham have more spending power and better first team squads than us. The huge saving grace is that we are a great club with a wonderful brand name, history and loyal following.

If we are to move forward then we as supporters have to accept and embrace change. This applies both on and off the pitch. The villa fans on the whole love nothing more than a local lad making the first team or a team full of home based players. I remember the 1998/99 squad was full of English players and the 2008-10 sides under MON also contained a huge number of home grown players. This was the source of immense pride for the majority of fans. Unfortunately the cost of purchasing British players was/is excessive and this policy has ultimately cost us. This love for everything home grown still exists, Marc Albrighton is a classic example. There can be no doubting his work ethic etc but he is simply not good enough to be a top half premiership player and certainly is not a 35K+ per week player even in these crazy times. Gabby is another example, he gets far more slack from most Villa fans than a more talented foreign footballer (such as Savo) ever would. This culture has to change if we want to start viewing attractive football again, the same would apply with embracing a foreign coach.

I agree that the off the field structure and work being done is good although there is still room for improvement. There could be a huge improvement in the way the club generates income from digital exposure for example.

I again think that we as fans will have to embrace change with regards to off the field activities. For example the naming rights to the stadium would be a huge money spinner but I know that it would be a huge negative for the majority of fans. Unfortunately we have to embrace change and in the modern world of the Premier League selling the naming rights to our wonderful stadium would generate significant income towards investment in the right personnel to take us forward on the pitch.

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Post by Trotters on Thu Jul 24, 2014 3:30 pm

Howard, did you grey your hair, grow a goatee and pop on some specs to disguise yourself in Dallas by any chance?
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Post by DN1982 on Thu Jul 24, 2014 4:25 pm

Great read H. I still believe if Lerner was to get a top CEO who could implement the vast majority of your plan we'd be fine. Good luck getting investors but who ever is going to be our owner be it Lerner yourself or someone out the blue I hope they look at your plan and implement it. Unless of course they've got billions to spend on us then stuff it just go mad!!
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Post by HH 8166 on Thu Jul 24, 2014 4:32 pm

For the record.. A copy has been sent to Lerner in case he was having second thoughts about selling but assured he isn't!
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Post by Guest on Thu Jul 24, 2014 4:42 pm

@HH 8166 wrote:For the record.. A copy has been sent to Lerner in case he was having second thoughts about selling but assured he isn't!

Thank god for that , at least there is still a light at the end of the tunnel.
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Post by Trotters on Thu Jul 24, 2014 4:44 pm

That's a far distant galaxy.
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Post by Morgan Villa on Thu Jul 24, 2014 5:35 pm

I agree and feel We need a philosophy at the club one that can be stuck to. If we take on a manager the manager should fit into a philosophy already implemented throughoutthe structure of the club. We have for too long taken on different managers with completely different ideas. This has left us with a technicolour squad who in seasons passed have struggled to gel or fit into the team.
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Post by chrisw1 on Wed Jul 30, 2014 6:27 pm

So in other words appoint a manager as good as Arsène Wenger and beat other clubs to the best young European talent and all will be well?

Genius. I wonder why all clubs haven't thought of this...
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Post by pcfbavfcoman on Thu Jul 31, 2014 7:36 am

Alot of what is said there Howard, is the basics the club should be working to and from, the problem at the moment is that on a playing side, once the Manager has been picked and in place, through having a Technical director, he must put in place the playing style, ethos throughout the club, these people have to be the Techs choice not the Managers, as if the Manager is either a failure or hopefully a success, there is a chance that he goes and then takes the structure with him, to a certain extent this is what we have seen at Villa Park not just in the last 10 years, but probably the last 30.
My only concern is getting a Manager or maybe better just a coach, that buys into this and accepts what he can and cannot do, within the structure the club has installed, that will rule out (thank god) most British managers.
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Post by HH 8166 on Thu Jul 31, 2014 10:27 am

@chrisw1 wrote:So in other words appoint a manager as good as Arsène Wenger and beat other clubs to the best young European talent and all will be well?

Genius.  I wonder why all clubs haven't thought of this...

If that is all I wanted to say that is all I would have said.. IE Appoint Arsene Wenger and all will be sorted! I said a lot more than that and merely used Arsenal as an example of a club that pre Wenger were on a par with us. You need a plan based around top scouting, coaching and management, stick to it and implement throughout the club. Everton are a good example of another similar sized club who are benefitting from years of a consistent strategy and good management and are now able to sign one of the best 21 year old strikers in the game for £28 million.
They have spent far less than Lerner over his tenure but far more wisely and are now reaping the benefits. The sooner Villa implements a set strategy and sticks to it the sooner we can start to rebuild the club and the business.
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Post by HH 8166 on Thu Jul 31, 2014 10:30 am

@pcfbavfcoman wrote:Alot of what is said there Howard, is the basics the club should be working to and from, the problem at the moment is that on a playing side, once the Manager has been picked and in place, through having a Technical director, he must put in place the playing style, ethos throughout the club, these people have to be the Techs choice not the Managers, as if the Manager is either a failure or hopefully a success, there is a chance that he goes and then takes the structure with him, to a certain extent this is what we have seen at Villa Park not just in the last 10 years, but probably the last 30.
My only concern is getting a Manager or maybe better just a coach, that buys into this and accepts what he can and cannot do, within the structure the club has installed, that will rule out (thank god) most British managers.

Agree and as you will have read I have stated you have to take away the invincibility and over reliance on the manager and implement a long term style/approach throughout the club that stays no matter who the first team coach is moving forward.
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Post by Trotters on Thu Jul 31, 2014 12:34 pm

Are you able to tell us where you now stand with regards all of this, Howard? I understand that you're not able to discuss financial details that you may have been privy to, but is your hat still in the ring?
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Post by HH 8166 on Thu Jul 31, 2014 12:42 pm

It still is and some very positive meetings have happened but until its all in place it remains nothing concrete. I am hopeful for news either way on whether we proceed or not in the near future. If I am involved or not, I do believe what I have written here is the direction the club needs to take and stick to long term.
We can all see what a good stable plan carried out consistently over many years has done for Everton, a club who has spent far less net over the Lerner years than Villa, but is now able to purchase one of the best 21 year old strikers around and really kick on. If you are going to spend big, spend it on a player of Lukaku's age and stature, not on a player of Darren Bent's age where the transfer fee was always going to depreciate far too heavily bearing in mind we bought him at the top of his value and the age we bought him at.
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Post by Trotters on Thu Jul 31, 2014 2:00 pm

Have the club been welcoming of your approach or has it been received with disdain or suspicion? Have you had any dealings with the club at all or has it all been through Merryl's Lunch?

As it stands right now - that is, no clear obvious buyer - what's your opinion of Robin Russell as a choice of CEO?

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Post by Villa_Dan on Thu Jul 31, 2014 2:02 pm

@Trotters wrote:has it all been through Merryl's Lunch?

Childish I know, but that made me chuckle lol! 
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Post by HH 8166 on Thu Jul 31, 2014 2:08 pm

All been through BOA/Merrill Lynch and a little with Keith Harris as well. As for Robin, I know him well. A nice man but someone who openly admits to knowing little about football and who really doesn't even particularly like the game so I'd have to question his suitability as a Premiership football club CEO. However he isn't someone I'd imagine who would want the job for long in any case so if no buyer materialises Lerner will have to appoint someone else. I had heard he'd sounded out Stride and Ansell about returning but have no idea if that has progressed. I doubt either would want to get involved at this stage as somewhat of a poisoned chalice in current circumstances.
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Post by Trotters on Thu Jul 31, 2014 2:51 pm

Thanks for coming back on to update us, Howard. It's appreciated.
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Post by DR Peters on Sat Aug 16, 2014 12:55 am

Whilst investor meetings are ongoing I thought it would be fair to share the vision that I have written and is being presented on how I see the direction required for Aston Villa to stabilise initially and prosper moving forward as both a business and a football club. I'm ultimately a fan just like you and I firmly believe, in the absence of a huge benefactor owner and in the current climate of financial fair play, that this is the best and only way forward:


Howard Hodgson- Plan of Action for Aston Villa

Narrative

“The business model has largely failed to date...”

Has it? I thought the business plan was to make the club self sufficient, which I believe we are not far off. I don’t want the club to be a rich mans play thing, where we are in trouble should that rich man walk away (Portsmouth, anyone?).

“due to expensive signings both in transfer fees and inflated wages which have led to a position where the club is severely limited financially as players are sitting on contracts, no other clubs want to pick up, so are unsellable.”

No different to a lot of other clubs, transfer fees and wages are inflated, we could try signing players from the lower leagues for less… oh wait a minute we’ve tried that – didn’t work out either.


“A proper management structure must be put in place- IE A technical director to work alongside a top European coach in conjunction with an executive Chairman”
A technical director, I agree and think that was the role earmarked for Houllier, it’s the role he should have been given from the start. Why a top European coach? I don’t care where the coach comes from as long as he gets results and in the medium term gets us finishing in the top 10 for 2 or 3 seasons while we consolidate and sort the rest of the club out. As for an executive chairman, we had one up until a few weeks ago and he was doing a reasonable job and everything that asked of him by his boss, the only problem was not surrounding himself with football savvy people

“The executive team need to then implement a strategy of scouting and sourcing the best young talent in the UK, in Europe and the rest of the World.”
No they don’t, that’s what the Technical director is for, let him do his job. Realistically we are unlikely at this point to get the best young talent in Europe and the Rest of the World wanting to join us, we need to build up to it, lets start with local and UK talent, bring in a culture where young English talent will see that they will get a better chance at first team action at Villa than any other club. We can take on the world once we are re-established.
The chairman should concentrate on getting the best sponsorship and commercial deals while also creating a brand that big companies want to partner with.

“A first team can not run alone in a fiercely competitive league like the Premiership on young players so the age bracket of signing players should be 20-26”
Isn’t that what we have spent the last 2 years doing and the manager and the board have been abused for it

“with perhaps the odd astute Bosman on more experienced players to guide and nurture (Obviously character key with this type of signing)”

So exactly like we have this summer by signing players who have many international caps and World Cup experience plus another player who is better in his position than anything else at the club, but again the board and management have been lambasted by many for this course of action.

“A culture also has to be implemented and stuck to. No more “See you next Friday” if you win like in the Martin O Neill days. We want a lean, mean, professional unit full of hungry, ambitious individuals that want to improve themselves and most importantly the team/club. The talent has to be there.. You don’t win things or improve teams on work rate/attitude alone which Lambert seems to have forgotten when he started his “Project” two years ago which he now seems to have completely abandoned looking at his purchases this summer to date (Cole, Senderos, Richardson).”
Not sure where to start with this, I would want a manager that does the best for the players, surrounds himself with the right people who know about sports science, nutrition and the best way for players to recover between games, if that means all or some of them don’t train between games then so be it, every player will be different. Paul McGrath never trained and was one of the best players ever to wear the shirt. Although it was obvious in MON’s time that the team ran out of steam towards the end of each season so a balanced approach needs to be put in place.
You’re correct when you say you don’t win games on hard work alone and the talent needs to be there, but you don’t win things with talent alone either. The best players in the world are the best because they practice and work hard. With regards wanting a lean professional outfit who want to improve themselves and the club…..of course we do that would be the ideal but again we have tried that over the last couple of years and not had the desired result.

"Coaching/Style of play is of paramount importance in the modern game. For far too long Villa have suffered by having a succession of managers who all have a one trick pony game plan of sitting deep behind the ball and counter attacking. This explains why on occasion last season we got some favourable results V the top sides as they came on to us and allowed this tactic to work. However the vast majority of the rest of the Premiership have worked this out and don’t allow this to happen. Instead they sit deep and ask Villa to try and break them down. This is something Villa fail to do because they refuse to commit men forward beyond the ball for fear of getting caught out on the break! This leads to aimless long balls which is ineffective and with a porous defence often leads to defeats of which there were many last season.. (20 in total, 10 at home, both of which are unwanted records). A new head coach would have to get rid of this style of play and implement something far more progressive and pleasing on the eye in the style of Swansea/Arsenal etc. A possession game with an emphasis on passing and moving. This will require a level of patience as it is developed but undoubtedly the club can’t move forward without us being committed to playing this way."
I agree in principal but it should be the coach that decides the way we play, that may mean getting the ball forward quickly or building slowly from the back, I don’t care as long as it gets results and all teams at the club play the same way. In our current position the style of play is immaterial, we need results to finish 6 - 10 for 3 -4 seasons then we can look at attracting better quality players and playing better quality football. You mention Swansea, the same Swansea that won one more than us last season, like it or not its results orientated as long as the team start to get results, the style of play will not matter. Ask Chelsea fans if they prefer the way they play under Mourinho and winning things or how they played when Roman said he wanted to be entertained and won nothing? In an ideal world yes we would play attacking football and be winning things but in the short term we need stability and not a relegation battle every year
This comment alone is enough to put me off having a Villa fan anywhere near a position of power at the club. You (or any other fan) would be too emotionally involved, as fans we don’t normally take an objective view. If I was a coach and the chairman or anyone on the board came and told me the way I set the team up, that my training method and tactics were wrong I would walk out the door. Now I have been critical of O’Neill mainly because of his poor utilization of the squad and the way he left but I would not be surprised if interference from board level is the reason we walked. Alex Ferguson built a dynasty at Man Utd and is quoted many time as saying he was able to achieve that because he was the most important person at the club and the board backed that approach and showed faith when times were bad because he had a long term plan which the board bought into. That is what Aston Villa need


“Aston Villa possesses a fine training ground and Academy. It is regarded as one of the very best in Europe let alone England. Sadly however, unlike Southampton, it hasn’t produced the level of first team player that the money invested in it should be. The U21 team has had some great success but the transition of youth player to first team just hasn’t really materialised. I believe this to be the case because there is no synergy between how the U21 and younger teams play to how the first team play so again the structure here would have to be worked on and made sure the coaching and ethos is identical throughout the club so that when players do come through they are comfortable in the style and in their role in the team. The academy director and coaches therefore need to have a very close relationship with the First Team Coach, his assistants and the technical director. If this is followed then I believe you will start to have far more productivity from the academy which as been seen at a club like Southampton, will provide invaluable to the business model and potential success on the pitch.”

I agree with the point that the way the first team play is the way all teams at every level of the club should play. You say that the transition from U21 to first team has not materilaised? Agbonlahor, Weimann, Baker, Clark, Gardner, Herd and Carruthers have all come through the academy to play for the first team. Four of those have been regulars in the last couple of seasons so to say the transition has not materiliased is a little harsh. Now onto the Southampton comparison, this is the same Southampton who 4 years ago were in League 1, just out of administration, they had no choice but to quickly transition players from their academy to the first team and playing in League 1 and The Championship is nothing like stepping straight into the Premier League. They also spent £30m last season on 3 players, they have had a number of good players come through their academy and those players have all left for bigger clubs, Southampton are a feeder club we don’t want that for Aston Villa.

“Scouting and dare I say it, poaching young talent from other clubs locally and nationally is also a key component to success which is what often Southampton have done EG Adam Lallana from Bournemouth. Villa also did something similar many years ago with Gareth Barry from Brighton. Partnerships with feeder clubs with a two way relationship is also something that can be developed both in the UK and overseas. I have a good relationship with two Spanish clubs where something can possibly be developed.”
Cant argue with that

“If the above steps are taken then there is no reason that a club the size and potential of Aston Villa cannot follow the example that has been set by Arsenal in the last 15 years. If you rewind the clock back to Arsenal pre Wenger, Villa were very much on a par with them. The clubs are now poles apart but Wenger has demonstrated that with shrewd scouting, investment, coaching, a synchronised academy with the first team and knowing when to buy and sell players what can be achieved if you have the right club to start with.”
The whole “Arsene Wenger” thing is a myth, don’t get me wrong he is a great manager but lets not forget he walked into a team that contained Seaman, Dixon, Winterburn, Adams, Keown, Bould, Platt, Merson, Parlour, Wright and Bergkamp. He was hardly starting from scratch was he? How many players came through the Arsenal academy? Not many, they wait for other clubs to develop them then take them when players are close to first team ready, Fabregas being a good example and while he did sign some good players, he also spent huge amounts of money on duds Richard Wright, Jeffers, Arshavin, Reyes. Don't forget he paid a club record for Henry, who obviously turned out to be fantastic but at the time was a winger who couldn't get a game at Juventus. Let me remind you that until this season, Arsenal had won nothing for 10 years.

Income is very important to be generated from off the field activities also, something the current board have actually been reasonable at i.e. Hospitality, Merchandising, Overseas brand development, Naming rights etc but ultimately if you don’t get your main product right IE On the football pitch then it’s a fruitless venture. If we follow this plan we have a great chance of seeing major improvement which will result in the market value of the company/club rising accordingly over an appropriate course of time.
Depends on the market you are aiming for, most fans in Asia and other parts of the world don't have the loyalty of local fans they just want to follow a team that wins. They don't care about the style of football. Aston Villa is a unique name and could be a dream for the right marketing people. Getting it right on the pitch obviously goes a long way to helping but to generate the kind of income Villa need in order to compete we need to become a brand, I hate to say that but because of FFP that is the reality. We need to follow the Apple philosophy to marketing, nobody realised they needed a smart phone until the iPhone came out then suddenly a smart phone was a must have, we need to convince the world that they want to follow Aston Villa
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DR Peters

Howard Hodgson Blueprint for the future of Aston Villa 0_star10

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