TEAMtalk's Tom Davis talks up Paul Lambert's arrival at Aston Villa and believes the grim days of the Alex McLeish era are now behind the club.
The much anticipated start to Paul Lambert's managerial reign at Aston Villa wasn't exactly the fairytale beginning supporters may have hoped for. But then again, the result wasn't necessarily the most important outcome.
After last season's debacle, any change in management was always going to be an improvement on the manager whose tenure earned him the lowest win percentage in the club's entire 138-year existence - standing at a mere 21.43%.
If Lambert's arrival was a near fairytale, McLeish's was a near horror-show. In fact, it was a horror-show. It was somewhat of a Hollywood flop, rated 18 upon release and banned in countries worldwide, unsuitable for those who suffer heart abnormalities, with viewer discretion almost certainly advised.
But with Lambert's arrival, a sense of life has been brought back into a club that was slowly in danger of wilting further down the league table. A young, ambitious and highly driven manager, Lambert is exactly what the club needed at this stage. His appointment makes him possibly the most balanced manager to take to Villa Park in recent years, certainly under the Randy Lerner era, where, speaking as a life-long supporter of the club, managers have represented something of a double-edged sword for us.
For all of Martin O'Neill's enthusiasm on and off the pitch, there was his over-spending which saw the club spiral into a frenzy of losses each financial year. For all of Gerard Houllier's effort to focus on play in the final third, there was the defensive work which appeared to be more than lacklustre. And for all of McLeish's...well, that sentence is better off ending there.
Lambert, however, has just the right ingredients in his cupboard to make Villa a force again, providing he is given time - 'time' being the essential factor to any new manager's arrival, but particularly this current one given the tough rebuilding process he will have to oversee this season.
But Lambert is a manager who knows what he wants out of his players. Instantaneously, weak spots in the squad have been identified; the two full-backs already searching for fresh pastures. The sturdy but inconsistent centre-back pairing has been addressed with the addition of Ron Vlaar, while the lack of creative engine in midfield has also been catered for with the transfer of Karim El Ahmadi. Moreover, business has been done whilst parting ways with relatively moderate transfer fees, which, in this neck of the woods, is almost unheard of.
Nonetheless, there are still three or four areas which are cause for concern. Apart from the aforementioned defensive desires (there is rumoured interest in Blackburn's Martin Olsson, who would be sure to provide stability to a left-back role which has never truly recovered from the loss of fan-favourite Wilfred Bouma), there is need for a couple more attacking options too - particularly on the wings.
Charles N'Zogbia's style of play has always been direct, yet crosses supplied to the front-line were few and far between last season; while the duo of Marc Albrighton and Brett Holman - the latter whose pre-season suggests he could play a key part this year - provide a high-energy alternative. Even so, another wide-option would help go a long way in rejuvenating a part of the team which was so potent under the O'Neill era. Adam Johnson, a name fluttered around several clubs already this summer, is surely worth a gamble.
But what good are wingers without a target in the box to aim for? As such, there is also a case for a strong number nine up front who can tussle for possession and cause problems in the air - and a perfect compliment to the goal-scoring ability of Darren Bent. I look at the loan-signing of Romelu Lukaku by local-rivals West Brom and lament the fact we didn't stick our foot through the door first, especially after witnessing an impressive cameo from the Belgian last weekend.
Above all, however, the greatest change implemented by Lambert this season will be his style of play. "We'll go and try and win every game we can," said the Scotsman prior to the first game of the season. "I'm pretty sure they [the fans] are not going to sit there and wait for you to take 40 minutes to get into the game and have your first shot at goal."
But that is all, as fans, we can hope for. It is all, as fans, we ever wanted from the club in the first place. It is why supporters were so against the appointment of McLeish from day one, whose brand of anti-football as opposed to his connections with the neighbours next door were the contributing factor to his unfriendly welcome when appointed manager in June last year.
At any rate, it is important not to expect immediate fireworks from Lambert and to see this season for what is it: the start of a new beginning. An accent on attack will undoubtedly not always produce the desired outcome, but will produce the desired performance.
Rome wasn't built in a day, as the old cliché recites, which is why results aren't nearly as important this season as they would have been any other. This year is a transitional period for the club in which results are the variable and time is the constant. Only after that will the club reap the benefits of Lambert's appointment and start looking ahead again, instead of over its shoulder. And with a bit of patience, the good times will surely be back again.