What is the Aston Villa strategy?

In my day job, I spend a good deal of time advising organisations about strategy. It isn't rocket science: the most important thing, quite simply, is that you have one.

There's a load of management school hogwash talked about strategy. What it really means is this: you understand where you are now, you decide where you want to be, and then you make an inspiring and unique plan to get you there. And you focus all your resources and expertise on that plan.


My question is this: does Aston Villa have a strategy?

To put it into perspective, let's look at one of our rivals - Arsenal. You don't have to be Einstein to work out Arsenal's strategy under Arsene Wenger. Their annual assault on the top 4 places is based on a) total commitment to an attractive, attacking, passing game of football and b) a financial code which means they buy the most talented young players from around the globe for small sums, and then sell them for a fortune when they are at their peak.

Arsenal's strategy can only work if they uncover fabulous young talent before their rivals do. And so they have invested relentlessly in the best scouts, who scour the world for teenage stars in the making, and who have also - using Wenger's contacts - built a nearly unassailable position in France and French-speaking Africa.

The strategy works from a football perspective, but also makes for a financially sound club. Don't get me wrong. I don't particularly like Arsenal. In fact, I dislike their arrogance and "holier than thou" attitude. But they have a strategy, it works, it offers continuity and although they haven't won trophies for a couple of seasons, very few football supporters who know the game would bet against them winning something soon.

When you start to look at our rival clubs, you realise how important strategy is.

You may think Chelsea's strategy is "buy big". It isn't. Chelsea's footballing strategy is about strength and spine. Look vertically down the Chelsea side: Cech, Terry, Ballack, Drogba. It's huge, powerful, athletic and intimidating. That's the Chelsea strategy for you. Dominate and intimidate.

Do Liverpool have a strategy? You bet they do. They may be a financial mess, and Rafa must be furious that he can't link his footballing strategy with the overall club objectives in the way Arsenal do. But Liverpool, in my view, have the best all-round footballer in the world in their ranks and have built a strategy around him. Mascherano and Alonso (it was to be Barry) hold the midfield, allowing Steven Gerrard to cause havoc and get the best out of the world's finest striker. If Rafa had the guts to stick, O'Neill-like, with his best eleven, then I reckon they would have pushed United even harder for the title.

So what's Villa's strategy?

I was delighted at first. When Randy came in, there was a frank assessment of where Villa were and a decisive statement of where we wanted to be. Champions League in five years. Can't say fairer than that.

A top manager was hired in Martin O'Neill, and an exciting football strategy emerged. Not one that all Villa fans agreed with, but a credible strategy nonetheless. Money was finally spent on the long-awaited Bodymoor Heath project, and we started to look like real contenders. Maybe we still are.

O'Neill's strategy was dead-eye certain at the start. Clearly focused on bringing in the best young British talent available, O'Neill honed in on the England U21 squad and aggressively recruited from its ranks.The strategy was clear: youth, pace and above all a dressing room that works: a bunch of players who like each other, have fought together before and can communicate with each other.

That was coupled with a remarkably aggressive approach to the English Premier League. O'Neill effectively played a 4-3-3 formation, which was "collapsable" to a 4-5-1 when the boys were defending. It worked over and over again, was exciting for the fans, and unnerving for opponents.

So what's happened - and where's the strategy gone?

The worst thing any organisation can do in the heat of battle is lose sight of its strategy. O'Neill must take the blame for approaching the UEFA Cup and the EPL with a squad which was too small - but that's no excuse for abandoning strategy.

We played too many games in a dull 4-4-2 formation which didn't suit the players and didn't excite the fans. It was predictable, and beatable.

We need to return to our strategy. Villa are a highly dangerous, pacy and skilful counter-attacking side who will hurt any team who comes forward at them badly.

At home, we desperately need a really clever attacking midfield "lock picker" to change the draws into wins. I thought it was Maloney, and I was p***ed when he went. O'Neill MUST find that lock-picker.

Let's get back to the strategy, Martin. Counter-attack. Pace. Youth. 4-5-1.

Bring me two world-class young wingers and move Ashley Young into "the hole", and I'll be the happiest Doc on earth.