Depending on the perspective that one adopts, Aston Villa are currently undergoing either an optimistic phase of rebuilding and renewal after the club’s disappointing run of three consecutive bottom-half finishes in the Premier League, or a period of turbulent flux that looks set to destabilize the institution at all levels ahead of what is a crucial new season.
Shortly before the end of Villa’s massively underwhelming 2013/14 Premier League campaign, the club witnessed the departure of two long-term lieutenants of Manager, Paul Lambert, as both Assistant Manager, Ian Culverhouse, and Head of Football Operations, Gary Karsa, were dismissed following an internal investigation into as yet undisclosed off-field issues believed to be related to allegations of bullying.
Culverhouse and Karsa had worked alongside Lambert throughout the Scot’s fledgling managerial career in the lower divisions in England. The pair first worked with Lambert at Colchester before following the Scot to Carrow Road when he was appointed as Norwich City boss in 2009. Culverhouse and Karsa were then among Lambert’s first backroom appointments following his taking over at Aston Villa in the summer of 2012.
The duo’s departure from Villa Park, therefore, was widely seen as indicative of the kind of institutional malaise that appears to have engulfed the club since the departure of Martin O’Neill in 2010. The now Republic of Ireland manager resigned his position at Villa Park in protest at American owner, Randy Lerner’s, implementation of a new austerity regime designed to slash the club’s wage-bill by culling its highest earners, cashing-in on its best young talent (Young, Downing, Milner to name but a few), and investing in cut-price emerging players from lesser European leagues.
Culverhouse’s position was last week permanently replaced following the appointment of former Manchester United and Republic of Ireland captain, Roy Keane, as Lambert’s new Assistant Manager. The arrival of such a high-profile figure in the English game was by in large popularly received by the Villa faithful, many of whom are hopeful that Keane’s reputation and work-ethic will help to motivate a talented but deflated young squad and to lift them into the top-half of the league table once more.
Paul Faulkner’s decision to leave Villa Park, however, has taken away much of the good-feeling that the Keane appointment bred. The Chief Executive’s resignation has been seen as yet another demonstration of the decaying edifice of the Lerner regime in Birmingham. Faulkner was well-regarded in the game and had worked closely with Lerner in variety of business capacities prior to becoming involved with Villa.
It is believed that his decision to step down came in response to a difference of opinion with the owner over the manner in which the club would operate in the future. Specifically, Faulkner sought greater clarification over what his role would be in an administrative set-up greatly destabilized owing to the fact that the club was very publically put up for sale at the beginning of the summer.
Lerner is determined to cut his losses and depart Villa Park after eight years that have seen his holding company, Reform Acquisitions Limited, haemorrhage in excess of £217 million. Faulkner’s decision to resign, therefore, appears to be born of much of the same sense of frustration that the Villa fans currently feel supporting a club that appears to be listing at all levels from the board room to the dressing room.
A talented an ambitious Chief Executive like Faulkner does not carve himself out a career like the one that he has had by sitting around on sinking ships. His decision to step down thus constitutes a haunting reminder for the Villa faithful that in spite of the fact that Keane’s arrival may breathe some new life into the first-team dressing room ahead of the new campaign, Villa is now operating with an owner who has no interest in seeing the club achieve success on the pitch. And no club can hold out any realistic hopes for success without a forward drive an impetus from the very top of the administration. The arrested development that currently characterizes Aston Villa undoubtedly precipitated Faulkner’s departure and he may well not be the last-man of talent to depart Villa Park before Lerner’s sale is complete.