Better the devil you know

There's been some interesting debate on these pages over the last few days. Pointless, but interesting.

Aston Villa Football Club has made a decision. It has announced that decision clearly and in no uncertain terms. The club believes that its best chances of avoiding relegation lie in retaining the services of Gerard Houllier. Whether we agree with that decision or not, we cannot accuse the club's directorship of a lack of decisiveness or of a lack of clarity.

And whether we support Villa from the Upper Holte, from armchairs in the shires or from overseas - our agreement or disagreement with that decision is, frankly, irrelevant. Railing against Gerard Houllier, displaying "Houllier out" banners or staying away from Villa Park in protest will - can only - have a detrimental effect on our players as they take on the challenge of the Premier League "home straight".

Sometimes you have to swallow your pride and just be a fan.

The football


There's been all sorts of even more interesting argument about "the football". Is it getting better?

To me, the footballing intent is better. It's clear that a team is being set up to attempt to pass the ball, and to build attacks from Villa's own third. It may be, given a summer of investment in talented ball-players with vision and intelligence and the further development of equally talented Academy graduates, that this philosophy will start to pay off.

But at the same time, and here I disagree with Damian, I don't think the football is better. I think it is increasingly stilted and hesitant. I think it is too slow, insipid and usually lacks penetration. I think it is about passing for passing's sake, and I don't get the feeling that the players believe in it. It lacks passion. It lacks pace. And, even played by players with flair, it lacks flair. Most worryingly of all, I think it very ill-suited to a relegation fight.

However, we are stuck with it and we have no choice - as fans - but to get behind it and support the players trying to implement it.

The passion

My biggest concern, frequently voiced in my posts here, has been how unruffled Houllier seems in the face of defeat - even by our most detested rivals - and in the face of an impending scrap against the drop. Many of you have said that you prefer a manager with calmness and composure in the face of adversity: I take that point and concede that it has merit.

At the same time, I disagree with it. I suspect Houllier over-conceptualises his football and leaves his players cold. I suspect his players, like their fans, crave some god old-fashioned teacup-throwing and rabble-rousing. I suspect, if I'm honest, that Gerard Houllier cares about Aston Villa just a bit less than we need him to. Just a little bit less than we do. But hopefully not to little to avoid the unthinkable.

The only solution

With eight games left, there can only be one solution. Whether you share my doubts - and those of many - about Gerard Houllier's suitedness to take Aston Villa forward into the next generation...or whether you are a firm believer that his influence and experience, given patience and investment, will put Villa back where they belong...we land at the same point - all of us.

We can't do anything about it now.

We can argue and debate, wail and gnash teeth. It will all be to no avail because it will make no difference. We are left with the raw materials of what we are as fans - pride, passion and raw support. Nothing else.

We should spare our argumentative energy for the summer - it will be more appropriate then.

Until then, Houllier is our gaffer and Houllier's players need our support. Whether you think he's an angel or a devil - he's the devil we know and he's the devil we're stuck with.