Shambles [ shámb'lz ] (plural shambles)
1. disorganized failure: a failure caused by inadequate planning or organization (takes a singular verb)
2. messy disorder: a state of messy disorder or chaos (takes a singular verb)
3. place of carnage: a place of great destruction and carnage (literary) (takes a singular verb) (eg Anfield)
So then, Mr Houllier, your conclusion after last night's frankly embarrassing performance at Anfield is that the team is lacking some confidence. How wise. How insightful. How visionary.
Of course there are one or two rather puzzling aspects to this sudden evaporation of confidence. The back four of Young, Dunne, Collins and Warnock is experienced, settled, used to playing with each other and has a track record. It's peculiar that all of a sudden Dunne and Collins should turn into Laurel and Hardy, and two fine English full backs, who not so long ago were in contention for places in Capello's World Cup squad, should overnight look like they wouldn't make the bench for the Coach and Horses 2nd X1.
Equally odd is the fact the quintet of Albrighton, Delfouneso, Bannan, Clark and Hogg should suddenly not believe in themselves either. In the vanguard of previous seasons' youth and reserve successes, having played together for ages, widely demanded before their breakthrough and equally widely feted on it, they've looked fresh, lively and skilful. They did pretty well against United - didn't they? No lack of confidence there, then.
Ashley Young and Stewart Downing don't strike me as players lacking in self-belief. Unless, of course, they're played out of position week in, week out which would gnaw at my motivation as well.
The point and the buck
The point I'm trying to make, Gerry (can I call you that?), is that this lack of confidence you so incisively identify comes down to, er, you. Not to put too fine a point on it, Gezza (okay with that one?), it's your fault in a kind of "the buck stops here" sort of way, if you get my drift. Do you?
Now, the thing is Gez, I'm not a top flight football manager like you and I'm not fit to lace Gary McAllister's boots in terms of what I know about the game. But, if it's ok. with you, I'd like to ask you a few questions. If you have a moment, maybe you could give them some thought when you and Gazmac next have the lads together at the Heath. Here goes:
1Richard Dunne and James Collins are lacking a little bit of form. We have a Spanish lad called Carlos Cuellar who we all like, and who's done pretty well since he came to the club from Glasgow (I think Gazmac knows a bit about the leagues up there). I wonder if it wouldn't be a reasonable idea to give the lad a few minutes...you know, like see what he can do and all that? Might help the boys' confidence if they felt our central defenders weren't going to bollocks things up every five minutes.
2Now Gez, this boy Ireland. Thing is, he didn't want to come to Villa and, well, if we're honest he's pretty much playing that way - isn't he? Now, I know you think he's a skilful lad and he's got a nice touch and he picks out a pretty pass and that's all well and good Gerry. But he doesn't really want to be out there in claret and blue, now, does he? And I think probably the other lads know that, don't they and I'm just not sure we should be giving him any time of the pitch, that's all. It would probably knock my confidence playing alongisde a bloke could couldn't be arsed - especially if he's supposed to be better than me.
3Now, Gerry - you know all about this boy Carew, don't you? Thing is, it's pretty obvious to most of us lot that he can't really be bothered. Sure, he's a big lad and a strong lad too - not many bigger and stronger. But he doesn't, well, "run around" very much, does he? And without wishing to be rude, Gez - I don't think he likes you very much. I mean, it was difficult even for Martin to get him to give 100% all the time, but I think you're going to struggle. If I'm honest, we don't really buy it when you throw him on as a sub: it sort of feels like you've given up, like run out of ideas. That doesn't give me much confidence, either, Gezza.
4On the other hand, we've got this kid called Delfouneso (some of us call him "Fonz", you may have noticed). He's pretty sharp, now, this lad. You may have noticed that he's quite popular and the reason for that is, well, er, now how do I put this? He's bloody good. Quick, nice touch, good positional sense, great finisher and all the striker-y stuff...you know. I just wondered whether it mightn't be the time to get him out there a bit more. What do you think, Gez? Might help his and the team's confidence to see him get a start or two. Might help mine a bit, too.
5Nearly done now, Gerry. But about this Pires. Super player a few years back, wasn't he? I remember him when he was at Arsenal, great player. French, I think, like yourself. I was wondering whether he's in your plans as a coach, because I can see that making sense. We've got a few good young wingers, you see, who might learn a bit from him on the training ground. But if it were me, I probably wouldn't be having him in the first team for games and all that, you know? Premier League, Gez - quick, physically demanding and all that. Just my opinion, though - you know best.
6Just one more thing before I sign off now, Gerry. Next time you're with Gazmac on the training ground, take a wee peek at Stewart Downing, Ashley Young and Marc Albrighton. If you look carefully, you'll spot that Stu is left-footed while the other two are right footers. Have a think about that one, Gezza - it may make a difference to the balance of our side and our ability to get behind full backs and deliver decent crosses.
You know what, it's fine to aim to improve possession of the ball and look to play more attractively through midfield. In fact, it's better than fine: it's noble and it's right.
The problem I have is this. You can't have Steven Ireland and Robert Pires casually knocking the ball around without a care in the world (literally) with such fundamental errors of organisation, management, leadership and motivation being made.
A shambles is what a shambles is
Make no mistake about it: Villa are a complete shambles at the moment. And they are a complete shambles because the manager is trying to build possession football on a foundation of sand and jelly. Unless you have a united dressing room, characterised by massive determination, enormous trust in and respect for each other and the will to fight and to win, forget it.
And before the illiterates and those with Lilliputian IQ's accuse me of wanting to go back to the Flintstones football of Martin O'Neill's era (not that I entirely agree with that), try to exercise the grey matter before commenting: that is not what I am saying.
What I am saying is this: Houllier is absolutely right. Absolutely right that confidence is low and things need working on.
The team lacks confidence because of the disastrous decisions Houllier is taking. Things need working on - and it's Houllier himself who needs to work on them.
Time to look in the mirror and ask some hard questions, Gerry. Because come the weekend, and anything less than a great performance and three points, we'll be asking them for you.