Has Charles Protested Too Much?
Perhaps the major talking point at Villa last week came after Charles N'Zogbia revealed in an interview with French magazine L'Equipe that he felt he was being asked to defend too much under McLeish, amongst other things. The club claimed that N'Zogbia's was misquoted, though N'Zogbia had earlier retweeted a fan's opinion that his statements in the piece were bang on the money via Twitter. Must have been a mis-retweet...
However, these are not the first signs that the Frenchman is disillusioned with life at Villa Park. So does N'Zogbia have a point?
To answer in the simplest form, one would have to say yes, and he isn't the only player whose talents are being somewhat quashed under the current management. However, what has undoubtedly been a string of underwhelming performances from a man who only completed fewer dribbles than Lionel Messi in Europe last season cannot be solely blamed on the manager.
And so we come to the nerdy stats section of my analysis. With the summer signing's main quarrel seemingly relating to the fact that he is asked to defend more often than he is used to, the figures certainly support N'Zogbia's claims. Over all of his 34 league appearances at Wigan last season, the wide man made just 28 tackles (0.8 per game) and 26 interceptions (0.8 per game).
In 10 fewer games thus far for Villa (24), N'Zogbia has already won 35 tackles (1.5 per game) and also matched his interceptions tally of 26 (1.1 per game) from last season. His league high of 3.2 dribbles per game in the previous campaign has plummeted to just 1.3 per game this time around and it is clear that the France international is somewhat of a shadow of his former self, with Martinez allowing him far more freedom than McLeish ever will.
It is true that in a team like Villa, or any team for that matter, every player must do his bit, however the mark of the best managers sees that ethos stamped inherently within their players without insistent instruction. What can separate the wheat from the chaff in the case of the managerial greats is an ability to get the best out of your best players.
Though many Villa fans hold very little but disdain for Martin O'Neill, the Irishman was unquestionably good at utilising the club's former stars, subsequently earning them moves to more appealing projects in the Premier League. Where the Ulsterman faltered was his inability to make the entire squad feel special, but the truth is you'd rather have your best players playing at their best than your mediocre ones managing to do so.
It is fair to say that McLeish hasn't found a balance. While egos can be of detriment to a dressing room, some must also be catered to, and N'Zogbia's evidently isn't being fed right now. When playing the formation that Villa tend to adopt, the emphasis should be placed on his shoulders, and the likes of Ireland, to attack at will, with Petrov and Herd more than capable of protecting a four-man defence - though not on the evidence of this weekend's showing, mind you.
One would hope that the summer signing has a place at the club next season, and indeed beyond, though a seemingly 'coincidental' knee injury kept him out of the game at Arsenal, with the less said about the game the better!