So, the day has finally come. I was hoping that the inevitable could be avoided, but fate is such that even the strongest wishes and deepest prayers could not prevent it from happening.
Aston Villa is going down.
It is a sign of my despair that I don’t even bother to add “very probably” in the sentence above. Yes, there is a chance of staying up, but it either involves winning five games in a row (while hoping others lose theirs), or the English Football Association being embroiled in a scandal of such proportions that they would call the whole thing off and begin again next year pretending that the English Premier League season of 2015/2016 never happened.
Things are so bad at one of England’s oldest football clubs that people are no longer writing about why Aston Villa are going down, but about whether they can even cling on to stay in the Championship (the second-tier league) next season. The team is so bad, it will take years to turn it around.
Although I am bitterly disappointed, I am not angry. You may not believe that watching me watch the games, spittle bursting forth, froth around the mouth. In the last few weeks I couldn’t even watch the games until the end.
So why am I not furious? Because we deserved it. Because the quality of play has been so poor that winning would have been going against the grain, an injustice to others in the league.
If you know even a little bit about football analytics (the study of statistics in football), you will know there is a measure called total shots ratio (TSR) and its cousin, shots on target ratio (SOTR).
Unsurprisingly, the average is a ratio of 50% (as many shots for you as there are against). Teams at the top of the table should expect shot ratios of around 60%. This season so far, Aston Villa has a poor TSR of 44.9% and an abysmal 38.1% of shots on target. Without getting into technicalities, these are bad numbers.
Of course, my obsession with football contradicts the belief I have that if something is not within your reach then perhaps you shouldn’t worry too much about it. And certainly shouting at the TV screen is about the realistic extent of my reach to influence the football team I support.
Which is a little bit how many people feel about Malaysia at the moment, I think.
I can’t think of a run of three years when the country has been lambasted by so much negativity. Things are so bad, I can’t even write down certain acronyms in this article without wondering if the editors will take it out to preserve harmony in the country.
I can, however, point out that the World Bank recently downgraded the growth forecast for this year, corroborating a poll by Moody’s Investor’s service. Last year, our Corruption Perception Index dropped from what it was in 2014. And the Malaysian football team dropped to a new low ranking.
It’s easy to feel helpless about all of it. We might think we know what the problems are, and what the obvious solutions would be, but everything tried by everyone significant (and I really do mean everyone significant) seems to have little to no effect. Momentum is a tough thing to move.
I say, have faith in the system. We live in a democracy, and by definition we have the power of change in our own hands. If we bother to participate, that is.
I don’t mean just turn up to vote when it’s time. I mean, really participate. Read what reports you can, understand as much as possible about the issues facing the country. Discuss with people close to you what can be done and take action if you feel compelled to do so. Accept analysis with a hint of scepticism, and yet be open to uncomfortable new truths.
At least this is something I can do in Malaysia that I can’t with Aston Villa. But the paradox is that while ranting and raving about a football team is, and should be seen as, entertainment, it is perhaps a significant reflection of affairs that we devote more pages and column inches in the news to analysing football teams than we do to issues affecting the country.
But perhaps I should end this article with more entertainment and less bile.
What we need to do with Aston Villa is fairly clear to me. There has been much criticism of the managers, but I believe the real problem lies with Randy Lerner, the owner of the club. Instead of letting the status quo fester he should sell the club to another owner who will be willing to tackle problems head-on. But he won’t let go of the club at too low a price, claiming it’s worth more than the bids that have come in.
He has let talent slip out the door, appointed managers and yet not given them full support, made promises that he couldn’t keep. And all throughout, I think he believes he has done the best job he can, with wonderful aspirations – the problem is that it just isn’t working and the club can do much better than what’s happening at the moment.
Logic is the antithesis of emotion but mathematician-turned-scriptwriter Dzof Azmi’s theory is that people need both to make sense of life’s vagaries and contradictions.