OK, here’s a late night poser.
How many of the current Aston Villa squad would you put into a Norwich City starting XI?
Simple question. How many?
I can think of at least four; maybe five. Benteke, Agbonlahor, Delph and Vlaar. Bertrand, maybe.
Otherwise, everyone is pretty much of a muchness. Or put it the other way. If you were a Villa fan, how many Norwich players would you put in your starting XI? One? Wes, at a guess.
The point here is one that has dogged this club for the last couple of seasons. And goes back to the point that the Midlands Press made from very early on in Paul Lambert’s reign.
He got ‘lucky’ in Grant Holt.
Now many might argue that such a claim wholly under-values the Scot’s powers of motivation; he’s tactical genius formation-wise; the manner in which his sides never gave up until the final whistle.
All of which have been used to compare and contrast to the limp and little lamented reign of Chris Hughton.
But here’s another question. If Lambert and Villa were to part company this summer, which of the two men would be the first to be re-employed? Who would get the bigger gig?
Because there’s something very odd about events at Villa Park this week and in the small village that is football in this country, I think it will be Hughton who comes out smelling the rosier.
The suspension of his two, principal lieutenants – first at Wycombe, then Colchester, onto Norwich and now Villa – doesn’t sit easily with football people.
I never wholly understood what Gary Karsa’s role as ‘director of football operations’ was; other than he was the eyes and ears of the manager around the building. Ian Culverhouse’s role was far more clear; he was the coach.
He was the Peter Taylor to Lambert’s Brian Clough; or more pertinently, he was Stevie Walford to Martin O’Neill. His old ‘Gaffer’ at Celtic. Karsa was John Robertson.
That’s how it worked.
Until this week. When something has clearly gone very, very wrong on the basis of their suspension and Lambert suddenly finding himself with two new deputies – Villa legend Gordon Cowans and Shay Given, the keeper all-but frozen out of the picture by the manager for the last 18 months.
It looks very much like a shot-gun wedding; with Culverhouse and Karsa sacrificed on a run of poor results that leaves Villa just four points off the relegation zone with a huge home game against Southampton next on the agenda.
It doesn’t – from a distance – strike me as a case of ‘All for one and one for all!’ in the Villa Park boot room.
And Randy Lerner’s very public backing of his manager also has an all-too familiar ring.
Because Villa are under-achieving. In Benteke they have a Premier League striker straight out of central casting; a force and a figure and a pay-packet that is a million miles away from poor Ricky. It’s a man versus a boy up front. Vlaar looks a leader; Delph a handful. Agbonlahor always offers too much for Norwich and is a proper athlete.
So why are Villa ending their season in such an unseemly heap?
What has happened to Lambert’s ‘magic dust’ manager-wise?
Does his reign need to be revised in favour of the Midlands theory that it was ‘Holt wot won it?’ That it was his leadership on the pitch that drove Norwich ever upward until his knees started to buckle under the Premier League strain?
It is fascinating. Albeit a bit belated in terms of the never-ending comparison with Hughton, who was – from Day One – handed a God awful gig in terms of following Lambert’s meteoric rise to managerial fame and prominence.
If memory serves, there was a spell that golden spring when his name was in the frame for the Liverpool job; alongside Roberto Martinez. And, of course, Brendan Rodgers. Who looks ever more like fulfilling Stevie G’s wish of a Premier League title after 15-odd years of trying.
Martinez has, meanwhile, proved that there is plenty of life in Everton post-Moyes. You couldn’t claim that they had gone backwards under his tenure. In fact, he might have pushed them on again.
Villa have flat-lined and are in danger of imploding. In a poisonous mess.
And for all Hughton’s alleged faults, I couldn’t see him throwing Messrs Calderwood and Trollope to the legal wolves in the manner that has befallen Culverhouse and Karsa.
I suspect Hughton would be one of those that would walk the plank with his backroom staff.
And football folk will note that.
The point? I think with the benefit of hindsight, Paul Lambert will be seen to be only human after all; not quite the managerial god everyone thought.
As for Hughton, he’s not as bad as everyone appears to make out. He’ll be back.
He made one, big punt in the transfer market; whacked £8.5 million on a lad out of Portugal, when £7 million would have got you the real deal out of Belgium.
And it’s almost as simple as that.