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Aston Villa and the art of 'The Scapegoat'

Whether the club is being relegated, languishing at the middle of the championship table, or having the best season it has experienced in decades, one thing has remained constant- the scapegoating of certain players. While no player is exempt from criticism and there have been players who have come under fire for justifiable reasons (Joleon Lescott tweeting a picture of a sports car after being thumped by Liverpool comes to mind), there have always seemed to be players who can’t seem to catch a break for one reason or another. But why does this continue to happen season after season? And how can certain players go from having everything they do worshipped by the fans to being made into a pariah? This article will aim to explore the reasons behind the scapegoating of individuals around the club

The first reason why scapegoating is so common, not just among the Aston Villa faithful but also among nearly every club in world football, is because it means real issues do not need to be investigated. For example, if fans can convince themselves that there is nothing wrong with the team apart from Tyrone Mings at center back, all losses can be pinned on him and the rest of the team can be seen as being perfectly functional. Fans can convince themselves that, if a replacement for this player can be found, the whole club can thrive and progress. This also stops other players in the squad from coming under fire throughout the season because, while they may make a mistake, it’s the scapegoat who is the real reason for the club not reaching the next level. If fans can convince themselves that one player is responsible for everything that goes wrong at a club, it means they can go into every season thinking one fix will change everything. This is certainly more palatable than the often-depressing truth that it may take many years for the club to make progress. It is not just players who are subject to scapegoating for this reason. Last season, both Dean Smith and head of recruitment Jesús García Pitarch were similarly scapegoated. It was said of the former that he was never good enough for the role and the job was ‘too big for him' (a trend which still remarkably continues). The latter was scapegoated by fans saying any signing that was playing well was a Smith signing and the ones who weren’t performing were a Suso signing. This, furthermore, demonstrates the idea that the failings of the club fall on one individual’s shoulders, rather than failure being a shared burden.

Another reason that scapegoating is so popular is that fans want to prove that they have been right the whole time. Every player has their detractors, and these detractors will use any excuse they can find to prove their instincts were correct. While the majority of fans will give a player every chance to succeed, there are always a few who are perhaps underwhelmed or disappointed with a signing and will, therefore, be looking to point out flaws in the player. Furthermore, there are certain players who are scapegoated simply for being in the same position as another player. When a fan's favorite loses their position to another player, this other player will need to perform flawlessly in order to avoid fans calling for their preferred player to regain their positions. An example from this season is the El Ghazi-Traore-Trezeguet debate. All of these players have their fans and their detractors. Due to the fact these players are all vying for the same position, the fans of each player will want to demonstrate why their preferred player deserves the spot. This can often involve detracting the other players and, when they get the nod, pointing out their mistakes. This demonstrates the element of pride that is involved in scapegoating- with many preferring to point out flaws in a player’s game, rather than admitting they were wrong in a debate. This is, therefore, another reason why scapegoating continues to happen.

While this is the reason that scapegoats start, with people looking for one player to pin the club’s fortunes on, it’s sensible to think that when performances pick up, the scapegoat slander will stop. However, the art of the scapegoat is that it often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If a player is singled out, this can have a detrimental impact on the confidence of the player, making mistakes much more likely to occur. The fans who have been singling this player out then have fuel with which to continue the slander, and so the cycle continues. This makes it very difficult for a player to break out of their role as a pariah of the team, which is part of the reason that scapegoating, especially with social media as a tool to spread this, is a major issue.

Overall, there are several reasons that scapegoating occurs and infests itself in the world of football. Fans want to believe that their clubs are one change away from being a dominant force and fans also want to avoid saying they were wrong about a player. However, it is a problem that causes far more problems than it solves and needs to be stopped. Everyone is susceptible to criticism, but it is clear there is a distinction between valid criticisms and scapegoating individuals.

Louis Delaney | Edited by The AVFC Faithful

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