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The Big Interview: Steve Round on new performance culture, Steve Bruce, the Villa Engine and Premier League implications

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The Big Interview: Steve Round on new performance culture, Steve Bruce, the Villa Engine and Premier League implications

  • Impeccable standards of excellence form part of new performance culture
  • Club's 'legacy of failure' faced head on at Bodymoor Heath
  • Villa Engine creating players who embody 'Pride. Passion. Purpose.'
  • Steve Bruce an 'outstanding manager' to work with
  • Praise for recruitment team who marry knowledge with innovation
  • Delight at Transfer Window business - predominantly experience and youth signed
  • Eyes on 'incremental improvement' in the coming years

Director of Football Steve Round wears a big smile as he discusses the mood at Bodymoor Heath right now - and it's good to see.

It obviously demonstrates where we're at as a football club at the moment - second in the Sky Bet Championship after seven straight wins and, vitally, within the automatic promotion spots.

It also shows huge progress with the performance culture that Round is nurturing throughout the training ground.

Round arrived in September 2016 with the club struggling in the lower reaches of the second tier following an awful relegation from the Premier League in the previous campaign.

Round saw, first hand, the scars of that disastrous term and set about facing the rebuilding task head on. 

We're much more confident we can provide an exciting, vibrant team on the field which can do the fans proud. Steve Round
"When I came in, it was at rock bottom. There was a lot of change needed to re-establish Aston Villa's performance culture.

"The initial thing was the feeling that it was a club that had quite a strong legacy of failure associated with it. 

"It had a period of time over a number of years where it was failure after failure culminating in relegation. 

"One of the fortunate things after that relegation season was that the club changed ownership. We had a new, vibrant chairman who was full of commitment to the club.  

"He had the foresight to put in place an outstanding CEO in Keith Wyness who has been a massive support to me - but not just me, the whole club.

"Dr Tony wanted to turn things around very quickly and I was delighted to be given the job.

"The first task was obviously setting about turning around that legacy of failure - that negative culture that had been established at the training ground. 

"That's not been easy, it's been difficult quite frankly. There's been a huge change around in management staff, performance staff and playing staff. 

"We are now at the stage where we're much more comfortable with the atmosphere, much more comfortable with the Aston Villa philosophy and we're much more confident we can provide an exciting, vibrant team on the field which can do the fans proud."

RoundBigInterview2One of the initial steps Round took to transform the fortunes of our great club was getting feedback from legends, players, staff and even star names in the game about what Aston Villa stood for, what it should strive for and what had made it great over an immensely illustrious history. 

It was a process Round found immensely insightful and helped him shape the strategy that would start the climb back.

"The biggest things I asked were 'What does Aston Villa look like? What should it look like? Who are we? Why have we been such a successful club over the years? Why are we a big club?' 

"Numerous findings came out - and I asked a lot of people within the organisation - from people who've been here for years to people who've just come in and even external people to find out what they think of Aston Villa. 

There's a healthy atmosphere around the training ground. There's a lot of positivity and confidence. We just need to keep that going. Steve Round
"We established really what we felt we needed to get back to - the core values - on top of what I expect from a training ground through the best practice I have witnessed myself over the years. 

"It's about setting standards and having commitment and discipline - to the club, to the job, to each other. 

"It's having a culture of belief and togetherness - and a really strong commitment to a work ethic which will drive the club forward. 

"I only want people here at Aston Villa who will sign up to that. If you're not prepared to sign up to that and you're not prepared to put in that work to be part of a team and also have the expertise to take us to the next level, you won't be working here. 

"Coupled with the culture we needed to nurture, it was also vital in my eyes that we signed some signature players who understood what the standards needed to be and had the courage to play at such a big club. 

"I have been very, very pleased with a lot of the players we have brought in. I don't want to single anyone out but it's vital to have leaders in that dressing room who understand what it takes to be successful - and the price you have to pay for that success.

"There's still room for improvement, of course. You can never stand still. If you do, you will go backwards. 

"We are definitely on the right track. There's a healthy atmosphere around the training ground. There's an excitement and a lot of positivity and confidence. We just need to keep that going."

RoundBigInterview3Football style is always evolving - who could ever have foreseen, for example, the arrival of Pep Guardiola and his effect on English football.

So factors such as tactics and formations must always be open to change.

However, Round believes there are some dynamics that must be present at any flourishing sporting organisation - and he's starting to see them shine through in B6.

All the way through from new Head of Academy Coaching Brian Eastick to First Team Manager Steve Bruce, the values are in place now.

"I can certainly pinpoint what we expect of an Aston Villa player now - and in the future. 

"We want Aston Villa players who will play for the shirt. I know that's easy to say. But it's got to mean something. That claret and blue shirt has got to mean something to a player. 

The main point that came out when I talked to people about what Aston Villa was - and should be - was a front-foot, aggressive, hard-working, forward-thinking team. Steve Round
"They have to play with pride for the club, themselves and each other. They have to have full commitment and in the modern game they have to be physically excellent. 

"The main point that came out when I talked to people about what Aston Villa was - and should be - was a front-foot, aggressive, hard-working, forward-thinking team. 

"The Villa Engine mirrors that industrious mentality - players who give everything to play for Aston Villa and give everything to ensure Aston Villa is successful. That's starting to become engrained now at the training ground. 

"Our coaches do not accept mediocre standards. We don't let out players get away with having a poor attitude. 

"They must be 100 per cent every training session and every game. It's what Steve Bruce, Colin Calderwood, Stephen Clemence, Steve Agnew and Gary Walsh demand every day. You also get that from our senior players - they set the standards in the dressing room and on the training field by doing the right thing every day.

"Brian Eastick has also joined us, he is an outstanding coach educator, coach developer - and an excellent coach himself, to help Sean Kimberley in the academy. Between them, they are now implementing the Villa Engine - the mentality we want all the way through the youth groups. 

"They then get passed on to Mark Delaney and Kevin MacDonald in the U23s to bridge that gap between performance and winning because the first team is about winning. 

"That prepares the players for some of the hardships of having to go out and play in the demanding competitive environment of first team football - and win when it really matters - and then through to the first team. All the way through the club, it should be mirrored. 

"There is definitely high standard setting at Bodymoor Heath. No-one will not accept less than is expected.

"Our brand values are very, very apt - Passion, Pride, Purpose. It's a passion to put on the shirt. It's a pride to play for the club. It's about a purpose to your work. 

"The passion and pride should be a given - and we are now seeing that. It's the purpose that you have to work a lot harder on. That is all about your coaching, ethics, strategy and style."

BruceAwardPrizeRound hopes fans are now recognising a team that is demonstrating our brand values week-in and week-out.

We're on a seven-game winning run and flying high in second in the division - with promotion a cherished aim.

Steve Bruce deserves huge credit for producing exemplary results on the pitch - and Round is thrilled to be able to work with the former Man Utd captain.

"We have an outstanding manager in Steve Bruce, he was the catalyst to success and has been immense in the progression of the club. He is backed up by a very strong, talented and successful coaching team. 

"They know the standards needed to gain promotion. Really, at the moment, everything is going well. But this is football. We all know the game. You must never rest of your laurels. 

We have an outstanding manager in Steve Bruce, he was the catalyst to success and has been immense in the progression of the club. Round on Bruce
"My relationship with Steve is excellent. It helps that I was a key member of the board who brought him into the football club in the first place. 

"We both respect each other's football pedigree, background and knowledge. My relationship with the manager is really important. 

"You have to have a healthy relationship - a mutual trust - you work in tandem on many issues. The club would not sign a player, for example, that the manager doesn't want. Every player we bring in, the manager has the final say on. 

"You have to have that working relationship. We talk everyday on many issues and openly debate with each other in private. But it's a healthy, positive, productive discussion which generates clear, transparent decision-making.

"Most of my weekly work with Steve is to help and support as much as I possibly can. 

"The great thing about the Director of Football role is you can get up in your proverbial helicopter, fly above everything and see the bigger picture. You don't get bogged down in the day to day, result mentality - and you can give a different perspective. 

"I will offer advice but I won't ever force an opinion on anyone because, at the end of the day, we have a very talented, experienced coaching staff and they have a very tough job. 

"They have to pick a team and then inspire, motivate and coach that team to win on a regular basis."

TerryFollowUpMainPic3That's most certainly happening at present and a lot is down to the calibre of player that has walked through the doors of Bodymoor Heath.

Round and Bruce have been able to improve the squad greatly in the last three windows despite FFP restrictions.

Round was quick to praise the new recruitment team put in place during his watch - as well as the manager's eye for quality.

"We have put, pretty-much, a new recruitment team in place. We have some very good expertise in there. 

We have put, pretty-much, a new recruitment team in place. We have some very good expertise in there. Steve Round
"We have Tony Coton and Ian Atkins heading that up. They are both massively experienced. They were excellent players in their own right and have a huge pedigree in football. 

"Under them, we have a team of scouts. Some have analytical backgrounds, who are wizards on data and are making sure we're following all the innovative ways of the modern recruitment world. 

"We also have some vastly experienced on-the-ground scouts who will go and watch the games and who have a tremendous football knowledge. 

"Tapping into all of that is vitally important. Once we get down to the final two or three targets, myself and the manager will go and watch them and if we agree with everyone else, the process starts to try and sign them.

"We were restricted by FFP in the three windows I have been involved in. That's a product of the previous three years and the fact we were relegated so the payments aren't as great. 

"So we had to balance the books. We have made a significant profit and, importantly, we have improved the team. 

"I am very pleased with what the recruitment team have delivered in terms of their scouting potential. We have been very smart with the deals we've got. 

ATBlog"Fair play to the manager, too, he's recognised quite a few of these players at a lot less cost - and who have delivered impressively on the pitch. 

"We had to look at the older and younger ends of the market spectrum. We weren't able to go in and buy at the middle tier. 

"We have brought in some vastly experienced players - lads like John Terry and Glenn Whelan, who obviously were a lot less cost and then very exciting young players like Josh Onomah and Axel Tuanzebe, who are just starting to forge their career in the game. 

"Aston Villa fit the profile for their clubs because they're playing in such a big arena and environment with a very good team. 

"We had to adapt our transfer policy according to the budget we had. That's no different to anyone else. 

"One thing I have found with Aston Villa is because of the size of the club, the history and tradition it holds, it's not been difficult to persuade players to come here. The name is a big drawer. 

"The big test will be if we get promoted. There are tiers in the Premier League. But the owner has always said it's a stage process. 

I am really enjoying the job. I am working with tremendous professionals within the organisation. I have so much respect for all of them. Steve Round
"You cannot go historically from promotion to, for example, sixth in the Premier League straight away.

"You have to step up the ladder incrementally. That's the plan and aim. It's incremental rises all the time. 

"When I came in, we were third bottom. We are now second. It's taken almost 18 months to get there. 

"It's making sure we can get this club over the line in terms of getting promoted, that is our sole focus on the field at the moment then we need push on from there."

It's been a demanding process for Round over the past year and a half to exact the changes he wanted to - but it's been very rewarding.

"I am really enjoying the job. I am working with tremendous professionals within the organisation. I have so much respect for all of them. They are doing a great job. 

"I am enjoying the role. It's very different from being a manager, assistant manager or a coach. It's more strategic and more about leading people. 

"It was a real challenge in the initial stages to turn it around. But then you sit there now and you feel like we're moving in the right direction. You can feel that hard work being rewarded. 

"Are we where we need to be? No. Do I feel we are on the right path to get there? Yes. I think it's an exciting time. 

"I remember speaking to Steve Bruce at his interview for the manager's job. He said 'the club has had a negative momentum…but if we turn it around and get the positive momentum, you try and stop it!' That's how I feel at the moment."

That's how we're all feeling, Steve. Keep up the good work.

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Paul Brown
By @paulbrownavfc 14th February 2018