Well, what a difference a year can make. Cast your thoughts back to a year ago, when Villa were on the search for a successor to Gerard Houllier. Almost no manager wanted to take on the role at the Villa helm, even Roberto Martinez – whose Wigan team had struggled far more than in the current campaign – didn’t want the job. This was both a shock and an embarrassment for all those in connection with Aston Villa, but it was a choice that had to be made by any good manager.
It was highly publicised that whoever took over would have to sell players to help balance the books, Ashley Young was already on his way to Manchester United and Stewart Downing was looking for a move, with only a small percentage of money from these transfers going to be made available. Eventually, Alex McLeish made the first of a long season of errors and took the job – even with masses of Villa fans against the appointment.
The fact about the role from a year ago is simple; any manager that took over was going to really struggle to match the somewhat fortunate final league position of ninth from Houllier’s season.
However, the situation really couldn’t be much more different when it comes to the latest manager search.
Hint: to win over Villa fans, don’t be Alex McLeish
Whoever it is that comes will win backing from the fans without a ball even being kicked, as they almost certainly won’t be a tactically inept ex-Blues manager, unlike their predecessor. Added to this, it shouldn’t be too hard to improve team performances and send the fans home a little happier each week.
And, with financial backing – which Randy Lerner will undoubtedly give – the new manager should be able to build a squad to start challenging for the right half of the table in their first season. A lot of pundits and football fans are suggesting that Villa have no money to spend, but this isn’t the case at all. It has been evident for a long time that Martin O’Neill had overspent during his time in charge, and Lerner had said before the 2010/11 season that finances needed to be sorted.
With Emile Heskey, Carlos Cuellar, Habib Beye and Brad Guzan now off the wage bill, Villa should be saving around £8m-a-year in wages alone. With money still left over from previous player sales and with Randy Lerner sure to offer the new manager some extra finance, I’m predicting that Villa will have at least £30m to strengthen what is currently a weak squad with very little depth.
I’m sure that a few under performing players may be shown the exit door when the new manager takes over too, thus increasing their transfer budget a little further.
If you believe what you read in the papers, Paul Lambert, Ole Gunnar Solskjær, Roberto Di Matteo and some other old managers that do not fit Villa’s age criteria for the job (for example McCarthy, Curbishley, MacDonald etc.) all want the job. Roberto Martinez has reportedly even gone as far as saying he would prefer the Villa job over Liverpool.
The point behind all of this
Whilst the money and chance to manage a club with great history will be a plus point for the new manager, why is it that so many people now want a job that no-one wanted to touch just a year ago?
The reason for this is simple. They simply can’t do a worse job than what Villa fans have seen over the past year. They will be financially backed, will instantly become a hit with the fans and results will (or at least should) be improved after one of Villa’s worst ever top flight seasons. They will come out of it as a hero with the fans and owners, and – more importantly for them – will have a glowing piece of work on their managerial CV. Revitalising one of the biggest clubs in English football in just one season will hardly go unnoticed.
This kind of work has been done on a slightly smaller scale with Martin O’Neill at Sunderland this season; the club didn’t deserve to be so low in the league, and the only way was up for them – but all of the credit has gone to the manager now that they have rectified their league position. I’m not criticising managers for doing this, in fact it’s anything but criticism, knowing when to take a job and when not to is a sign of great management.
If you look at Liverpool now, they are in exactly the same position that Villa were in last year, having the embarrassment of managers turning them down left, right and centre. This is all down to the task at hand, and with previous management overspending on average players it will be down to someone else to pick up the pieces whilst still being under pressure from fans and management to bring success back to the club.
Whoever Villa decide to appoint, with the names that are currently in the running (Solsjkær, Lambert & Martinez, apparently) we appear to have a much brighter future on the horizon.