THE current Premier League table is highly misleading in regard to my recent visit to Villa Park: Aston Villa in fourth place?
That’s got to be a mistake. They were absolutely battered by Everton and didn’t even deserve one point, never mind all three.
So the likely announcement today that the former Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier will head up the new management team comes not a moment too soon. Whatever the well-meaning Kevin McDonald – he’ll have a substantial coaching role in the structure – Villa’s troops looked in disarray to me.
I can’t say it came as a surprise. There aren’t many teams that could shrug off a scenario in which their manager walks out with only a few days to go before the start of the season.
Now I don’t know what Martin O’Neill’s reasoning was. He does but he hasn’t explained it properly or, at least, publicly. But I refuse to accept that much had changed between the middle of May and the middle of August.
Sure, you don’t want to see a player of James Milner’s ability depart for pastures greener elsewhere but Manchester City offered ridiculous money and it would have been absurd for Villa to turn it down.
Perhaps it was O’Neill learning that he wouldn’t be allowed to spend that money? But, for goodness sake, was the relationship between manager and owner so bad that that wasn’t known months ago?
No, I found the timing of O’Neill’s departure absolutely appalling: arguably, it was inexcusable. And I am scratching my head wondering what the future for the Irishman will be. He isn’t going to become manager of Manchester United, City, Chelsea, Arsenal or Liverpool. His only move is down.
Talk of England is ludicrous. Even if you think he’s a good enough coach, ‘Irish’ doesn’t equate to ‘English’ if the FA is to be believed about their intentions post-Capello.
However, to return to more important matters: Villa. I think Houllier is a good choice whatever his precise role turns out to be and so-called player unrest should be shrugged aside. Bob Bradley is overrated. I can’t take Jurgen Klinsmann seriously: he’s a figurehead rather than a coach. And the likes of Hiddink were unobtainable.
Houllier is unquestionably talented and clearly believes he still has a point to prove in English football. Until the last year or so, he did a really good job at Liverpool but, perhaps distracted by illness, he didn’t seem to see that his time was coming to a close.
He might have got the job at Newcastle but, in retrospect, the timing wouldn’t have been right there. This is far better.
O’Neill has left behind a decent squad even if, at times, it seemed unnecessarily threadbare.
Presumably, Randy Lerner has assured the Frenchman that, spending wisely, the money will be there to put that right, if not in January, then next summer.
Though Alex McLeish is making great progress with Birmingham City, I still view Villa as the leading club in the Midlands. And, with an excellent ground, a substantial body of supporters and, evidence still suggests, a good owner, there is no reason to think that Villa can’t regularly be a top-six side.
And it’s probably wise not to expect anything more than that.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved