Gerard Can Bridge the Gap

Before the appointment of our new manager, all seemed lost. The last minute defeat at the Britannia Stadium was, for me, the straw that broke the camel’s back. Villa had destroyed Stoke for 45 minutes; they scented blood; we wore them down. Come the second half, we were once again praying for the final whistle: the team sank deeper and deeper and another away loss was not a matter of how – it was simply a matter of time. There are very few things in this world which are much worse than the feeling of inevitability – the expectancy of your team to lose. World poverty… “Justified” war… Slavery… sure, they are bad – but losing faith in your football team is right up there.

And for me, in my over-analytical self, it’s dangerous when your club becomes uninspiring. I need something to hope in, something to believe, something to look forward to – but assessing the team just six weeks ago, there was nothing evident but an abundance of apathy. The difference between The Villains and the higher realms of the Premier League were all-too-apparent, and this realisation unfortunately spawned frustration on my part towards some of my beloved players – even Friedel.

I love Brad, he’s one of the best Goalkeepers ever in the Premier League, but in the midst of my criticizing-crusade, he was not spared. The reason? As petty as it is, he was failing to clear the ball effectively from back passes. Instead of taking a touch, he was rushing these kicks and merely serving to slice the ball out of play or find an opposition player and inviting consistent attacks on our defence.

Our defence? Boy, were they getting up my nose. Luke Young, in fairness, was playing some good stuff but his flat feet and lack of pace was being exposed way too much down our right side (he would look good in a better team who could keep possession better, but he was not the man we needed when under so much pressure). And speaking of pressure, James Collins… a lionheart for sure, but his inability to play football and over-willingness to play safe all the time invites unneccessary pressure and contributes to the eventual buckling of our back line. Ironically, if only Richard Dunne could have taken a few leaves out of James’ book – because his constant ignorance to clearing the ball at the right time is not healthy for any supporters’ heart. And Warnock’s rash challenges ensured that he matched the achievements of our other back 4 in securing the record for how many opportunities a football team could hand to their opponents in a 90 minute period.

Of course, the defence was not the only problem. I’m not sure if we were playing anyone at centre midfield in the first 6 weeks of the season. And passes you can see which should be made, were taking 3 or 4 exchanges before the ball got to where it should have in one. We were relying too heavily on a good cross to the box, or a moment of magic from Ashley – the rest of the team would not have been worthy of a place in any of last year’s top four – by some distance (with the exception of Brad in Arsenal’s team of course). No one was making a difference; doing something which left the opposition at a disadvantage – and it all had me thinking what I have just written in the last two paragraphs.

Thankfully, along came Houllier. And whilst a lot of the problems with individual players still exist, they are not as prevalent as they once were – everything’s easier when your tales are up. Moreover, we’re playing some footie. Petrov is getting involved (at times), Reo Coker is a hero, and Heskey is bullying the opponents. We’re going toe-to-toe with Champions League teams like Spurs and Chelsea, and the increasing possession, the increasing confidence, the increasing goalscoring chances has the French man’s increasing stamp written all over it. All this in the space of 6 weeks.

What is most impressive, is that we are doing this with the same sqaud of players. Whatever’s happening behind closed doors is delivering a response in front of the TV cameras. The players know their jobs more precisely; their flaws are less of an issue and we are once again a feared force. I wonder what will be in another 6 weeks time… and another 6 weeks after that (the transfer window). More hearteningly, I wonder what will happen at the Stadium of Light tomorrow afternoon.

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Hero of the Month (September)

This is not a retraction. This is certainly not an apology. This is just a fair analysis of which Aston Villa member deserves to be accredited with the recognition of having performed the most heroics for the club this past month.

Yet again, young Albrighton has been sniffing about. The 20 year old never ceases to give 100% for his West-Midlands club and sits level with Ashley Young on top of our assists chart (having played one game less). I think it’s also important to remember that this season is the first time Marc was starting on an Aston Villa league line up; and with only 6 premiership games under his belt, it’s heartening that Albrighton is already contributing more than should be expected.

Ashley Young… last month’s hero didn’t let up this time around as the current stats show the number 7 on top of both our assists and goalscoring tallies. He will probably feel hard-done-by to miss out on such a prestigious accolade for a second successive month.

September proved to be a so-so time for an Aston Villa fan. With just one player chipping in with 5 minutes worth at Wembley, we followed a last minute heartbreak at Stoke up with an uninspiring deadlock at home to Bolton. Then, we found a remedy… temporarily at least.

"Where are you?"

I’ve probably been Emile’s biggest critic, consistently – and I am not about to go back on all I have criticized him for. But hey, credit where credit is due. Aston Villa competed 4 times last month. They won twice – the games where big Hess featured. After a sterling contribution to our League Cup victory, I joked that maybe we could forgive and give him yet another chance. In response, Dan from http://astonvillacentral.com/ correctly remarked, “One swallow doesn’t make a summer…”

But for me, two swallows make for a sunny September.

Having succumbed to Sam Alardyce’s cosmic football at Ewood Park, Gerard Houllier introduced his old guard 58 minutes into the cup tie. Lo-and-behold, one minute later, parity was restored as Heskey raced onto a Young through ball, bore down on goal and fired across the keeper with his left foot in rather unfamiliar fashion.

His ball from the right wing, to seal that game’s fate, 18 minutes later was delicious, perfect, Albrighton-esc. And after 30 minutes under his old Liverpool boss, the number 18 had turned the game around and we had a rejuvenated Emile Heskey.

People have said that his 120 minutes of decent football are down to the belief injected in him by Villa’s new French man. But O’Neill’s relentless selection of Heskey was hardly damaging to his confidence. However, at the risk of branding myself a knee-jerk reporter, I believe that there could be some form of substance, for Emile, to Houllier’s arrival.

Think of the best manager you’ve worked under. The man (or woman) who had you playing above yourself. The boss you could relate to, who could relate to you. The one you loved training with. I know, from my own experiences, that if my favourite manager arrived at the club or college where I was currently playing football, despite whatever relationship I have with the current manager and teammates, something would change. It wouldn’t be a conscious change, it wouldn’t be a physical one. But I’d be excited, buzzing, and I would probably once again automatically play above myself, just at the mere sight of my old gaffer. So I can sympathise with Emile’s new esteem.

Of course, as I said, he has only been involved in two games in September, 120 minutes. But when he wasn’t playing this month, we lost to Stoke, drew with Bolton and were down to Blackburn. When he did play, we overturned Rovers (emphatically) and beat Wolves – Houllier secured a 100% record.

The Villa banged in 7 goals in September. When The Mule played, they scored 5. His outstanding header at Mollineaux not only silenced the opposition critics, but it shut me up, and of course sent us on our way to another derby day victory. It meant that Heskey was two from two under the new French regime, and after his Key Goal Contribution to our first goal (his first touch and dangerous, direct run which drew defenders meant that his involvement in Downing’s goal couldn’t go unnoticed) that day, and following his beautiful assist at Ewood Park, Emile ensured that Villa were indebted to him for 4 of our 5 goals throughout his time on the pitch – yes, 80%.

It’s difficult for me to praise the lad so much, because he is still a third choice striker in my Villa team. Nonetheless, responsible for the vast majority of what was good about our September, it was too hard to overlook him this time; and for once, I take my hat off to him, and award September’s Hero of the Month to Emile Heskey.

Thanks for the memories, Emile.

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Hero of the Month (August)

As The Villa prepare for their first piece of September action tonight, I take a look back at the club’s most outstanding member throughout the month of August.

Yes, Kevin MacDonald deserves his credit. He was thrown into the deep-end with just 5 days to prepare, he got the boys motivated, the club united – and despite a couple of bad results, he got us into the top 4; securing a 100% Villa Park league record with zero goals conceded along the way.

But with all the off-field uncertainty heavily circulating in the wake of O’Neill’s resignation (and that uncertainty is still rife with the FFF shenanigans), it’s refreshing to see that a lot of things on the field are falling into place nicely.

It would be fitting to award young Marc Albrighton with the coveted Hero of the Month accolade. After just 5 appearances (one start) last year, the 20 year old has already matched this in the first month of the new season (but has started 5 times) and chipped in impressively with 3 assists in the first two games. Getting stuck in and coming of age, he just misses out this month.

Winner

It was much, much too difficult to overlook Ashley Young however. Being used in a new role behind the front man, boy he is thriving. His anticipation and quick feet, not to mention his excellent first touch, make him such a danger that it’s hard to see how we can make room for both Agbonlahor and Carew. The freedom afforded to Ashley is extremely comforting as a Villa supporter and knowing that he can pop up on either wing or come through the centre without the restrictions of a flank position makes his new role a natural selection for him.

Ashley Young…

So far this season, Aston Villa have banged in 7 goals. Of these, our number 7 has played a major role in 5. I keep a tally of all our goals and when I credit someone with a ‘Key Goal Involvement’, they need to have a telling contribution to the goal and not simply a pass back to the man who assisted – a game changing input merits a Key Goal Involvement.

Young has provided two Key Goal Involvements in that without his input, the goals may very well not have taken place. On top of this, the 25 year old successfully completed 3 direct assists (more impressively, they were 3 balls which many others would have struggled to make). Furthermore, Ashley won a penalty against Newcastle which, had it been converted, would have changed the landscape of THAT St James’ Park memory (he also should have had a stonewall penalty against Rapid Wien).

Moreover, the transfer talk involving our prized asset was so unsettling that when Young committed to Villa with such assurance, it was not only a confidence boost to the club, but a real testament to the substance of the main man. And now we hear talk of a new contract on the horizon.

Not only this, but as the only Villa based player to win a spot in the national side, Ashley Young’s key role in 71.4% of our goals didn’t go unnoticed and it is with genuine ease that I award him the title of my meaningless Hero of the Month.

Congratulations, Ashley.

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Gerard Houllier – The SILVER Lining

Last night, I had a dream (excuse the M. L. King impersonation). Aston Villa, under the management of newly appointed Gerard Houllier, took to Wembley stadium to compete in the F.A Cup final – and were successful. So real was this dream that I, in a state of semi-conscious delusion, text a Liverpool fan, who had sneered at Villa’s new recruit, to say,    😉

(Not my wittiest text message).

But silverware aside, the “day out” ignored; with all the infested water that has gone under the crumbling bridge in recent times, the most pleasing thing about this “dream” was that we were, once again, a force. We were fighting. We were, once again, Aston Villa.

And after Houllier’s press conference at Villa Park today, I couldn’t help but think that one day soon this vision could become a reality – in the same style Liverpool’s fortunes were rejuvenated throughout his time in charge.

For 6 years, prior to Gerard’s reign, Liverpool, the most successful club in English football, had just one League Cup to their name. But after clinching the club’s first European trophy for 17 years, their first FA Cup in 9 years, along with a further 3 competitive trophies, Houllier served to reinstall the pride of Liverpool Football Club and what it is all about – winning.

I was looking to create a balanced argument with this piece. Yes, he has won silverware in England (a feat which has evaded us for 15 years), in fact he has been remarkably successful in every managerial role within his unblemished career – but can he cope with the Premier League? Can he cope in the transfer market?

One glance at his decision to reject the chance to sign loanee Nicolas Anelka in favour of splashing £10m on the erratic El Hadjii Diouf would suggest that we have just recruited an extremely risqué manager. Yes, Diouf is an extremely talented footballer but managed to flop extraordinarily at Liverpool. Now, he is a good player for Blackburn Rovers; Anelka is a world beater. And £14m for Cisse? Okay, he scores goals and Houllier never got a chance to use him in his Liverpool reign – but again, what an expensive mistake for someone who is now spending his best footballing years in Greece.

Throughout his stint on Merseyside, Houllier averaged 65 points in the league; whereas Villa achieved 64 last year. More worryingly, the 3 years preceding his tenure at Anfield (the first years of 38 games per season), Liverpool, without Houllier, were averaging 68 points each season and thus went downhill under the Frenchman. And with fewer Champions League spots available in the 90s, Liverpool weren’t rewarded for top 4 or top 3 finishes pre-Gerard. Maybe he had the benefit of these new places.

However, it would be unfair to leave this article as it is. Because after sharing over 3 months of his first season with Roy Evans, Houllier’s arrival only served to oversee a 7th place finish after an uninspiring 54 points were achieved. Crucially, this was the key factor in the decline in average points for the Reds. And after undergoing an overhaul of the club’s internal and external structure, its staff, personnel and facilities, this year wasn’t even wasted as Liverpool shot right back into the top 4 the following season with 67 points – before winning a top 3 Champions League position amidst their “treble” winning season.

Our new manager also led The Pool in their first title challenge for 12 years, securing 80 points. In fact, if we ignore his first season (which was shared with a joint manager, and which is recommended in a lot of research to abandon as it should simply be the season the manager is testing the water) in the Premier League, Houllier secured overall consistency with Liverpool’s past league form and matched an average of 68 points – but added silverware on top. Moreover, his ability to rally high points tallies (albeit in an inconsistent manner) brought about a 21st century Champions League legacy to Liverpool (3 qualifications) which eventually led to THAT final in 2005. Now, I’m not suggesting that he built the best team in Europe (far from it), but what cannot be denied is that 12 out of the 14 players who competed in the Istanbul victory over AC Milan were all members of the Houllier era. Benitez clearly did remarkably, remarkably well to turn them into Champions League winners, but they were still players who were proven to be a team capable of such a feat – a team built by the French man.

His former players seem to kneel at his feet, and coming highly recommended by one of the best players in the world and national captain Steven Gerrard, Houllier certainly has this writer’s full backing. Working at all levels of football (club and country), equipped with experience of every type of club, Houllier has adapted to create success wherever he goes – in the French lower divisions, with Lens, with PSG, with Liverpool, with Lyon. He has proved his worth – so much so that it has quashed an article which I wanted to remain neutral. And so much so that I believe those mistakes he has made in the past have had ample time to be learned from.

Today, he spoke of a “new era” in Aston Villa Football Club. He admitted that success cannot come overnight, that the Champions League positions are a stretch, that the January transfer window is a tough one. But he also said, “I am hungry…

And just like he overturned the apathy of Liverpool 10 years ago, just like his achievements elsewhere, Houllier can now very well be the remedy to awaken Aston Villa from its deep coma.

HOU’s With Me?

When he comes in, he knows what he wants and he knows how to get a winning team” (Steven Gerrard)

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CURB Your Enthusiasm

On the 11th August, regarding the replacement of Martin O’Neill, I wrote this about Alan Curbishley:

I’m a fan of Alan, however I know some will say that his consideration would be a question of ambition. Unquestionably a safe option, ‘Curbs’ is still to bring success to a Premier League side and I have a feeling that his appointment would be met with unenthused groans by hardcore Villains.

But I look at it differently.

After overseeing 2 promotions and top flight consolidation with Charlton Athletic, Curbishley remarkably (and famously) saved newly promoted West Ham’s season from certain relegation with just 5 months to work with – and later turning them into a top ten outfit the year after.

Although it might not get me jumping from my seat, I would support the acquisition of Curbs, the former Villain, and would remember that everyone deserves their chance once they’ve earned it.

If football was so elitist and managers could not climb available ladders of opportunity, we would not currently be treated by the work of David Moyes, the beauty of Wenger football – and dare I say it, we would have no Alex Ferguson.

Unfortunately, I was right. And what I predicted to be “unenthused groans” has spread like wildfire and prolonged to smear the pretty much unblemished reputation of Alan Curbishley.

So am I missing something?

Because the last time I checked, it was considered a decent achievement to take a team from modern day Championship obscurity to secure their status as a top flight club. It was also considered impossible to guide a team, bottom of the table at Christmas, to Premier League safety (a newly promoted team at that), let alone turn them into a top 10 side just one season later.

Curbishley has proven that he can uncover hidden gems within a low budget (God, wouldn’t that be nice right now). Charlton bought and sold Darren Bent (a player who bagged almost a goal in every two games for him) for a £14m profit. Curbs was also responsible for the emergence of England internationals such as Paul Konchesky, Lee Bowyer and Scott Parker, through the Charlton Academy (miniscule compared to that of Villa’s).

Maybe this will prove to be an unpopular post, but I can’t get my head around the over-criticism that Alan is receiving. Yes, he isn’t a big name, and Aston Villa are a big club. But I wonder where the Everton nay-sayers are right now who weren’t so convinced at the prospect of a relatively unproven Preston North End manager taking charge of their giant club. I wonder where the ‘Arsene Who?’ campaign has disintegrated to as the French man delivered unrivalled success at a “bigger” club.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to see Moyes get the job – even Sven. But I will not ignorantly fob off the idea of Alan Curbishley getting a chance at a club the size he deserves for some unfounded reason. Maybe it is a backwards step from O’Neill; maybe there are bigger names out there – but the reality is that we have to find the best candidate, the best interested candidate, available for the job now. And Alan should not be dismissed just because he hasn’t had the chance at a top club yet, just because he hasn’t been in the position to deliver cup success yet. He has had just two jobs to date, and he has been unquestionably successful in both.

Proven in Premier League combat, Curbishley can keep poor teams, poor clubs afloat in the top flight – on top of the assurance of top half experience which he possesses. His appointment to Villa Park would not be a “risk”. At worst, it would be another unsuccessful attempt at Champions League Qualification, and maybe a narrow displacement outside the top 6 (a feat which was always going to be a challenge this year anyway).

So should Curbs get the nod by Mr Lerner, I will welcome him and look forward to what he can bring to the table with a better team and improved resources.

The Charlton Athletic website dedicates a section to their former boss, headered:

Alan Curbishley had been the Charlton manager since 1991. During his time in charge the club has evolved from a league side on the brink of financial ruin, into an established Premiership side with European ambitions.’

I wonder what evolution he can bring to Aston Villa, already a Premiership side, already a club with more than just European ambitions.

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The Next Villa Manager

“Two of the traits we believe are of crucial importance are that candidates have experience of managing in the Premier League and a strategy for building on the existing strengths in our current squad.”

With the promise of the installation of a permanent manager before the next league game, Villa Chief Executive Paul Faulkner fuelled the fire of anticipation ahead of the interview selection process.

Of course, with this statement, the club have not categorically confirmed that they will appoint someone who has previously managed in the English Premier League, but they have given us some, if very miniscule, indication at least of the type of personnel they are looking to attract.

And with the next league fixture being held at the Britannia Stadium, MON’s successor surely has a tough short term task on his hands – but more importantly, he will arrive with the expectation of kickstarting a stalled vehicle and indeed building on the existing strengths in our current squad.

So as the race for the hot seat rises in temperature, I thought I’d take a look at the updated list of potential candidates burdened with the seemingly thankless job of awakening the sleeping giant.

Sven Goran Eriksson 7/2

Strangely, I think Sven’s personal life precedes him. Instantly, when people hear his name, they laugh or sigh and construe him as some sort of performing jester – in the wrong profession.

But as a football manager, I have to admit that the Swede has led an unblemished career and I would find it difficult to hold any objections to his appointment as next Villa manager.

Sven was fast-tracked into national acclaim after a superb one-season-wonder job with Degerfors as a young manager; and unbelievably, right up until his engagement with the English national team, Eriksson only failed to deliver silverware with just one club in those 23 years. His success as a club manager is indisputable. Even very recently, with Man Shitty, the 62 year old sex god mentored the Sky Blues’ best season for decades – dragging an underperforming club, devoid of a trophy in 30 years, into the Premier League top 10, winning two Manchester derbies (first time since 69-70) in the process before being bizarrely axed despite the infamous ‘Save Our Sven’ campaign.

I never understood why he wasn’t appreciated throughout his England tenure either. Imagine the shame of 3 consecutive tournament Quarter Finals (only Brazil matched this), or the embarrassment of being dumped out by Brazil (eventual champions), Portugal (the host country after a penalty shootout after that Urs Meier incident), and another penalty shootout defeat by Portugal in 2006 (with 10 men). In fact, England achieved their highest FIFA ranking of 4th in the world under the guidance of their lambasted manager – and after topping each of his qualifying groups, Eriksson was then succeeded by Steve McClaren who failed to even reach a major tournament.

Surprisingly, the only actual failure of Sven’s career came throughout his time at Mexico. Not bad for 33 years in football management eh? Yes, he had the benefit of a fantastically generous financial backing at Lazio, but after providing a return of 7 trophies in just 4 seasons, Eriksson proved to be sure-fire value for money.

Even his other apparent flops in the transfer market have proved a lot of people wrong. I’m probably Corluka’s biggest critic, but he is the one now starting for a Champions League outfit every week at Spurs. And I’ll put my hands up and admit that I hadn’t heard of Geovanni or Martin Petrov – but both turned out to be real gems. And of course, Elano “The Piledriver” won a place in a Brazilian first XI after being let loose by Eriksson. As a Premier League manager in the transfer market, I believe that Rolando Bianchi was Sven’s only dud (and an expensive mistake at that).

So his proven competencies within the field of management are indisputable and Sven would not only be a very safe option, but an exciting one at that. Having passed his only Premier League test to date, and achieving status as one of England’s best manager’s in a long, long while, Eriksson could be the perfect choice to take charge of a team full of Britons at Bodymoor Heath.

Kevin MacDonald 4/1

Tough one. Yes, he masterminded 9 conceded goals in 2 games and we foolishly failed to close out the game against Rapid Vienna, but Kevin currently has us in Champions League contention.

Of course, I’m speaking extremely prematurely and the Everton performance wasn’t heartening at all – but we won. Last season, we bowed out of Europe at the same stage, to the same team, and we leaked 7 goals at Stamford Bridge. The players’ leader, Petrov, has already backed the Scot to be given the permanent position and it would provide a simple and smooth transition from the Martin O’Neill era.

I like MacDonald’s calm and seemingly calculated approach before, during and after games, and after 15 years of service, 3 successive Reserve titles, a victory against top 8 rivals, and backing and response from the players, maybe Kevin deserves another stint to show us what he can do.

And hey, if it doesn’t work, it’s not as if that would deter Sven from throwing his hat back in the ring should the opportunity arise in the future.

Gerard Houllier 5/1

Again, another name which shouldn’t be taken lightly. At the age of just 38, he delivered the French league title to PSG before returning to Lyon to bring back-to-back doubles in his latest managerial stint.

On top of this, the former French coach not only overseen the regeneration of Liverpool’s training facilities, but he was responsible for bringing the club out of relative obscurity and into the 21st century in a proud tradition after reclaiming their first European trophy for 17 years and ensuring that, along with his 50% win ratio, he left a Champions League legacy (3 qualifications) which eventually grew habitual for the Reds.

However, only averaging 65 points throughout his time at Liverpool (one more than Villa’s season last year), it is hard to judge how well Houllier would do with a lesser outfit. But, taking a Liverpool team (who had won just a mere League Cup in the 6 year built up to his time in charge) to 2nd place with 80 points, Gerard proved that he knows how to acquire points in the Premier League.

I’d be more interested than excited to see the appointment of Houllier.

Alan Curbishley 8/1

I’m a fan of Alan, however I know some will say that his consideration would be a question of ambition. Unquestionably a safe option, ‘Curbs’ is still to bring success to a Premier League side and I have a feeling that his appointment would be met with unenthused groans by hardcore Villains.

But I look at it differently.

After overseeing 2 promotions and top flight consolidation with Charlton Athletic, Curbishley remarkably (and famously) saved newly promoted West Ham’s season from certain relegation with just 5 months to work with – and later turning them into a top ten outfit the year after.

Although it might not get me jumping from my seat, I would support the acquisition of Curbs, the former Villain, and would remember that everyone deserves their chance once they’ve earned it.

If football was so elitist and managers could not climb available ladders of opportunity, we would not currently be treated by the work of David Moyes, the beauty of Wenger football – and dare I say it, we would have no Alex Ferguson.

Ronald Koeman 10/1

Hard to argue with an overall managerial win percentage of almost 62% isn’t it (even if the majority of his career has been spent in Holland)?

Ronald is a proven winner and led an extremely limited Vitesse outfit to a momentous European spot with a severely restricted financial backing in his first job as manager.

Success at every club he has taken, Koeman even delivered the Copa del Rey for Valencia (their first in 9 years) in the midst of an otherwise poor season.

Unfamiliar with his strategic approach, I’m impressed with his acclaims to date and would view the capture of the young manager as an exciting step for our club.

Martin Jol 16/1

Why not?

Spurs treated him like dirt and after two consecutive top 5 finishes, the North London contingent were the only losers from his sacking after they wound up with Juande Ramos.

The Dutch man is still a relatively untravelled coach but his early years in the Netherlands saw him deliver a KNVB Cup in his first season as a football boss, before later winning 2 different Manager of the Year awards in 2 different seasons.

Spent big bucks on Darren Bent who let him down – and I am a big Bent critic, but boy he has proven that he will get goals and thus, has in some way justified Jol’s evaluation of him. I also wouldn’t just brandish Danny Murphy a write off. For £2m, Martin was investing in valuable experience for his squad and after leading Fulham to a Europa League Final, the Liverpudlian is still doing it.

What excites me most about Jol is not that he has followed on his Tottenham career with quick success at Hamburger and Ajax. No, it’s that he brought the likes of Dimitar Berbatov, Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale to the Premier League for under £17m. How much would those 3 cost today? (Berbatov already made the club over a £20m profit)

After Eriksson, the 54 year old Dutch man would certainly be my choice to fill the void left by O’Neill. However, I fear he could remain committed to Ajax – but will surely feel that he has some unfinished business with the Premier League.

Phil Brown 20/1

Nope.

Unfortunately, the name of David Moyes doesn’t even appear on the William Hill website, but by golly, wouldn’t that be nice. I thought he could be lured by the temptation of improved financial backing at our club (which appears to have, at least temporarily, evaporated), and the realisation that he has taken Everton as far as he could. But the jump to Aston Villa will probably prove an all-too-sidewards step at this stage for the Scottish man, who has built his own squad with The Toffees and is probably destined for greater things (when another infamous Scot retires).

For me, we are blessed with a nice choice of potential applicants, with a blending variety. We could afford to be conservative, play it safe, take a risk or go for gold – it’s up to the board now. But the future doesn’t seem as bleak as a lot of people might think and even some of the disapproved names have undoubted talent which Villains should open their minds to.

Either way, we can look forward to the optimism and hope of a new regime in the near future. And judging by the criteria, or hints, set by Paul Faulkner, the above names should be topping the list – and I am one fan who is happy to see some of those managers in the running.

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The Rollercoaster Continues

And so, after 9 conceded goals in just 2 games, after European elimination, after failing to fill 8063 (almost 19%) seats, and lets be honest, after some dreadful, dreadful football, Aston Villa overturned their first big challenge of the season to climb proudly into the last remaining Champions League spot.

Football’s a funny old thing isn’t it?

Because as surely as this high will soon be quashed by a poor result elsewhere in the season, I’m going to once again allow myself to be blinded by the optimism and take a look at how positive things can sometimes be for an Aston Villa fan.

The Challengers

Yes, we are only 3 games into the season, but we are hanging onto the coattails of the Big Three better than anyone else in the league, and last year’s fourth place residents have already proven that they will be unable to cope with both the physical and mental demands of a midweek European match (even at such a premature stage). Tottenham have a good squad full of depth and talent – but the requirement of Champions League teams to peak twice in the one week, and not prioritise competitions, is a whole new experience for Spurs and their potential six more hangovers could prove detrimental in their domestic campaign.

Man City have a better squad full of deeper talent, but are fortunately blessed with an incompetent Premier League manager. After completely outplaying Liverpool, I rated the Sky Blues as a shoe-in for a Top 4 place – only for their overpaid personnel to demonstrate how they are suspect to neglect “lesser” league opponents this year off the back of more glamorous fixtures. And as long as Mancini concerns himself with not losing (rather than trying to win), the players at his disposal will remain restricted and limited and open to defeats by unexpected midtable challengers.

Liverpool are unconvincing as ever. Unlucky to be suffering the frustrations of a transition period, Hodgson could take time to gather momentum for the wounded Reds. But still blessed with Gerrard and Torres, Villa should hope that this progress takes longer than it should.

Obviously it is a massive ask to expect the mess that is Aston Villa to secure a Top 4 spot (particularly this season), but it is extremely heartening to realise that maybe the grass isn’t much greener on the other side after all.

Everton

Okay, we were abysmal at times today. The first half was largely pathetic and the exciting dominance we enjoyed against The Hammers just two weeks ago never seemed so far away. It was like MacDonald was reverting back to the conservative style of Martin O’Neill – except under this manager, we were unable to carve any chances unlike the MON days. We got men behind the ball, sure, and we limited the opposition effectively, but on the ball, the Villains were clueless. Indeed, but for a poor and completely unsuccessful Fellaini clearance, I might not ever have written this piece (The O’Neill team were always outplayed, but never lacked direction or danger). The final 20 minutes of the game: I’d rather not discuss. I never thought it was possible to become short of breath by sitting down – but boy, that was a stressful time.

Unlucky

However, I’ve said it before and I am delighted to say it again: In sport, you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you take.

Besides, whatever the caretaker boss said at half time had a temporary effect on the team who were finally standing toe-to-toe with Everton and should have even put them away within that half hour spell. Ashley Young and John Carew had Distin on toast, and when we began to take them on, the Blue backline were struggling to find answers. Phil Jagielka produced a first class, last ditch block from Ashley Young’s rebound after big, bad John’s parried shot meant Tim Howard could only look on in hope. Similarly, Marc Albrighton showed his inexperience by rushing a rebounded shot from the opposite side when he could have firstly taken a touch. Everton never came as close as we did – and after refusing to give in to the pressure, we got out of there alive.

Brad Friedel

Yes, yes, yes. A quality goalkeeper is probably the most underrated, and conversely one of the most important, items within a football team. Producing a terrific reflex save from a Seamus Coleman flick, the American prevented certain heartbreak in the 94th minute to get a single fingertip to a Louis Saha shot which, at first glance, didn’t look threatening – thankfully Brad wasn’t as lax as I and went down, outstretched, to construct the game’s best save. A real relieving influence for a pressurized defence, Friedel’s impact in these 3 points should not be downplayed.

Luke Young

A case of humble pie for yours truly. Criticized on this very blog after his escapades in Newcastle, the number 2 produced his best performance in a long time to remind me why I had called for his selection on a number of occasions last year. Marauding into the penalty area, Young latched onto an inch perfect through ball from his namesake and effortlessly bent the ball into the top corner with his left foot – before completing the rest of the game in a sound manner and confidently making himself available as an attacking option time and time again. Apologies, Luke.

James Collins

Man of the Match contender. The Welsh man lived up to every inch of his beast-like stereotype with a ruthless performance at the heart of our defence in a game where anything less would have been catastrophic. Standing tall and putting league-bully Marouane Fellaini in his place with a commanding role, this match was made for James Collins.

Richard Dunne

I was a bit critical of ‘Dickey’ in the early stages of the game – accusing him of dwelling in possession and being clumsy in the tackle. But in hindsight, our number 5 was simply tactically cynical and tried to help out the midfield with a bit of ball retention in a no-nonsense display which swept the lethargy of St James’ Park under the carpet.

Stephen Warnock

I don’t know a lot, but I know that Stephen Warnock is a much more useful left back than Kieran Gibbs is. Another comforting solid match for the former Liverpool man, Everton’s right side was completely inept until the late introduction of Coleman, and like Luke, Warnock proved an attacking asset at least within our 30 minute spell. The entire defence should be credited with this victory after securing another clean sheet – defying the laws of averages (if you throw enough mud at the wall, some of it will stick – Everton threw an abundance of mud at the wall today, and none of it stuck).

Marc Albrighton

Another tough game to get through for Marc, I think he just about tipped the scales and won me over throughout the 90 minutes. Early signs of naivety were apparent as Leighton Baines pushed forward, but the 20 year old got to grips and ended up recreating a number of thankful defensive clearances. He had a real bite going into the tackle as well which eliminated my early fears that he wasn’t physically ready just yet. At times, he ran out of steam and got overexcited when he could have held the ball up, but he was certainly our biggest threat from a wide area on Sunday.

Nigel Reo Coker

Take a bow, Nigel. An injury to Stephen Ireland in the warm up meant that a substitute was required, and in our hour of need, Reo Coker stepped up. Going through his usual shift of hard work and commitment, the number 20 was much better suited to this game than our new signing would have been – and I can’t recall one single instance where the lad lost possession. Even pulling the team out of the trenches with a few lung bursting, both solo and supportive, runs, the Londoner is, in my opinion, the unsung hero and another shout for MOTM – and could probably feel hard done by should he lose his place after this performance.

Stiliyan Petrov

Much too quiet today. The skipper failed to ever really impose himself on the game and produce any kind of magic you would hope from your creative centre midfielder. Of course, still worked hard and was maybe a victim of the referee’s harsh away bias, but we needed more from Stan today and we didn’t get it – and had to ride our luck as a result.

Stewart Downing

Probably the weakest of the team today, Stewart hit a couple of notable misplaced passes and didn’t seem too interested in affecting change in the match either defensively or offensively (excuse the Bob Bradley twang). I was angered to see that Agbonlahor was not replacing the left winger. I would have moved Ashley out and played two up top because Downing simply was not on-song today.

Ashley Young

Boy, is he thriving off playing behind the striker. Tireless off-the-ball work, combined with our best avenue of keeping possession, Young added to his delicious assist with 94 minutes of direction for a struggling outfit. If only we could have used his unflappably constant threat more.

John Carew

The big man came through for us today. Again, wasn’t really given a chance with desperate balls being hoofed forward to his isolated positions, but the Norwegian still managed to play a key role in the goal with a nod down for Ashley, and he led the line well enough in difficult conditions. Maybe taken off too early just when he had the clear beating of Distin, Carew was a perfect example of a “good” individual performance in a poor team display, lacking a little direction.

Gabriel Agbonlahor

Good to see him back. He showed glimpses of his use by holding up the ball and running into channels away from defenders. He was used as a bit of relief at times, but in truth, he was involved at a time where the game was being played in our box.

Although the team performance clearly wasn’t up to scratch, a number of individuals still demonstrated their value and showed that we are still a force if they can be moulded together (there was NO cohesion today and we still came away with the points).

Another clean sheet at Villa Park was the key to our 100% league record at home – a place where we failed to win 8 (42%) games last year.

Things were bleak just yesterday, and even throughout the game, alarm bells are clearly ringing. But just one glance at the Premier League table would suggest that we’re reaching any targets we are audacious enough to set in today’s environment, and it would confirm that once again, Aston Villa is overperforming.

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