Tag Archives: houllier

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.


Leave a comment

Filed under 10/11 Season, Gerard Houllier, Uncategorized

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under 10/11 Season, Hero of the Month, Players, Uncategorized

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.


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.

Leave a comment

Filed under 10/11 Season, Hero of the Month, Players, Uncategorized

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)

Leave a comment

Filed under 10/11 Season, Gerard Houllier, Transfer Talk, Uncategorized