Three seasons on the trot and in each one, the team achieves consecutive 6th place finishes in the Premier League. Now, to me and what I’m sure is the majority of the football community, Aston Villa were on the up and up, along with the likes of Tottenham and Manchester City. Perhaps the Birmingham outfit wasn’t on quite the same pace as the other two, but improving nonetheless. However, somewhere along the way they lost something, or maybe a distinct lack of someone was the issue. So we ask whether the managerial shift from Martin O’Neill to this season’s newcomer, Gerad Houllier is the sole reason for the Villans’ recent decline.
When Northern Irishman O’Neill left Aston Villa five days before the beginning of the 2010-11 season, the hearts of many Villa fans sank with a unanimous thud. Their manager was obviously guiding them to improvement, with a Carling Cup final under his belt in what turned out to be his last season. However, his departure was deemed foreseeable in the end, commenting that the main reason for him leaving was that he was “unhappy about the lack of funds necessary for the club to move on”.
The avid criminology fan was arguably correct in his argument, as clubs looking to increase notoriety on a larger scale need funds, and in today’s market, lots of it. So, when your biggest summer signature is Stewart Downing, for a team looking to push further into the European spots, sometimes great management just isn’t enough.
This is showing, too. Frenchman Gerard Houllier succeeded O’Neill with Premier League experience to his name. His tenure at Liverpool yielded mixed reviews, winning titles European and Domestic in his first few years with the club, however trailed off in success. Nevertheless, American owner Randy Lerner showed faith in Houllier, breaking the teams’ transfer record with the winter signature of Darren Bent. So, how ironic is it that the departure of Martin O’Neill ultimately triggers the downfall of the team, despite Lerner finally going back on his low-transfer budget ruling.
The team currently sit in 16th place, a mere two points out of the relegation zone. Plus, the added pressure of only having seven games to seize salvation is anything but helpful. West Ham and Wigan are both games that will be absolutely essential to the survival of Villa. Both teams sit below the Villans and are just about as close as you can get to ‘six-pointers’.
West Ham are in decent form at the moment, unlucky to not have nabbed three points against Manchester United on the weekend. Also, with the bottom-half as tight as it has been all season, teams like Stoke, Wigan and of course Roy Hodgson’s unbeaten West Brom will all be tests of Houllier’s mettle. If that wasn’t bad enough, their survival might just need to be assured by Sunday 8th May. The reason for this being that the only two chances for points after that are against Arsenal and Liverpool, and I’d be willing to bet a one-point maximum from the two.
Needless to say, Aston Villa aren’t aiming for a fourth consecutive season in 6th spot, however if Gerard Houllier doesn’t prime his team soon, they’ll be facing a battle of another sort. What started out as a fight for European football, will end as a fight just to stay in the very league where football abroad is attainable. Martin O’Neill spent just over £20 million in his last transfer window at the club, and despite low funds being his reason for leaving, Houllier broke that barrier with just two signings. With that excuse gone, it’s understandable the club are looking to replace the manager. However, will they be looking in the Premier League bracket, or Championship?