Gerard Houllier may be public enemy number one with the Villa fans, but the club must stick with the Frenchman. Understandably the fans will be frustrated with Villa’s season, especially with the recent 1-0 home defeat to neighbours Wolves. But Houllier couldn’t have picked a tougher time to take over the manager’s job at Villa.
He joined as Aston Villa manager midway through September 2010; just two weeks after the transfer window had shut. The much heralded Martin O’Neill left the club in the lurch days before the season started; Kevin MacDonald steadied the ship somewhat, but never really looking like he wanted the job.
Houllier made a decent start to his Villa career, winning his first two games against Blackburn and Wolves respectively. The honeymoon period was soon over as Villa crashed to four consecutive league defeats, culminating in a 3-0 hammering by Roy Hodgson’s Liverpool.
Houllier was not just content with touching the “This is Anfield” sign, he said post game “If I have got to lose 3-0, I would prefer it to be to them as I like Liverpool.” If he hadn’t lost the support of the Villa fans yet, he had as soon as those comments left his lips.
The January transfer window gave an opportunity for the Villa board to back their under-pressure manager; a wheelbarrow full of money was thrown at Sunderland for Darren Bent. Villa had signed a proven Premier League goal scorer, perfect for a team who were toothless in front of goal.
Aston Villa’s forward line now resembles a Jamaican 4x100m relay team, the pace of Young, Agbonlahor, Bent and Delfouneso is frightening. But it’s clear to see that Villa’s problems lie at the back, they have shipped a huge amount of goals this season – 55 in 29 games.
Gerard Houllier’s methods may not suit the modern-day Premiership football a la Stephen Ireland, mobile phone bans, strict discipline and meticulous attention to detail has alienated some of the Villa squad. Such a radical change in methods takes time and patience, something which Villa doesn’t have much of right now.
You only have to look back at Houllier’s time at Liverpool to see results he achieved; winning 5 trophies in one year was unprecedented at the time. He inherited a very patchy Liverpool side, and soon made radical changes in how the club was run. Admittedly, things nose-dived for him towards the end of his reign at Anfield but you can attribute that to his health issues.
It’s undeniable that Houllier has made mistakes over the last 6 months at Villa Park, his handling of the Liverpool game was woeful. Then you have the weakened side he fielded against Man City in the FA Cup, supposedly keeping his first team fresh for the critical league game against Bolton, which they still lost 3-2.
Villa need to ensure safety, their next six games are very winnable, starting with Everton tomorrow and im confident that the players and manager will pull Villa out of the mess they are in – despite the James Collins and Richard Dunne comedy double act in defence.
Houllier and his back room staff will then clear out those players who aren’t with him, and recruit players willing to play for Villa and Houllier. And next season, we will see a very different team and Martin O’Neill will be just a distant memory.