The Midlander: Much more of this Houllier soap opera and Villa really will slide out of the trapdoor

07 January 2011 03:12
Let's imagine for a minute that you had deliberately set about sabotaging Aston Villa Football Club.

Bearing in mind that you had to remain in paid employment to carry out your dastardly plan, what would you do?

Sinking ship: Gerard Houllier is facing increasing calls to quit after just six months

    More from Neil Moxley. The Midlander: Winter of discontent beckons for Birmingham City16/12/10 The Midlander: Gerard Houllier is left fighting a losing battle after his own goal at Anfield10/12/10 The Midlander: Carling Cup win would be FAN-tastic but try telling McLeish02/12/10 The Midlander: Nigel Clough may be the son of Brian but he's his own man25/11/10 THE MIDLANDER: Forget United. England's real academy is at Villa18/11/10 The Midlander: Billy's done a good job at Forest but he's playing a risky game11/11/10 THE MIDLANDER: The new, exciting Houllier looks a lot like the old dull one03/11/10 The Midlander: Eriksson is sharpening the knife for change at Leicester27/10/10 VIEW FULL ARCHIVEFor a start, you could alienate the senior players who helped the club to a sixth-placed finish last season.

You could publicly belittle a new £8million signing, who admitted he was short of confidence at his unveiling, knowing that his brittle mental state would cause him to disappear from view.

You could continue a long feud with your star striker, the leading goalscorer over the past three seasons.

You could commit a large chunk of the club's money to a has-been, a late thirty-something who will play a bit-part in the season.

You could over-play the youngsters. Watching their confidence ebb away as results worsen along with the league position.

You could return to a former club, make a big show about how much you still feel for that former club without a second's thought for the fact you are representing your current one.

You could then bring back your senior players in a bid to save face, only to see them fail to support you where it matters most: out on the pitch.

You could hold team meetings, ask players to air their thoughts without fear of repercussion - and then axe them from the squad when they suggest improvements.

The fanzine editors at Birmingham City don't even need to make this up. 'Return to your St Andrew's base, agent Houllier, your job is almost done.' A cheap shot, yes, but what else does Gerard Houllier expect?

The fact of the matter is that had it not been for Ciaran Clark's late equaliser against a Chelsea team that is clearly struggling itself for form and confidence, Aston Villa would be sitting rock-bottom.

Villa owner Randy Lerner must be wondering where his cash has gone. He's blown the best part of £200m so far. And for what? European qualification - that, when push came to shove, was worth diddly-squat in Martin O'Neill's eyes.

Of course, the American has to admit culpability in one regard. After all, he's been the one writing the cheques. But surely he deserves better than this?

Latest blow: Phil Bardsley drills home Sunderland's winning goal at Villa Park on Wednesday

At this point, I'll hold my hands up. I advocated giving Houllier a chance. That was before he embarked on his one-man mission to lead Villa into the Championship.

I understand Lerner does not want to be seen as a 'hire 'em, fire 'em' chairman. That's all well and good. If people out there think industry is ruthless, let me tell you it has nothing on football.

It's why such outmoded characteristics like values and principles are long gone. It's professional sport - ie cash is involved. And lots of it.

I remember walking across Leicester City's training pitch with Micky Adams one day and asking how many managers he could count as friends. Micky is a personable guy, likeable, plays golf, enjoys a drink, family man, etc.

'Not many pal,' came the reply, 'when we go out there, it's war.'

So that's what's at stake. Actually, people's livelihoods would be lost at Villa Park, were the unthinkable to happen. Perhaps Mr Lerner should take that into account. I'm sure he does, he's a stand-up kinda guy. (If you'll pardon the Americanisation) But just when do you just hold up your hands and admit that you got it wrong?

After what took place on Wednesday night, it's surely a matter of time. In my opinion, Villa fans are quite slow to anger. Generally, they will put up a fair amount before being taken to a breaking-point. After that, beware.

Graham Taylor never had a problem - mainly because Graham understood the club. John Gregory - a manager with whom my own relationship was stretched on occasion - never had that problem either. Nor did Brian Little. Or Ron Atkinson. People who understood what Aston Villa was. And understood too it's core support. But just recently that has been lost.

Gloomy outlook: Nathan Delfouneso glances at the angry fans during the Sunderland loss

On a personal level, I got on fine with David O'Leary. But the minute the classic banner went up in the Holte End: 'We're not fickle, we just don't like you,' he was always on to a loser.

Moscow will always loom large whenever Martin O'Neill's name is mentioned. For all the fact that he produced on the pitch, that will never be forgotten.

And whatever else Houllier does as Villa's boss, fans will always refer to that night at Anfield. I've sat and listened a number of times now to the Frenchman and I'm not convinced he realises how deeply the hurt was felt.

Most importantly, however, the noises coming from the dressing-room are appalling. Hark back to the Bolton game earlier this season. Ashley Young scores and races over to celebrate with caretaker boss Kevin MacDonald. Chances of that being repeated under the new Villa boss? Erm, nil.

Lerner and chief executive Paul Faulkner do have an option to hand. They used MacDonald earlier this season as a stop-gap and he is the man to rally the dressing-room and bring back those alienated players. He is a Villa man. Someone who understands what the club is about. He will put a smile back on the players' faces. After all, he was responsible for earning seven of the points the club's now sitting on.

So, I return to a point I made earlier in the piece. Just how bad does it have to get before a change is made? Sheffield United in the FA Cup? Or at St Andrew's in 10 days' time?

The home fans are already voting with their feet. The crowd was down for Sunderland's visit on Wednesday night. Those that were there cried: 'You're getting sacked in the morning,' at their own manager. I mean, what else can you do to prove that you have had enough.

The writing is on the wall. Time to push the button, write the cheque and move on. The season isn't over for Aston Villa just yet. But much more of this macabre soap opera and it soon will be.

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 Explore more:People: Martin O'Neill, Ashley Young, Graham Taylor, John Gregory, David O'Leary, Gerard Houllier, Brian Little Places: Moscow

Source: Daily_Mail