Randy Lerner would be taking a big gamble naming Gerard Houllier as Aston Villa manager
Out of work for three years with a history of health problems, Houllier's appointment would represent a gamble at a time when Villa's standing in the Premier League (they finished sixth last term) is being strongly challenged by a number of clubs. Nevertheless, something had to be done sooner rather than later. The demands of this league are taxing enough without drifting along in a state of limbo. Unhelpfully, though, the available options were pretty limited. Related ArticlesToo old for Villa at 63?Houllier in frame for Villa jobMacDonald backed for Villa roleCurbishley and Eriksson in frameBradley signs new USA contractSport on televisionVilla fans, in fairness, wouldn't have got excited on hearing that Sven-Goran Eriksson and Alan Curbishley were up for interview. So faced with this choice, Lerner had to decide how to take his club forward. Go with the same kind of dictatorial leader who had a firm hand on all football matters or dilute that power by sharing the responsibilities between a coach and director of football. Ah yes, that ill-fated role, the one that, in England at least, seems to divide more than unite. The one that, more often than not, ends up undermining the manager rather than helping him. For the best example, just look at Stamford Bridge where someone as talented as Jose Mourinho succumbed to the situation while Chelsea manager. With Avram Grant forever hovering in the background as a close confidant of Roman Abramovich, Mourinho's position grew ever weaker. It only took a run of nondescript performances for Abramovich to somehow conclude that Grant represented the better bet. By the sound of it, a similar structure has been chosen for Villa Park, with Houllier set to be installed as the wise old head. Someone, in theory, to take the weight off the inexperienced shoulders of Kevin MacDonald, the former reserve team manager who's been holding the fort with varying degrees of success. As an old Leicester team-mate of Kevin's in the 1980s, I know he isn't the sort to seek the limelight. He was the same as a player, content to do his job in central midfield through an understated but very skilful pass-and-move game. Now, along with his old mate Steve Staunton, MacDonald looks set to stay on the training ground and stick to what he likes doing best coaching footballers. Houllier, meanwhile, can play the higher profile role talk to the press, liaise with the board, generally act as the figurehead. Sounds alright in theory, doesn't it? Lerner obviously thinks so or he wouldn't have gone this way. Yet the pitfalls are many and potentially destructive. Who picks the team for instance? If MacDonald is doing all the coaching he's in the best position to decide who's on form and therefore who should play. In addition, who decides on the formation and style of play? Again, MacDonald would be favourite to sort that out. The problems come when Villa lose a few games and Houllier is asked to publically explain what's going wrong. That's when it gets awkward, for there's no guarantee that the 63-year-old Frenchman shares the same ethos with his younger colleague. Houllier's idea of the best way forward might not square with MacDonald's. The two, after all, didn't know each other beforehand. Who's to say they will click? It's asking a lot. And when tensions grow, the temptation is for a director of football to give his own ideas to the board on how things should proceed, which inevitably undermines the bloke on the ground who starts to wonder what's being said behind his back. Consequently, he starts to feel threatened, fearful of the sack, as the dressing-room atmosphere takes a nosedive. That's the worst-case scenario. The more beneficial one would involve Villa thriving under MacDonald's astute coaching as Houllier sagely advises from a diplomatic distance. Until January, however, the management will have to work with what they've got, having been arguably weakened by James Milner's departure. And that's another thing: deciding on transfer targets becomes that much more complicated when a director of football is involved in the mix. All in all, then, the future looks uncertain just off Spaghetti Junction. O'Neill's rash exit guaranteed that. Not only that, Lerner has been forced to pick from a limited pool. Warning from history If Gérard Houllier is appointed Aston Villa's director of football, caretaker manager Kevin MacDonald might like to begin scouring the job pages now. The last time the Frenchman was appointed to work alongside a manager from the boot-room Liverpool's Roy Evans in 1998 the experiment lasted only 18 games. Just seven wins in that time led to Evans's sacking, with Houllier replacing him.
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