Randy and the board have been pretty thorough in searching for and appointing the replacement for Martin O'Neill. Given the appalling set of circumstances in which they had to operate - Martin walking out in a huff with just days to go before the season started, and little time left to act in the transfer window - the club seems to have acted with a great deal of professionalism. The board consulted with respected figures such as Graham Taylor, and also appointed, we believe, professional consultants to help and advise them on the search. It should be remembered that whilst undoubtedly hugely enthusiastic and admirably dedicated to the Club, Randy is not someone steeped in the history of UK football through long involvement.
Initially caught out, I suspect that there was a strong desire to see how Kevin MacDonald got on, perhaps with the hope that he would be the answer in already their lap. Kevin did a good job, but limitations as well as strengths were exposed, and it was clear that a wider search was absolutely necessary. Kevin, too didn't exactly thrust himself into the limelight, declaring "I want it". He betrayed an uncertainty over whether the demands of the job were something he wanted to accept to the detriment of a settled and enjoyable career, spending most of his time using his talents coaching players twice a day for the reserves, and being able to go home and enjoy his family life.
At this point the searching and tentative approaches became the priority. Again, because of the circumstances and timing, this was particularly difficult. Many possible candidates already in a job, would have just made their plans and commitments for the season at their clubs, just told signings that they would be around, just given commitments to boards that they would be staying and operating in a particular way over the season. Whilst players will move at the drop of a hat, good managers tend to be a little more loyal, having thought for the damage to their repuations that walking out on one job for another can do. How can they demand that players stay and play, if they themselves are known to have jumped at the first chance?
How would Mark Hughes have looked had we walked out on Fulham after just committing to a contract to work there for the next few years? What would it do to Everton if David Moyes left for Villa one week into the season? These are fine managers, and no doubt Villa would have been keen to talk to them were they available, but they weren't. Same goes for Martin Jol. It does seem that Villa made efforts to understand where these people and their Clubs stood.
It's also the case that Martin O'Neill had huge freedom to decide transfer fees, wages, to appoint people in all kinds of positions - and not just playing and coaching positions. This meant that when he left, a whole raft of people went with him, leaving a bigger hole than might otherwise have been the case. No doubt some of the advice given to Randy (not that he'd now need it) would be that this level of autonomy shouldn't be something that is repeated with the next appointment. The new man would need to be someone who would be given freedom to operate from a football perspective, free to choose his assistant, but who would accept that a degree of budgetry control from above will be imposed, and that outside his direct role, the coaching structure of the club will remain as it is in most respects. The scouting network could do with improvement, Martin perhaps saw little need for contacts and scouts beyond the UK, due to his preference for players already settled to the unique demands of British football.
Because of the level of finance involved in Premier League football, most appointments of managers to clubs at the upper half of the table tend to be risk averse - the desire for evidence of solid achievement far outweighs the urge to take a chance with someone from the lower leagues. Fear of failure and the consequences is just too large to gamble.
As fans of course we perhaps look for the wildly optimistic fantasy appointments - we want the next (or current) Morinho, Hiddink, Wenger, or maybe yearn for a former favourite to return like the prodigal son - in the way that Brian (blessed be his name, for he walks on water) Little did.
None of these were options.
So that left us looking for someone not currently managing, with experience (Premier league experience was identified as essential) with good contacts, able to work with a set of players that can't be changed until January at he earliest, with a record of achievement and someone wise enough to understand that they will not be the single arbiter of everything that goes on at the Club.
Put like that, of course, the choice of Monsieur Houllier seems like absolutely best one that could be made. Multi trophy winning, experienced and capable, and with something to prove, perhaps, after his latter time at Liverpool.
We don't know who will be his number two, but it should be someone of his choosing. Which brings us to what to do about Kevin MacDonald. He's clearly respected and admired, rightly so, by not just the players, but Randy and Co. Having belatedly, perhaps, decided he'd like the job, it must be difficult to work out what to do, for all concerned. Randy is a man of integrity and honour and he will want to do the best by Kevin. Equally Kevin will need to decide whether he wants to return to his happy life working with the reserves. If Gérard Houllier wants Kev to work as his assistant, then great, but if he would prefer someone else, then his choice must prevail.
In my view the board of our club has yet again done well. Only time will tell as to how things work out, but the choice looks like the best one from the possibilities available, the process undertaken, while lengthy has been thorough and comprehensive, not just a paniced dart to get someone quick, but an appraisal as to what is needed followed by matching those characteristics against candidates.
Our new manager has so far said only
"I could not turn down the opportunity to manage a club whose approach, both on and off the pitch, I have long admired. Villa is one of England’s biggest clubs and has an amazing set of fans. This is a tremendous challenge and one I am very much looking forward to taking on.”
In the way of these things, he's perhaps being slightly generous, given the gap to to Arsenal and Manchester United, the finances of Chelsea and Manchester City, the trophies of Liverpool, but Villa is a big Club, just one starved of success, and one with fans who are desperate for that situation to end. I hope our generosity towards him matches to towards us.
Bienvenue et bonne chance, Gérard.