Jump to content

Houllier and the Malaise


blandy
 Share

Recommended Posts

  • Moderator

By Patrick Cousens

When Gerard Houllier joined Aston Villa back in September, he made it quite clear that there was one game that he was particularly interested in - the away trip to Anfield. Two days after the event, and the occasion was every bit as significant as Gerard could have imagined.

The latest is a series of abject, heartless Villa performances culminated in a love-in between the Scouse fans and the Frenchman with whom, for a short while, Liverpool had enjoyed significant success. His record on Merseyside, and at other clubs, is enough to tell us that the man is not an idiot. And yet the prospects of him ever achieving adoration of any kind at Villa Park are already looking bleak. His conduct towards the fans was poor, but there are deeper concerns about his compatability with our club at this time, and these have only been highlighted by the events of Monday night.

There are a number of things that a club needs from it's manager, and Houllier, sadly, is not providing them. Quite apart from tactics (which have been negative) and training methods (which, whilst impoving our passing, have resulted in a spate of injuries and diabolical defensive organisation), the manager of a successful football club is, crucially, expected to show leaderhip, passion and vision. He must be the embodiment of progress and fight. It is increasingly clear that Aston Villa have appointed the wrong man for this job.

Indeed Villa, at present, look like something of a rudderless ship. MON had been allowed to dominate every aspect of the 1st team set-up at the club, and thus it was inevitable that his departure, along with his extensive backroom staff, would leave something of a vacuum, and this was only accentuated by the nature and the timing of his exit. The drawn-out fashion in which the board went about appointing a successor only served to deepen the sense of uncertainty around the future direction of the club. In some ways, this feeling had been loitering uncomfortably all summer, after the board had made it abundantly clear that they neither would nor could not continue the investment in the squad that had seen the team edge ever closer towards trophies and Champions League football. Perhaps it was not a surprise that the manager was to leave us when he realised that the nature of his task had somewhat changed (although his profligate spending on average players, both in terms of fees and wages, was in some ways responsible for this shift). Regardless, it it ought to be possilbe to maintain ambitions of success without requiring net-spends of over £20m per season and £50,000 wages for squaddies, particularly in an increasingly parsimonious period for all English clubs, Citeh aside.

But this does require a leader, and there remains a void. Few could sensibly argue that Randy Lerner has been anything other than a fantastic chairman for AVFC, but his insistence on maintaining a low profile, at all costs, means that he is a poor figurehead in rough times.

Gerard Houllier was eventually appointed, expected to fill this breach. But there have been a number of problems with his tenure.

Under MON, there was an aura around Villa of progress. The manager's single-minded commitment, buttressed by the generous support of the chairman and improving results on the field, made us, and the rest of English football, believe that we were a club on the up. Repetitive cliche's about sleeping giants being re-awoken may have been poor writing, but they were welcome reading for the fans. The team, even when playing poorly, were reknowned for their fighting spirit and never-say-die attitude, and the intesity of our performances was fundamental to the results that we achieved.

Houllier, by contrast, is known as a manager who prefers a more considered, possession style of play, but this approach has manifested itself in a pedestrian attitude amongst the players. They are not confident enough to beat teams by passing through them, and they lack the determination to truly fight for a result. Houllier's consistent references to his previous job at Anfield are irritating for the fans, but, isolated, nothing more. Of graver consequence is what they expose.

There was a belief, during O'Neill's tenure, that something could be achieved at Aston Villa. The manager believed it, the players believed it, and so did the fans. It is evident now that no such belief exists. Rumours of dressing room unrest are not only believable, they are evident. The players are simply picking up their wages, they no longer feel part of a project, and it seems only a matter of time before Ashley Young follows James Milner and Gareth Barry, not to mention O'Neill, through the Villa Park exit.

And the future of the playing squad does not look positive. Our youngsters are promising but unrefined, and not ready for the pressure they are being put under at present. The current run of form must surely be damaging to their belief in themselves as young professionals. Much of the rest of the squad is ageing, average, or both, but whilst it seems inivitable that Houllier will be afforded an opportunity to invest in the playing staff come January, this is a concern it itself. Usually,the availability of transfer funds is a cause for optimism, yet the paradox for Lerner is that, given that our resources are far from infinite, it is unwise to seriously back a manager who is looking increasingly unlikely to be around for the long term.

And therein lies the rub.

Gerard Houllier is 63, on just a two year contract, and was appointed in a scenario where the club had few options to choose from. The hope was that he would be a solid appointment, more than an ambitious one. His age prevents him from being able to leave the kind of dynasty that we hoped that O'Neill would and that, to an extent , he managed at Liverpool. Indeed, his irrepressible and irresponsible nostalgia for the Anfield club is symptomatic of the fact that he doesn't believe it is possible. It's not just the references to Liverpool, it's the shrugs and the smiles in defeat. The club is in decline, and no-one seems to care. Houllier doesn't seem up for the fight, and neither do his players. The team, like their manager, lacks vigour.

Even if results were to pick up and we finish in mid-table, few can now truly believe that Houllier has the ablity or the desire to return this club to the upper echleons of Engilsh football. The real question is whether the board maintain these ambitions. One hopes, and I believe, that they do, but it has become obvious that GH is neither a solid appointment, nor the future of Aston Villa. Which rather begs the question, why are we bothering?

If Randy Lerner wants to arrest the slide our football club, he must appoint a younger manager with more passion, more leadership, and a greater vision for the future. He must convince them that Villa can be an upwardly moblie project once more, and must support them, responsibly, in the transfer market. If he doesn't, the malaise that surrounds the club will only infect and permeate it further, and it will become increasingly difficult to reverse.

It seems harsh to call for the managers head so soon into his reign, especially given the injuries to the side, but these last three months have given enough evidence of a poor fit between Villa and Houllier. It will not take the Villa faithful long to think of at least one available manager who could provide the personal and proffesional characteristics that the club so desperatly needs.

For once, Randy, be ruthless.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well said. There are important things for me to tackle here, they are the risk to our young players under this sort of cload and secondly the fact I get the real feelings I had under Billy McNeill and GT MK2.

There is, as rightly pointed out, NO LEADERSHIP anywhere. Randy and Paul Faulkner are good businessmen and are very personable - not leaders. The General was a leader but he is non-exec and across the pond. GH isn't a leader and clearly on the pitch there isn;t a leader.

We're all DOOMED I tell ya! :7:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Excellent post and extremely well considered points.

My problem with all of this is that leadership comes from the top but more importantly it must start at the very top. Whilst Randy Lerner has been absolutely fantastic for us it is time for him to come to the front take the bull by the horns and sort this mess out.

The big concern is that when I look back at the last time we were relegated it all started with the trimming of the wage bill, the sacrifice of the high earners etc, you must remember the majority of that side would have been the Euro Champs. There replacement were youngster that everyone said were the bees knees and the appointment of 2nd rate manager who had neither the respect of the players or the fans.

All sounds very familiar don't it and it is why RANDY MUST ACT NOW

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Moderator

There's not much to argue with and it's well written. Personally, I don't think the time is right, just now, to change the manager. I think that doing so would be more damaging than beneficial.

Houllier has not been able to change the squad at all, because of MO'N's timing. He's also had to contend with a spate of injuries and illnesses, not all of which can be put down, even with the wildest imagination, to training methods - Appendicitis, Gabby's flu, NRC at Fulham, Petrov's knee twist at Sunderland and so on.

So he started with a weak hand, because of MO'N's timing, and his hand was worsened by events outside his control.

Where I do share the concerns are in terms of supine away performances in particular. I feel though that this partly stemmed from the Newcastle (Kev Mac) game, followed by a wrongly awarded free kick at Stoke leading to their last minute winner.

Factor in, then the loss of protection from midfield caused by injuries to experienced players and the use of talented, but raw, kids and it looks like the collective jitters have set in.

I think some selections have been wrong - dropping Carlos Cuellar after he played so well at Wolves, for example has seemingly led Richard Dunne to play as if his place is secure, whatever the performance levels, and he is off form.

Carew has his mind elsewhere, it seems, Heskey has been injury prone for a long time. Delfouneso is another teenager and Gabby was already injured, then ill. None of those factors affecting the forwards and our goal threat are down to Houllier.

Where he has erred, you're right is in his attitude to the fans, and his comments on the general status of the club. To come in to the club and say it's a 7-12th natural place club is to set the bar low (and is, anyway, wrong).

The comments on losing to liverpool were not the wisest, but the pandering to Liverpool fans while ignoring the Villa support completely on Monday was plain stupid and insulting. The "apology" was no such thing. Badly misjudging your own fans and responsibilities towards them is not wise, when you are struggling for results. I fear he will have justifiably lost the goodwill of many, and only hardened the views of the sceptics.

Is the Liverpool stuff symptomatic of his motivation? Did he take the job not because he wants to do well at Villa, but because he pines after Liverpool?

At best he's fallen into a kind of media trap - they naturally enough pick up on the "former manager returns to old club" angle for a story and features, but like DO'L with Leeds there's no need for the Aston Villa manager to spend more of his time going on about a previous job than the duties of his current one. By all means express your affection for Liverpool, but then shut up about them, and concentrate on Villa.

Another factor in our travails may be the contrast between MO'N and GH - they are opposites, not peas in a pod. One hyperactive, demanding and passionate, the other considered, and reflective, and not prone to emotional displays. The style of football too is different. This leaves a lot of adjusting to be done by players drilled into MO'N's way of playing, training and working. Some seem reluctant to embrace their responsibilites in this regard. The kids have been terrific, though.

You could argue that until GH can change the players round, he should not change the way the team plays so much, but if he's going to do things right, he has to play his way, not try and be something he's not.

He seems like a decent man, but he also seems lost at times - perhaps limited by having so few options.

I think he should have a little more time before being shown the door, but he needs to immediately and urgently put all his focus on what's best for Villa, concentrate on his job, shut up about other teams, sort out the defensive blunders and hope that the run of undoubted bad luck turns quickly and the injured players get fit quick.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

CousEns ;) corrected, sorry. Blandy

No matter, I've made my own spelling gaffe at the bottom there with 'proffesional' instead of 'professional'.

I would have to agree that GH does not actually deserve to be sacked. What I am arguing for is a sort of Machiavellian ruthlessness from the board, that would actually make me feel a little uncomfortable, but that I do think, sadly, is in the club's interests.

I don't think Gerard is the man for us. I just don't think he is the type of character that we need right now, and I fear that we may slip in stature in a manner that could take years to rectify.

Sacking him would be harsh, but this is where we differ, Blandy:

Personally, I don't think the time is right, just now, to change the manager. I think that doing so would be more damaging than beneficial.

If we could get the right man in, and I will say now that I am thinking of Martin Jol, who I do believe with the right assurances could be persuaded to join, it would be a positive step for the club. I just can't see Gerard Houllier as the future. If we are hoping to achieve anything in the short to medium term, I think we need to change.

Perhaps I'll feel differently if we pick up some results, but I doubt it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Moderator

It's a strong argument and difficult to disagree with. Up until Monday night I had no doubt and indeed a real hope that he would be given the time to develop the club to his liking.

I still have some of the hope, but it's no longer results that will jeopardise M. Houllier 's position, it's support.

He's been a fool, oddly enough the one thing I didn't have him down as, and if he can't find a way out of it his job will now be doubly difficult. If he can find a way to do it well despite that then he'll deserve to stay.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well written Patrick, but I'm like Steak, I agree with what Blandy said.

I also can't see Randy getting rid of Houllier, not this year anyway...They thought highly enough of him to bring him to the club, enough to fly out to see him twice they're not going to give up on him just like that because some fans don't want him here.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Excellent article.

I must admit that despite not liking the appointment, despite recent results and performances and despite being grievously offended by his actions at Anfield, I'd still side with the sensible notion of giving the man more time... BUT the way he has turned a team of players who would have run through brick walls for MON into players that for the most part don't seem to have any fight or passion in them at all speaks volumes.

For all his obvious faults, MON was a brilliant man-manager, and Houllier appears to be bloody hopeless at this, as well as being a walking PR disaster. I can't see that changing, and I'd rather we cut our losses now before it's too late.

I'm old enough to remember the likes of Venglos and McNeill all too clearly, and as others have said, this is all a bit too similar for my liking.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Would agree with a fair amount of it but sacking GH now would damage the clubs reputation significantly.

That, for me, is why I would pull back for now.

Of course, it might come down to a stark lesser-of-two evils scenario if we're still struggling in a few months. Do we damage the reputation of the club by sacking him, opening ourselves up to the obvious criticism that it was a bad choice from the outset or that we're impulsive? Or do we damage the club be letting him take us down?

Aside from the miserable last week and a bit, I still think we have more than enough to stay up this season. It shouldn't even be a discussion, but it is owing to our defence and the poverty of performance on Monday night.

The hope is that GH can -at the very least- ensure that we're still in the top flight next year. Regardless of any issues surrounding the club this summer and the injury situation that shouldn't even be an issue.

If we can get through to the summer, relatively unscathed in an around mid-table (or slightly lower) we can then reassess. We would then have a whole summer to decide whether GH has enough about him to go a stage further or whether to cut our losses and pay out the final year of his contract (not a huge burden, in the grand scheme of things). This also gives us time to check on the progress of potential candidates such as Di Matteo, Coyle, Jol or any other names who might be linked. There is a danger of course that the likes of Di Matteo and Coyle are flavour of the month type names, as likely to be on the dole queue in 12 months as they are to be in a bigger job. See Pearce, Pardew, Zola and countless many more examples. Nevertheless, after having a manager in GH seemingly happy to live of past successes and coast the obvious contrast to that would be a young, hungry manager looking to make a name for himself. Someone who sees the Villa gig as a step up and wants to create his own successful memories with us, rather than looking at newspaper cuttings of his glory days.

That's one outcome.

If GH has a strong finish to the season and we finish in and around 6th again the job will be his for the foreseeable.

If we finish any lower than say 14th, the hope would be that he does the decent thing and falls on his sword.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

An excellent article, considered and well balanced. He needs to go and we need to go shopping in the championship; Lambert, O'Driscoll or Grayson. Although Coyle would be a dream.

standout candidate amongst managers in the championship for me is Billy Davies. I study in Nottingham and the turnaround they experienced under him was absolutely remarkable. a similar management style to Mo'N - which our players clearly relate to - not afraid to rotate players and signed players with small reputations from France and Poland who became fans favourites at Forest so clearly isnt afraid to take a risk in the transfer market.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Would agree with a fair amount of it but sacking GH now would damage the clubs reputation significantly.

That, for me, is why I would pull back for now.

How would it damage our reputation? If anything, showing this cut-throat attitude toward anything below-par will represent our high standards and ambitions

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Would agree with a fair amount of it but sacking GH now would damage the clubs reputation significantly.

That, for me, is why I would pull back for now.

How would it damage our reputation? If anything, showing this cut-throat attitude toward anything below-par will represent our high standards and ambitions

Frankly I'd rather a damaged reputation than relegation, which is what we'll get if Houllier doesn't get his shit together sharp-ish.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...
Â