His departure was blamed on the lack of ambition from Randy Lerner who adopted a sell-to-buy approach in the transfer market toward the end of O’Neill’s tenure.
It was compounded by a humiliating 6-0 defeat at the hands of Newcastle United and the exit from the Europa League at the hands of Rapid Vienna, with care-taker manager Kevin Macdonald proving to be a touch out of his depth.
The enigmatic Houllier hardly got them off to the best start. Languishing in the bottom half of the table for much of the season, they were even flirting with the possibility of relegation at one stage.
But they finished the season strongly, with wins against Arsenal and Liverpool propelling them back into the top half.
On the face of it, they have one of the most dangerous attacks in the Premiership. The £24 million spent on Darren Bent was ridiculed by myself, the public and some sections of the media, but he has lived up to the price tag, banging in 9 goals and becoming the clubs joint top scorer in half a season.
Those goals were vital, particularly with the absence of Gabriel Agbonlahor for much of the season.
Ashley Young and Stuart Downing always pose a threat and are perfect fodder for Bent, who thrives on the end product they produce so regularly.They also provide a constant goal threat, with their end of season goal tally underlining their value to the team, scoring nine and eight respectively.
Added to a nucleus of young talent such as Marc Albrighton, Jonathan Hogg and Fabian Delph and coupled with the relegation of bitter rivals Birmingham, there is a real sense of optimism blanketing the club.
There are doubts over the futures of Young and Villa’s player of the year Downing who have both been linked with moves away, but after releasing ten first team players, surely only serious money could tempt them into selling their star duo.
The players themselves are said to be keen on a move to a ‘bigger’ club. It would represent a sad state of affairs being that Aston Villa is more than a feeder to their richer counterparts.
Yet if that were to happen, Houllier is the right man to replace them.
Already proving that he is shrewd when identifying and capturing important players, Villa could be the surprise package over the summer.
Walker, Makoun and Bradley were all added to the squad along with Bent in January, fitting into the team nicely and adding valuable squad depth.
They have been linked with Jose Enrique and Gervinho, but the unpredictable Houllier has the potential to throw a curveball.
Scott Parker, a midfielder that would replace the inconsistent Reo-Coker, might be on his hit-list. He would provide them with dynamism in the middle of the park, something that has been missing throughout the season.
Whatever the outcome, Aston Villa need to recover from a season that, even the most ardent fan would admit, has been a failure.
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