Why Aston Villa’s Turbulent Year Could Mean A Difficult Season


To say that it’s been a turbulent year for Aston Villa would be somewhat of an understatement. On August 9th last year, just 5 days before the start of the season, Martin O’Neill resigned as manager.  It was believed that the relationship between O’Neill and owner Randy Lerner had broken down after disagreeing about how the club could continue to progress.  It seemed that Lerner was no longer willing to give his manager big money to spend on the team, despite O’Neill guiding Villa to consecutive 6th place finishes, as well as the 2010 League Cup final.

The club appointed reserve team manager Kevin McDonald as caretaker manager.  Despite beating West Ham 3-0 at Villa Park on the opening day of the season, Villa were inconsistent under McDonald, losing their next league game 6-0 to Newcastle at St. James’ Park.  For the second season in a row, Villa were knocked out of the Europa League by Rapid Vienna, but then beat Everton at home.  Villa picked up just one point in the next two games, before newly appointed Gerard Houllier took over as manager.

Houllier did not enjoy an easy start with the club.  Injuries to key players and a small, inexperienced squad lead to a loss of form, and in early January they had only gained 21 points in the first half of the season.  Lerner gave his manager money to spend in the transfer window, as Jean Makoun joined from Lyon, and Kyle Walker (Tottenham) and American midfielder Michael Bradley (Borussia Monchengladbach) arrived on loan.  But Villa’s biggest January move was to sign Sunderland striker Darren Bent.  The prolific striker arrived for a club record fee of £18million (the deal could reach £24million with add-ons) and made an immediate impact, scoring the only goal of the game as Villa beat Man City 1-0 on his debut.

Houllier however, was not proving to be popular with fans or players.  After a 3-0 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield, he said that he ‘didn’t mind’ losing 3-0, if it was Liverpool winning (Houllier of course had a successful spell as Liverpool manager).  After an improvement in form, Houllier made 5 changes to a Villa side that faced Man City in the FA Cup.  City won easily, and Villa’s league form dipped again.  Houllier’s control over the team was called into question, as Habib Beye and Stephen Warnock were banished to the reserves after he questioned their commitment, and James Collins and Richard Dunne allegedly clashed with backroom staff during a team bonding break.

By mid-March, fans had apparently had enough, and banners started appearing demanding Houllier be replaced.  This changed when Houllier was hospitalized in April.  Having previous health issues when managing Liverpool, Houllier took time away from the club to recover, with assistant Gary McAllister taking over to the end of the season.  The club eventually recovered to finish 9th in the Premier League, but it’s not been an easy summer for them either.

After Houllier stepped down permanently on June 1st, Randy Lerner identified Birmingham manager Alex McLeish as the man he wanted to replace Houllier.  This of course didn’t go down well, as not only was McLeish the manager of Villa’s city rivals, Birmingham had just been relegated from the Premier League.  Despite outrage from supporters of both teams, McLeish was eventually appointed manager on June 17th.

McLeish has already been severely hamstrung by the number of key players leaving the club since the end of last season.  Wingers Ashley Young and Stewart Downing have made big money moves to Man Utd and Liverpool respectively, while Brad Friedel, Nigel Reo-Coker, Jon Carew and Robert Pires have all left for nothing.  And although McLeish’s first two signings, Shay Given and Charles N’Zogbia should improve the first team, the Villa squad still lacks depth, and it’s unclear how much more money Randy Lerner will give his new manager.

Villa’s best starting eleven should be good enough for a mid-table finish this season, but injuries to key players could make things difficult, and it’s safe to say that patience will not be something Alex McLeish will get from the Villa faithful.

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  • Carew says:

    crap article. So bloody quick to jump on a bandwagon and criticise an owner who cares and who is not some megalomaniac who has to buy his mates with his wealth, and you seem to keep forgetting what he did with Acorns. He passed over nearly 5 million quid in advertising space to accommodate a local children’s hospice. When did Abramovitch or that arab guy ever do that? and Lerner’s the bad guy??

    you could say that any team who have injuries could struggle, even your glorious Man U or Chelsea. Last season is history now. The timing of O’Neills resignation was designed for maximum effect. Lerner will not let something like that happen again.
    Reo-Coker and Pires were not offered new contracts, and Friedel’s performances were regressing. Factor in the money all 3 were on any bonehead can see why they were let go, except you it appears. Downing got greedy and has as much loyalty as a high class hooker. He is hardly irreplaceable.
    We are fine thank you and do not need your negative articles. Have a stop and think about the state of the game. The top 5 is only that because they have spent a quite ridiculous amount of money. It doesn’t take a genius to work that one out. When it comes crashing down, and it will, well run clubs like Villa will still be about, whether struggling or not. I want a club for my kids to be able to follow, a local club with local connections, a club they can go and watch and get excited about, win or lose. I don’t want then watching a ‘brand’. Its a game for christs sake.

  • Jinksy says:

    The only bit about this piece is the word “Could”

    We have sold our best players & released another 12. We have replaced these with a goalie and a winger. We appointed a serial failure as Manager, Our squad is pathetic. Villa ARE in for a difficult season not Could be.

    Carew – How can yopu defend Lerner the man that has our club £100m in debt to HIM YES HIM. He is now asset stripping.

    Lerner Out!!!!

  • David Dougan says:

    I must be missing something. Where is my scathing criticism of Randy Lerner?

    Aston Villa clearly do have a relatively small, inexperienced squad, and have lost experienced first team players.

    • Carew says:

      Perhaps it was unintentional but it’s there if you read it again. “Lerner no longer willing to give his manager big money to spend on the team, despite O’Neill guiding Villa to consecutive 6th place finishes”

      And Jinksy, I am sick and tired of hearing this about ‘selling our best players’. I expect it from Adrian Durham but not another supporter. Next you’ll be calling for Doug Ellis back. Who have these players to? Was money not a motivating factor? Do you think Ashley Young would have come out and said joining Man U was a ‘no brainer’ if he had to take a pay cut to go. Footballers don’t do loyalty FACT accept it. Its the same for every club. We are not unique.
      The other 12 you mention have all gone on to much greater things since being released, Harewood, Reo-Coker, Salifou, Carew, Pires, Osbourne, Sidwell (incidentally all signed by O’Neill except Pires)
      Would prefer to be £100million in debt to a chairman than a bank or consortium etc, if we are in debt to that amount.
      Hope someone you know doesn’t end up in Acorns. Notice you conveniently glossed over that comment of mine

      • David Dougan says:

        “It seemed that”

        I was not aware of what Acorns is, and again, the piece is not about Randy Lerner, nor am I criticising how he has run the club.

        Your final comment is crass and distasteful.

  • Carew says:

    In what way?

    I was showing Jinksy he needs to stop and see that Lerner is not really the bad guy here and that the hate and unpleasantness he directs at him is misplaced.

    I note your comments but my point is that the Villa bashing in the media is ridiculously excessive. When Lerner came in with his plan, no one could possibly have predicted what would happen at Man City. I am confident that if that had not happened, we would have qualified for ther CL. That is not necessarily enough these days, look at Spurs, have 1 season in and then next year when they are not in the vulturs start circling over their players. I suppose they will now become a ‘seling club’ to coin a phrase.

    • David Dougan says:

      I’m not ‘bashing’ Aston Villa. I’m merely speculating that all that has happened to the club in the last year could have a negative affect on them this season.

      McLeish has made two signings so far (both good ones I believe) but he needs more players.

      Aston Villa fans have the right to criticise Randy Lerner if they wish. They are not criticising him for any charitable work he does, it’s purely about what he does for Aston Villa.

      Snide comments about what Acorns represents is tasteless and makes it more difficult to take your opinion seriously if that’s how you defend it.

  • Carew says:


    they were meant to be snide comments about Jinksy’s attitude, nothing about what Acorns represents. I am disappointed in myself if this comment has caused offence.
    I agree that we can all criticise but it is much better to do so in a constructive way, by offering alternatives rather than the predictable “spend, spend spend” on more disloyal players with inflated egos or “Lerner out” Honestly, you couldn’t make it up

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