Gerard Houllier will want to mould his own team at Aston Villa, of that we can be certain, but he only has a matter of months to decide on how to start that process. John Carew, Nigel Reo-Coker and Steve Sidwell all have contracts that are due to expire in the summer of 2011, and come January time, will be free to discuss potential moves with other clubs under the Bosman ruling.
By the new year, Houllier may well have identified some potential targets to bring in to the club in January, and more likely, during the close season. The remainder of this calendar year will be an opportunity for the Frenchman to decide what to do his squad players. There is still a very hazy fog over Randy Learner’s financial intentions i.e. how prepared he is to continue to shell out on players without what he deems as progress (one could argue that merely keeping up with their rivals and finishing in the top six regularly is progress in itself, but that is not for now). We can only assume that Houllier hasn’t taken the job at Villa Park under the pretence that he has no money to spend.
What Villa do have, and will want to remedy, is their annual wage bill of £70m. The three players with contracts to sort out are all picking up around 50k per week currently, some more deservedly than others. It is quite feasible that with his vast contacts and experience in the game, Houllier could potentially find players of a similar calibre who are prepared to play in the Premier League for less.
Of the three, it would seem logical that John Carew still has the most to offer. A hard worker, who can be relied on far more than the lumbering Emile Heskey (although no doubt we will be told Houllier will be the catalyst for a Heskey rejuvenation), and the talented, but inconsistent, Gabby Agbonlahor. Whether Houllier wants him as a first choice, or as a back-up, I believe there is still some merit in keeping Carew at the club. Carew on a free transfer next summer could be a bargain for another club somewhere.
With Reo-Coker and Sidwell it is a slightly different matter. Neither player has nailed down a regular first team spot in their respective time at the club. Although I don’t think either player is particularly bad, I’m not overly impressed with them either. Both however featured against Wolves in Houllier’s first Premier League game in charge (admittedly it what just the four minutes plus added time for Sidwell).
With Stilian Petrov, Ashley Young and Stephen Ireland all vying for the same spots, it will be difficult for Sidwell to force his way into Houllier’s plans, less so for Reo-Coker. Very rarely does a complete overhaul of players work at a club, and Houllier may be better in gradually phasing in his players and ideas at the club, rather than having a mass clear out. Certainly players like Carew can serve a greater purpose than Sidwell, but it should be noted that the club still does not possess a striker that can guarantee twenty/twenty-five goals a season in the way a team of that stature should.
Ultimately Villa have a decent squad, with a very good academy, and a range of players with PL experience, youth on their side, pace on the break, and a very solid defensive unit that proved their worth last season. Houllier has not inherited a load of ineptitude, there is the nucleus of a very good team to build upon, and it should be more tweak than transform.
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