Nigel Reo-Coker has undergone somewhat of a resurrection under new manager Gerard Houllier. From being cast into the shadows by former manager Martin O’Neill after a publicised training-ground scuffle, to now being handed the captaincy, the full circle now seems to have been completed. Reo-Coker has no doubt had some fortune of circumstance to thank for being handed the responsibility of captain, one is that Stiliyan Petrov gained an injury that will leave him out for up to two months and the other is that Houllier realises the importance of retaining Reo-Coker with his contract expiring at the end of the season. This move from Houllier will no doubt go some way in convincing Reo-Coker to remain loyal to the club and that he is in fact appreciated in his abilities as a footballer.
Reo-Coker was dismissed by O’Neill to the desolate region that is the subs bench, with only his fellow substitutes to find consolation in and a sub-suit in which to try and stave off the cold weather. Before this scenario ensued Reo-Coker was playing sufficiently well enough to earn himself the possibility of an England call-up, with some quarters championing his name having high hopes for him. This however was tarnished by the fight that occurred between himself and O’Neill resulting in the latter dropping Reo-Coker to the bench and stating that he could look elsewhere for employment.
But with a new manager comes a vital opportunity for Reo-Coker to reassert himself as a consistent fixture within the Aston Villa midfield. He has suffered his disappointments and incurred his setbacks, these adding to the character of Reo-Coker as Houllier confirms: “In sport you have to strike a balance between humility and ambition. That’s probably what age has taught him.” This must have caused Reo-Coker to reassess the position he found himself in and change his mentality, he will no longer take anything for granted and have acquired the motivation to cement his place within the team. Houllier again states that, “You can’t change a donkey into a horse, the talent must be there and willingness to work – Nigel has that. Nigel hasn’t shown any arrogance with me.”
With a period that has seen Aston Villa lose Petrov, they will want to fill this void quickly and without note when it comes to the next bout of matches. Reo-Coker is perfectly able to do just this; he merely needed the assurance from the manager and the faith to play him. With his contract up at the end of this season Houllier will fight to retain the player and has confirmed that talks will be imminent in claiming: “It’s too early to say about contracts but the chief executive Paul Faulkner has started to talk with his agent. He knows I want to keep him.” What Reo-Coker now needs to do is earn his contract with performances that illustrate his determination and ability, he also has the added pressure of the captaincy but this will surely act as an encouraging factor rather than as a restraint. Has Houllier made the right choice?