It’s been all change at Aston Villa over the last few months, with Gerard Houllier taking the reins at Villa Park after the summer departure of Martin O’Neill. With any shift as seismic as that at the helm of a football club, it is bound to take time for the team to recover and the new manager to instil his own footballing philosophy into the side. Although Villa’s start to the season hasn’t been disastrous, it hasn’t perhaps quite lived up to the expectations of a club and supporters that have become accustomed to challenging for the Champions League places. So with this in mind, does Houllier need to remove the dead-wood from O’Neill’s regime in order to propel his Villa side up the table?
The immediate problem facing Houllier was that he was installed as manager after the summer transfer window had closed. Therefore he was essentially ‘stuck’ with the team as it had been under O’Neill, with the only real change over the summer months being a swap deal with Manchester City, with James Milner going to Eastlands in exchange for Stephen Ireland. This has led to a stagnation of fresh faces coming into the club even before Houllier took charge. Therefore, in January, the Frenchman will surely be looking to bring in players, not only to begin to make his own mark on the club, but also to provide some competition for places within the squad.
The problem Houllier has is that it appears, with money fairly tight, that Houllier is going to have to sell in order to bring in the players he wants in January. But with the Villa squad fairly thin on the ground as it is, who would go? And would it be wise to shake the squad up in January?
With the partnership of Richard Dunne and James Collins looking fairly solid at the back, Curtis Davies must surely be one of the names in the hat for a January departure. Possessed with undoubted talent, Davies felt, under O’Neill, that his career ‘hasn’t just stalled – it had stopped’, and wanted whoever took charge to be fair and wished to be given a chance to prove himself. Houllier has granted him his wish, just not at Aston Villa. Davies has been shipped out on loan to Leicester City, and after impressing in his one month loan spell thus far, he could well be in line for a permanent move to Sven Goran Eriksson’s side in January.
Another who could be on the list for a January move is Steve Sidwell. Having never fully settled since his move from Chelsea in 2008, Sidwell was rumoured to be on his way to Fulham over the summer before the transfer collapsed. Now Houllier is in charge and looking to bring in new players, the move to Fulham may be reignited, but with a central midfield which is sparsely populated and injury-prone, can the Frenchman afford to let Sidwell go?
With Houllier looking to mould the Aston Villa side in his own image, January is his first chance to make a real impression. But Houllier would be wise to tread carefully, the balancing act between new and old can be a tricky one to master and could be a risk mid-season, especially with a squad that is thin as it is. So although clearing out some of Martin O’Neill’s dead-wood may be good for himself and the team, his January purchases need to be astute in order to give his new side the foundations they need to launch an assault on the European places in the New Year.