With Martin O’Neill’s shock departure from Aston Villa leaving the footballing world, well, erm…shocked, speculation about his successor is already rife, with the rumour-mill going into overdrive. The leading candidates so far have been David Moyes, Sven Goran Erikksson, Bob Bradley and Martin Jol.
Moyes has already ruled himself out of the running stating he’s more than happy at Everton and that he feels the current squad he’s got is his strongest ever. You can’t really blame Moyes for wanting to stay at Everton, after all the Premier League’s third-longest serving manager has seen injuries blight his last two campaigns and with a fully fit squad this season he may way believe he can repeat his feat of 2005 and get Everton into the Champion’s League or at least add a bit of silverware to his glowing reputation.
That leaves just Eriksson, Bradley and Jol as the three front-runners, with the former currently the bookies favourite to take over from O’Neill. Eriksson has a somewhat mixed reputation on these shores. He’s often been more favourably looked upon due to the failures of his successors rather than any real achievements he has made- at least in England. As national coach his time was considered a decent effort but not quite good enough- especially considering his mammoth salary. However Steve McClaren made Eriksson’s tenure seemed like a golden age as he failed at the first hurdle to even qualify for Euro 2008. Fabio Capello may have done a better job than the ‘wally with the brolly’ but his side’s inept performance during the World Cup not to mention the hammering they received at the hands of Germany, made Eriksson and a certain 5-1 look all the more glorious.
It was the same at Manchester City for the former Gothenburg, Benfica, Sampdoria and Lazio man. Finishing ninth may not have been all that great but a double over derby rivals Manchester United plus the fact that his successors have spent practically ten times the amount Eriksson did and achieved very little makes him look less of a failure than previously thought.
Eriksson’s problem may be his reputation of being something an expensive gun-for-hire, his recent time in charge of the Cote D’Ivoire did nothing to remove that tag. $3 million for three World Cup games- which saw only one victory against North Korea- was hardly seen as value for money, although to be fair to the Swede he was in the so-called group of death with Portugal and Brazil.
Eriksson was caught in controversy four years ago with the fake sheikh scam by a tabloid newspaper where he claimed he was ready to become manager of Villa as part of a takeover. While that scandal did nothing to enhance his reputation it’s interesting to see that the midlands club was in his thoughts even when he was manager of England.
However the Cote D’Ivoire job, plus the Notts County debacle not to mention a highly unsuccessful stint in charge of the Mexican national side may make more than a few Villa fans a little sceptical of his value as manager. At the age of 62 and with five employers in the past three years he may not exactly be the man who could bring stability or even long-term vision to the club.
Martin Jol on the other hand is a manager who has a reputation of being one of football’s good guys and his time in England with Tottenham is still looked upon fondly by many Spurs fans. In his three seasons at White Hart Lane Jol guided Spurs to two top five finishes and if it wasn’t for some dodgy lasagne may well have taken them into the Champion’s League. It wasn’t just results that Jol delivered, his side often played attacking football that was a joy to watch, while maintaining a stable defence and many of his signings were inspired- although there were rumours that not all signings were directly up to him.
Like Eriksson Jol’s successor put his tenure in perspective, new manager Juande Ramos may have delivered the Carling Cup but he then oversaw the club’s worst league start ever, making Jol’s time at WHL seem all the more triumphant.
Since leaving North London the Dutchman has had a fairly mixed times, taking Hamburg SV to the top of the Bundesliga only to end up fifth and also guiding them to a UEFA cup semi-final. Last season he was at Ajax overseeing a league campaign that saw the –former- wally with the brolly’s FC Twente side pip him to the title but he did gain a little consolation by lifting the Dutch cup.
Jol was heavily linked with the Fulham job but decided to stay at Ajax apparently after being offered more money to spend in the transfer market or simply better terms depending on which reporter you believe.
Villa may be a more difficult prospect to turn down for Jol, after all no disrespect to Fulham but they are a bigger club with a strong squad and despite the problems O’Neill felt he had with Chairman Randy Lerner’s frugality, Jol may feel the club is in a good position to move forward.
It’s Randy Lerner’s nationality which has led to the rather surprise inclusion of USA national ‘soccer’ coach Bob Bradley into the Villa managerial mix. Bradley first shot to fame as a national coach of some repute by taking Uncle Sam to the final of the 2009 Confederations Cup, ending Spain’s 35-game unbeaten run along the way with a two-nil, sorry two –zero ,win.
Following this Bradley took his team to the Wold Cup finals where they became the only side in the competition’s history to ‘win’ by a 1-1 draw with England before succumbing to everyone’s second team Ghana in the second round.
Bradley would for me represent the biggest gamble of all the aforementioned managers having no Premier League experience and only managing at club level in the MLS, although a plus point is at least him and Lerner both speak the same language.
One name that hasn’t been bandied about much is that of Gianfranco Zola. The former West Ham man and Chelsea’s ‘greatest player ever’ hasn’t been linked with many clubs since being unceremoniously sacked by ‘local boys done good’ Davids Gold and Sullivan, only two days after the season’s end. Zola’s time at West Ham may have ended with the club only five points above relegation but he had practically no money to spend, saw his star striker injured for much of the campaign and also had a takeover looming over him, with the new chairmen immediately interfering with team matters by transfer-listing nearly all his squad and making a stream of often silly and unnecessary statements.
Despite all this drama, the little Italian went about his job with the usual dignity and charm he’s well known for and fundamentally did the job required of him by keeping his team up.
Let’s not forget that the previous season with another shoestring budget Zola had guided the Hammers to ninth place, playing some attractive football along the way, missing out on a Europa League spot by two points- and a bit of goal difference.
The fact is of all the candidates mentioned Zola is the one with the most recent Premier League experience is used to working with little or no money and has a preference for playing football the right way- arguably something that’s been missing from Villa Park recently.
Whether Lerner would be willing to give the Italian a chance is debatable but I’d also expect his salary to be a lot less than that of Eriksson’s or even Jol’s. In Steve Clarke, Zola would also bring an assistant who has a reputation for being one of the best in the business. He may not be the bookies favourite but if I were a Villa fan I’d be far from disappointed if he was the surprise choice.
Read more of Justin Mottershead’s work on his blog ‘Name on the Trophy’