On Thursday 2nd June, Mark Hughes resigned as Fulham manager, and despite his claims to the contrary, he was expected to take up the vacant Aston Villa post, following the departure of Gerard Houllier on health grounds. As it turned out, things were never going to be that simple. Almost two weeks later, and Aston Villa are still looking for a manager, and the new hot favourite is not inspiring the Villa faithful, not surprisingly. Elsewhere though, clubs have done rather well out of the yearly merry-go-round.
As football365.com’s Mediawatch section showed this week, few in the media know what is going on regarding managerial moves. Here are some of the newspaper headlines the site highlighted:
‘Alex McLeish has emerged as the favourite to take over from Gerard Houllier at Villa Park after resigning from his post at Birmingham’ – The Daily Star, June 13.
‘Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner is set to move for Everton boss David Moyes’ – The Daily Mirror, June 11.
‘Simon Grayson is the new favourite for the Aston Villa manager’s job following a flurry of bets on the Leeds United boss’ – Metro, June 11.
‘Roberto Martinez has been given permission by Wigan Athletic to speak to Aston Villa about the vacant manager’s position’ – The Guardian, June 9.
‘Villa move for Rafa’ – Sky Sports, June 8.
‘Steve McClaren set for Aston Villa manager’s job’ – The Daily Telegraph, June 6.
‘A candidate who has so far remained under the radar could yet come to the fore at Villa Park, with Owen Coyle of Bolton Wanderers having been mentioned’ – The Guardian, June 3.
‘Aston Villa eye former Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti’ – The Daily Telegraph, June 2.
‘Mark Hughes has moved a step closer to joining Aston Villa following his resignation as Fulham manager after only 11 months’ – The Metro, June 2.
‘Villa tempting manager Moyes as Everton feel the Premier League pinch’ – The Daily Mail, May 28
As it turned out, Fulham wasted little time sourcing Hughes’ successor, appointing Martin Jol, to general applause. The genial Dutchman is a popular figure with the British media and fans alike, and is another sound appointment by Mohammed Al Fayed. He’s not the Messiah though, as some would have you believe.
Aston Villa though have wasted plenty of time. None of us really know what is going on behind the scenes, but all evidence points to a board that do not know what they want. Lerner’s low profile at Villa is similar to his profile at another club he owns, the Cleveland Browns, but I have read that there he has a general manager to make managerial decisions – perhaps he is struggling with not having the same structure for Villa.
Hughes seemed the obvious choice for Villa, but Lerner was apparently put off by the way he left Fulham. He was reportedly put off appointing McClaren because of a fans backlash, but in time that may be a decision Lerner and the fans come to regret. Villa went for Martinez, but he said no – this was naturally made out to be a snub, but did Villa actually offer him the job, or just talk to him?
The result was a new contract at Wigan for Martinez, and then the totally coincidental sudden resignation of Alex McLeish. And immediately Villa fans everywhere wished Lerner had appointed McClaren.
Nothing has been decided yet, but McLeish’s appointment would be bewildering. If it happened, then why wasn’t Lerner put off by the way he left Birmingham (by email) or by the reaction of the fans (outrage/depression) to his possible appointment, in the same way Lerner was put off Hughes and McClaren? And why appoint a man who despite having the 3rd biggest net spend of the last two seasons led a team to relegation with the lowest goal-scoring record of the last two seasons. It seems unlikely that McLeish’s particular brand of football will be packing out Villa Park next season. Having celebrated Birmingham’s relegation, Villa fans must be secretly wishing now they had stayed up. In football, be careful what you wish for.
Whilst all this has been happening, other managers have been brought into the rumour mongering mill, most notably David Moyes, linked with the Villa post, a move which seems unlikely. Predictability Carlo Ancelotti’s name was bandied about until he announced his desire to take a break.
But for me, the team that did best of all cannot be found in the Premiership – I refer to Nottingham Forest. Having dismissed Billy Davies, they moved quickest of all and appointed Steve McClaren. McClaren will slowly morph into a Nottingham accent, duck, but he remains a fine appointment for the club. A certain Forest-supporting football journalist has commented on being open-minded over the appointment, but if I was a Forest fan I would be very pleased indeed. The scepticism from most remains because of THAT England reign, and the “wally in the brolly” was pummelled as another type of rain helped knock England out of the European Championships on a miserable night at Wembley.
Credit must be given to McClaren though. Not many would have gone abroad to repair their reputation. Not many would have won a title with Twente, and whilst his Wolfsburg tenure was less successful, he was undermined somewhat by those above him. It was not his team to run. And he brought silverware to Middlesbrough, reached a European final and won a treble as a Manchester United coach. Not a bad CV for a Championship manager.
But with McLeish’s exit, so the endless cycle continues. As I type, Steve Cotterill is the favourite for the Birmingham job. Should that happen, then Portsmouth will be on the lookout for a new manager, and on it goes. The cycle can only be broken, as it must be eventually, by an out-of-work manager getting re-hired. Alan Curbishley, come on down (until Hughes shows his hand).
Fulham and Nottingham Forest can look forward to the new season confident of performing well, though Fulham would no doubt like to hold onto a manager for a bit longer this time. For Birmingham the uncertain times ahead have become even more uncertain, but the big losers could well be Aston Villa who are looking to appoint a manager few fans want. If McLeish is appointed, he has a mammoth task turning the fans around. If they will let him.