Aston Villa chairman Randy Lerner looks set for a radical boardroom overhaul at Villa Park by installing a continental club hierarchy at the Midlands club. Reports have suggested that Lerner is keen to appoint former Liverpool boss Gerard Houllier as Director of Football at the club with Kevin MacDonald as first-team coach and former Villa favourite Steve Staunton as his assistant. On paper, this managerial trio looks like it could be a huge success for Villa but on closer inspection, it could be a disaster waiting to happen.
Firstly, there is question of whether Houllier, MacDonald and Staunton would be happy in their roles at the club. All three have had experience of being the number-one man in charge so there is a great possibility that they might harbour ambitions on each other’s jobs. For example, in his role as Director of Football, there is a great chance that Houllier would have little or no day-to-day contact with the players on the training ground. Rather, the role would be more primarily focused on scouting potential players for the club and ensuring that the club stays within its financial boundaries. As a manager who is used to doing this as well as training the players, Houllier may feel he is being restricted as a Director of Football and become increasingly involved with first-team matters which would undermine the authority of first-team coach Kevin MacDonald.
Similarly, Steve Staunton could risk jeopardising the harmony at the club should he decide that being a deputy simply isn’t good enough for him. MacDonald was Staunton’s assistant when he was manager of Ireland and now it would be the other way round; MacDonald would be his boss and Staunton would be his assistant. The two have a good relationship but it would be interesting to see if it remained that way if Staunton expressed a desire to replace MacDonald if Villa were to go on a run of bad results.
Lerner’s decision to adopt a European style of club management is something that hasn’t been done often in the Premier League-and with good reason. It just hasn’t been successful. The Villa chairman need only to look to Tottenham and Newcastle to see how such a system can go horribly wrong.
Tottenham appointed Frank Arnesen from PSV as their new Director of Football along with Jacques Santini as head coach. The experiment quickly turned sour for Spurs as Santini resigned after only a few games in charge while Arnesen left the club the following year in acrimonious fashion amidst allegations that Chelsea made an illegal approach for the Dane to be their new Director of Football.
Arnesen was replaced by Damien Comolli whose tenure at the club was unpopular to say the least. Comolli was accused of paying over the odds for frankly rather average players. He paid Hertha Berlin £1.8 million for Brazilian full-back Gilberto whose contract was about to expire in six months time. He also offered Hertha £5 million for midfielder Kevin Prince-Boateng which was twice as much as the next highest offer from Sevilla.
Eventually, Comolli was given the sack after Tottenham got off to a rotten start in the 2008-2009 season and the club decided to return to a more traditional way of club management with Harry Redknapp appointed as the sole person in charge of team and transfer matters.
Like Tottenham, Newcastle United have attempted the Director of Football experiment and have found it to be an unmitigated disaster. Newcastle chairman Mike Ashley chose to appoint Dennis Wise as an ‘executive director’. Wise was tasked with looking after the club’s academy as well as scouting players that would be suitable for the club to sign. Wise decided that the best way for him to do this was to use youtube. So he presented Kevin Keegan with two videos of players he thought that the manager should sign. Keegan took a look at the videos of Xisco and Ignacio Gonzalez and decided against making a bid for the players due to the fact that he couldn’t possibly entertain the idea of bidding for players off the back of a grainy internet video. In spite of Keegan’s request, Wise went ahead and signed the pair behind Keegan’s back.
This, along with the unsanctioned sale of James Milner caused Keegan to resign from his post and sue the Tyneside club for unfair dismissal. The case was heard by the Premier League Arbitration Panel and they ruled in favour of Keegan who was awarded £2 million in damages.
The reaction by Villa chairman Randy Lerner to move to a continental style of club management is no doubt an attempt to avoid the perilous overspending on wages and transfers under previous manager Martin O’Neill. But Lerner has to be careful if he chooses to take Aston Villa down this route. He needs to make sure that the people he chooses to run the club have the club’s best interests at heart and not their own or else Villa could end up with huge problems.
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