Following Gerard Houllier’s poor health and even poorer form on the pitch at Aston Villa, speculation has gathered about his future at the club. Among a list of potential replacements appears the name of the man that replaced him following his departure from Liverpool in 2004, Rafa Benitez.
On paper, this could be a great choice. He has won trophies in three different countries, most notably leading Valencia to two La Liga victories and who could forget the return of the Champions League and FA Cup titles to Liverpool. But, this is a manager not without off-field problems who struggled to take control of a Jose Mourinho’s treble-winning Inter Milan side. Following a disappointing season for Aston Villa after the shock departure of Martin O’Neill and lack of progress under Houllier, would Rafa Benitez be the right man to take the club forward?
Admittedly Villa’s season did not get off to the best of starts following O’Neill’s resignation five days before the start of the campaign. O’Neill had formed a team capable of challenging for European competition and guided them to sixth place in last year’s Premiership. On paper, therefore, Houllier had the correct foundations to develop the team furthermore.
But, despite the backing of owner Randy Lerner, including the £24 million for the January signature of Darren Bent, Villa have stuttered this term and it seems Houllier’s days could be numbered. But why would the Birmingham club choose Benitez?
Whilst he did guide Liverpool to the 2005 Champions League, many have claimed this was with the squad that Houllier built. But, as has been proved with Inter, he clearly isn’t one to feed off legacy of his predecessors and without him at the helm surely Liverpool would not have succeeded so soon. Similarly, by the time his squad had gelled they made the 2007 Champions League final and came runners up in the Premier League in 2009.
But there is clearly a downside to Benitez’s success on the pitch. Whilst he is tactically astute and understands the importance of building a solid defensive unit, he seems to be from the outset notoriously hard to please. And, as was not the case at Inter, he demands large transfer funds as he looks to transform teams. More worryingly, however, he is renowned for not only falling out with fellow managers but has also fallen out with senior figures internally at Valencia, Liverpool and Inter Milan. But who else could do a better job at Aston Villa?
The club have been linked with numerous other managers. Whilst the likes of Mark Hughes, Sam Allardyce, Martin Jol and Paul Lambert are often linked with the club, it seems David Moyes is one of the bookies’ favourites. Admittedly he has done a great job at Everton and delivered a top four finish on a modest budget in 2005, but could he really bring success to Villa Park?
Randy Lerner must think long and hard about who, if anyone, should succeed Gerrard Houllier at Aston Villa and what he personally is willing to put into the club. Benitez himself is someone who could bring great success to the club but surely this would be at a cost. Benitez is very much a revolutionary manager who would look to reform the club with great investment. But, bearing in mind the significant January outlay in Darren Bent, if he is unable to back future managers in the same way then perhaps the likes of David Moyes, if available, would be a much better option.