Vive la Revolution!
I`ll hold my hands up - after O`Neill flounced out of Villa Park five days before the season began I expected us to have a number of points less that the six we currently have. Pre-season had already been poor, we`d lost our best player, again, it was becoming more and more obvious that there was no money to spend on improving the squad, and our friendly results had hardly been encouraging.
The players and Kevin MacDonald need to take great credit in the way in which they bounced back. Sure, it now seems as if West Ham could get outplayed in every game this season, but the team played well, got a decent three points and followed up with a resolute performance against Everton to make it six. It couldn`t have been easy for MacDonald, and to steer us through this period and get these six points is something we should be thankful for.
Of course, there was the downside. The performance against Newcastle was dreadful. Yes, we could have been 1-0 up, and should have been if it wasn`t for Carew`s awful penalty, but the lack of flexibility in MacDonald`s tactics - in particular putting out a flimsy midfield up against Newcastle`s cloggers - which lost us the game and allowed the Barcodes free reign once they had the advantage.
The Vienna result, also, was deeply disappointing. We paid the price of once again playing the reserves in the away leg when we failed to defend the simplest of attacks. Players were involved who you could question the involvement of - such as Davies, Beye and Guzan - and the decision for Petrov to become penalty taker was baffling.
That`s why MacDonald wasn`t given the job. Nice man, yes. Decent coach, yes. But there were obvious weaknesses and problems that caused our downfall - and they were our own doing. To appoint him, after making a profit in the transfer window AGAIN, would have furthered the undercurrent feeling that Villa`s ambition waned a year ago.
The trouble was, thanks to O`Neill`s time of departure, there were no obvious candidates available. The following scramble that occurred, would suggest to me, that perhaps the board needs a football man there. Not one to interfere in team affairs, but to run the business, successfully as a football club. The last five weeks also lend weight to the idea that O`Neill, having had full control of the club, had been the one that had allowed the wage bill to get in such a state that Randy had to step in.
If I were Randy, having got the management of the team sorted, I`d be contacting David Dein and seeing if he fancied the challenge of Aston Villa.
Houllier is an interesting appointment. He wouldn`t have come into my mind to begin with, but the more I think about it, the more the feeling that he could turn out to be a decent appointment for the club. His youth development is an obvious bonus, and his contacts in Europe and beyond will surely mean that should we find ourselves in a position where we can once again sign players, we will now be looking beyond the Premier League and a notepad that the previous manager had from two World Cups ago.
Houllier knows how a successful football club needs to be run. He may need a good start to win over a section of support who may be disappointed - but no appointment was going to be made with 100% support.
Under O`Neill, a malaise had set in. We knew what the team would be each week, we knew what kind of players he`d look towards signing. We knew the style of play he`d bring. We knew, that should money be available, he wouldn`t sign a player with a bigger standing in football than himself.
Houllier offers something different. He also offers hope. It may turn out to be a disaster. It may turn out to be pretty decent. But I couldn`t see things getting any better under O`Neill. The appointment of a new manager, and more specifically Houllier, gives that hope of improvement back again.
The addition of Phil Thompson to the coaching team may take a while to get used to. I remember singing the Pinocchio songs to him, and must he does tend to grate on 'Soccer Saturday`. However, he played in the same team as MacDonald, I believe - he knows both men, he knows his football - and rather handily - he will be more up to speed on the state of the Villa squad that Houllier. His advice could be vital for the new manager to get to grips with the team as soon as possible.
What would I like to see done? Well, I think there are three main areas which I`d hope are identified by the management team. The first is fairly psychological - whilst we are a team who appear to be hard to beat, the team does crumble far too easy. The dramatic confidence crisis the players showed at St James` Park after going behind, followed by a similar but not as dramatic fall against Vienna, shows in my mind that something needs to be done in this area.
We, of course, need to do something about our strikers. Carew, in the final year of his contract is injury prone and rarely delivers what he is capable of, and Emile Heskey. Well, is Emile Heskey.
The middle of midfield is currently soft. How I wish we had Craig Gardner to play in the middle now - teams find it all too easy to pass and move their way out of our midfield - and I hope that Houllier can either find a gem to play there or encourages a current player to get stuck in a little more.
So…Houllier - I`m excited, pleased and looking forward to seeing what he can do. He`s a manager who has won big trophies - and to be honest, I`d be pleased as punch just to win ANYTHING.
From 'Proud History, Bright Future` - to "Vive la Revolution!"