Did Liverpool's Interest in Roberto Martinez Force Aston Villa to Sack McLeish?

Willie Gannon@https://twitter.com/WillieGannonSenior Writer IMay 14, 2012

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 01:  Wigan manager Roberto Martinez (L) with Aston Villa manager Alex McLeish during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Wigan Athletic at Villa Park on October 1, 2011 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
Scott Heavey/Getty Images

It has been less than 24 hours since the Premier League ended, and we already have our first management casualty of the summer. Alex McLeish has been sacked as manager of Aston Villa with immediate effect after a string of poor performances that resulted in only nine wins from 42 games all season.

A statement on the club website said, "The club has been disappointed with this season's results, performances and the general message these have sent to our fans."

Randy Lerner, Aston Villa's American owner, added:

"We need to be clear and candid with ourselves and with supporters about what we have lacked in recent years.

"Compelling play and results that instill a sense of confidence that Villa is on the right track have been plainly absent.

"The most immediate action that we can take is to look carefully at our options in terms of bringing in a new manager who sees the club's potential and embraces our collective expectations."

The sacking comes swiftly and follows on the heels of Aston Villa's worst season in decades.

They only avoided relegation thanks to a deflected Ciaran Clarke goal against Tottenham Hotspur in the penultimate game of the season, and their overall Premier League record makes for tough reading.

Across the Premier League season, their record reads as:

PLD-38 W-7 D-17 L-14 F-37 A-53 PTS-38

It is one of the worst records in football, especially when you consider the finances available and the size of the club. However, it must be said that no other manager in the Premier League has had to endure as many slings and arrows as Alex McLeish has this season.

He has had to contend with losing Richard Dunne for three months with a broken collarbone, Darren Bent for three months with ruptured ligaments and Stilian Petrov, who has had to suspend his football career after he was diagnosed with leukaemia.

But even with all that considered, Aston Villa's football this season has been uninspiring, insipid and inept, and it comes as no surprise to find that Alex McLeish's win ratio last season was just 21 percent.

The Scot has never been the flavour of the month with the Villains fans, having managed arch-rivals Birmingham City, but when compared to Blackburn Rovers fans, they have given Big Eck a relatively easy time.

The problem with Aston Villa is that Randy Lerner seems to be asset-stripping the club with a view toward selling up and getting out of Birmingham.

Since taking over the club for £64 million in 2008, he has invested £60 million in transfers but has sold more than £100 million worth of talent while trimming the wage bill considerably each year.

Even before McLeish took over from Gerard Houllier, the purse strings at the club had begun to be tightened, and now Randy Lerner has to reap what he has sown.


One thing is for sure. It will take a miracle for Aston Villa to avoid the drop next season—even with Gordon Cowen's exciting crop of youngsters. It is with this in mind that Randy Lerner has acted now.

The question must be asked, though: Is Alex McLeish's sacking a direct result of Liverpool's interest in Roberto Martinez?

The Wigan boss was Randy Lerner's first choice to take over from Gerard Houllier last season. He even spoke with Aston Villa about the possibility of moving but decided his best interests lay with Wigan and a jubilant Dave Whelan.

It would seem obvious to most observers that over the past year Martinez's star has risen some more and that he has worked wonders to keep Wigan in the Premier League on what is a meagre transfer and wage fund.

His teams always play football in an exciting way that is enticing to fans, and as we entered the most dramatic day in football history, several newspapers chose to run with headlines linking Martinez with the Liverpool job.

Whether this was a kite-flying exercise by the Liverpool hierarchy or not, one thing is for sure—Kenny Dalglish is under intense pressure after a miserable season for the Reds.

So if Liverpool is about to make a move on Randy Lerner's first-choice replacement, it makes sense for Villa to sack their unpopular manager and make the first decisive strike.


The other manager being linked with the Villa post is Norwich City's Paul Lambert. During the Canaries' 2-0 win over Villa yesterday, Aston Villa fans could be heard chanting "There's only one Paul Lambert," in an obvious attempt to show Lerner who they would like as the boss of their club.

Upon the news breaking of McLeish's sacking, Martinez was immediately installed as favourite to take over, with Lambert in second.

This forced the Norfolk club's chief executive, David McNally, to tell BBC Radio that "we would not welcome any enquiry for our football manager or any of the club's football players. We'll do everything we can and fight this as hard as we've ever fought."

Enticing Roberto Martinez last season proved impossible, as it may this season, especially with Liverpool hovering in the wings, but appealing to Paul Lambert may be Aston Villa's best hope.

Randy Lerner could do worse—he did last season.