With Alex McLeish’s tenure coming to an end two weeks ago, owner Randy Lerner’s next managerial appointment presents him with the opportunity to mend his tarnished relationship with the Villa Park faithful.
This summer, Aston Villa begin another year of transition—their third in consecutive seasons. With the prompt removal of McLeish following the final game of a dismal season, Villa are again in search of a fresh direction.
After Gérard Houllier’s nine-month reign was ultimately ended last summer by health issues, Lerner—along with chief executive Paul Faulkner—deemed McLeish capable of stabilizing the club.
Such a decision has strained the relationship between the once-beloved owner and fans.
Ignoring the overplayed Birmingham City connections, this was a man who had led his previous team to two relegations in three seasons.
The complaints of the supporters were not his employment history, but the consistently abject performances and defensive mentality—which resulted in the club’s worst season in the Premier League.
However, it now seems as if Lerner is committed to moving forward. With the swift removal of McLeish, the owner has finally listened to the cries of the fans.
Lerner became an instant hero at Villa Park when he purchased the club for £63 million in 2006. In replacing long-standing owner and chairman Doug Ellis, Lerner ushered in a period of hope and relative success for the stagnant Villans, with three successive top-six finishes and a Carling Cup final appearance.
Such positivity has been lost with instability in the managerial and playing staff, and an increasing need for financial prudence.
With his next managerial appointment, Randy Lerner—also the owner of the Cleveland Browns of the NFL—can signal a commitment to stability.
Lerner must look towards a manager with a desire and capability to succeed. The new man in charge must be able to operate within the modest budget that Lerner seems so insistent on, whilst offering passionate leadership and direction.
These men are out there. Gone are last summer’s delusions that a Carlo Ancelotti, or a Guus Hiddink could be tempted to take the club forward. The supporters understand the club’s current status yet they simply long for a manager they can get behind.
Last week, when Ole Gunnar Solskjær became the overwhelming favourite for the job after a heavily-publicized trip to Birmingham on Lerner's private jet, the fans were almost unanimous in their praise for the board's vision in identifying the Norwegian as a serious candidate.
There was a genuine excitement around Villa Park.
For the first time since the rosy days of the O'Neill era, fans were optimistic ahead of another season.
For whatever reason—and the reality of the situation is extremely murky—Solskjær withdrew from the running.
With Wigan boss, Roberto Martinez expected to become the new Liverpool manager, Swansea boss, Brendan Rodgers reaffirming his commitment to the Welsh club, and Paul Lambert looking likely to stay with Norwich, Villa's options become limited.
Roberto Di Matteo continues to be linked as uncertainty abounds as to his future at Chelsea, and current Villa first-team coach, Kevin MacDonald remains an option, but Lerner must try and capture the same excitement from the Villa fans that was felt for the potential appointment of Solskjær.
This next appointment could define Lerner's stewardship of Aston Villa, and it is essential that he makes the right one.
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