Since Gerard Houllier’s departure from Aston Villa was finalised just over a week ago, the rumour mill has been churning through numerous different managers who might take up the role at the club.
However, much to the media’s disappointment, the club has kept its cards close to their chest, meaning that news outlets are being forced to speculate without any real basis to its stories.
From Roberto Martinez to Mark Hughes and from Rafa Benitez to Steve McClaren, we will look at some of the candidates that have supposedly been ruled out and some that could potentially be at the head of the queue.
Randy Lerner has long been an admirer of Everton's David Moyes. He approached Everton last August when Martin O'Neill walked out but was rebuffed by the Everton board on that occasion, but he still remains high in Lerner's thinking this time around.
Moyes was interested, but showed loyalty in not resigning his position, which increased his standing in the eyes of Aston Villa. Reportedly, the club made contact with Everton again on the 4th June for permission to speak to Moyes this time around, and he is believed to be the club's No. 1 target.
He has been at Everton for almost a decade since joining from Preston and has achieved numerous Top 6 finishes, as well as leading the club into the Champions League and to the FA Cup final.
He has a good eye for a player and has worked well under a restricted budget at Everton. Whilst Everton and Aston Villa are arguably similar calibre teams, he may be attracted by the opportunity for a new challenge and the greater financial support that he is likely to receive from Randy Lerner if he were to make the move.
Prediction: Leading Candidate
Rafa Benitez has had preliminary contact with the club, but according to insiders, the media reports that he was unhappy with the transfer budget are wide of the mark.
With the expected £15 million from the sale of Ashley Young to Manchester United, as well as any extra funds injected by Randy Lerner, there is likely to be a sizable pot to strengthen the squad.
It is well-known that Benitez would like to manage in the Premiership again, and given that he is unlikely to get a position at one of the top clubs in the league, a team like Aston Villa would be his best option to try and rebuild a formerly impressive career.
His credentials are second-to-none in the running—a Champions League trophy and a Champions League final with Liverpool, and he is still the last manager to win La Liga outside of Real Madrid and Barcelona.
It would be no real surprise if there was further contact between Randy Lerner and Rafa Benitez, and he still remains a strong candidate for the role.
Prediction: Leading Candidate
Claudio Ranieri is still a popular figure in England after his spell in charge of Chelsea almost seven years ago. Reportedly, he is manager that is featuring highly on Aston Villa's shortlist, given his experience throughout Europe and his past experience working in the Premiership.
At both Valencia, in his first spell, and at Chelsea, he arguably laid the groundwork for the success that each club achieved following his departure, and he has been a popular manager wherever he has been. He has admitted that he would like to return to the Premiership again, and he may be tempted by a move to Villa Park, should Randy Lerner show interest in him.
Prediction: Decent Chance
Randy Lerner is supposedly looking for a young, hungry and ambitious manager. Owen Coyle would appear to fit these criteria and has had a promising career so far. A promotion and a good start to the season with Burnley earned him a move to Bolton, where he has instilled a good style of play into the club, getting them to the semifinal of the FA Cup.
However, his team's capitulation in that match raises questions about his ability under pressure, and he is still relatively unproven at the top level. He cannot be ruled out, but he is probably not the top pick for Randy Lerner.
Prediction: Decent Chance
Despite his success in Holland, Steve McClaren is still struggling to overcome the negatives that arose from his time in charge of England. Amongst fans, he would be a very unpopular choice, and when rumours in the media appeared, suggesting that he was top of the shortlist to replace Houllier, there was a major fans revolt on Internet message boards.
According to the media, Lerner decided to cancel the supposed meeting with McClaren as a result of the fans' reaction.
However, both Randy Lerner, Steve McClaren and other Villa insiders all deny that there has been any contact between the two parties, and whilst his club record is relatively respectable, Randy Lerner will know that his appointment would spark a negative reaction from the fans.
At the time of writing, Alex McLeish has become the new favourite with the bookmakers.
However, given that they often know no more than the rest of the media, it is hardly an excellent guide. There would be huge issues with McLeish moving to Aston Villa, almost all stemming from his current role as manager of Birmingham City—Villa's biggest rivals.
He would unlikely be accepted at Villa Park due to this link, as well as becoming one of the most hated figures at St. Andrews across the city. Also, having just been relegated with Birmingham, his reputation is hardly at its highest, despite the Carling Cup win earlier in the season.
Whilst he may be a decent manager, the switch across the city is hardly likely.
Mark Hughes was immediately installed as the front runner for the job by the media and bookmakers, when Houllier's departure was confirmed.
Randy Lerner approached Fulham for permission to speak to Hughes, but Fulham rejected the approach, leading to Hughes leaving the club.
However, Lerner was not impressed by the actions of Mark Hughes, leading to him being ruled out of the running for the Villa job.
Hughes must have felt that he would have been a leading contender for the role and, in reality, he would have been. He has achieved solid league finishes with both Blackburn and Fulham and can count himself slightly unfortunate to have been sacked by Manchester City when he was.
However, his willingness to jump ship from Fulham has likely ruled him out of the running for Villa, given Lerner's appreciation for loyalty amongst his staff.
Prediction: Highly unlikely
Roberto Martinez was thought to be a leading candidate by the media until yesterday when he reportedly turned down the approach from Aston Villa. However, as more details emerge, it appears that Aston Villa requested to speak to Roberto Martinez as soon as Houllier's departure was completed, along with a number of other candidates.
However, out of loyalty to Wigan, who had stuck with him when other clubs may have sacked him, he decided to remain at the club and turned down the opportunity to speak to Villa last week.
Seeing a great opportunity for a PR coup, Dave Whelan, the Wigan chairman, went public with the approach two days ago, already knowing that Martinez was staying. As a result, Whelan appears to have convinced Martinez to stay and Martinez's popularity has increased as a result of his loyalty.
Contrary to multiple reports in the media, Martinez did not reject the Aston Villa managerial role. He was never offered the job, but merely the opportunity to come for an interview.
Prediction: Out of the Running
As well as those already mentioned, there are a number of other outsiders who could potential get a shot at the Villa hot seat:
Frank Rijkaard: Solid spell at Barcelona, but struggled in Turkey and his lack of Premiership experience may count against him.
Gus Poyet: Wonderful start to his career at Brighton, but would be a huge step-up and would represent a huge risk for Randy Lerner.
Gary McAllister: Houllier's assistant and current caretaker at the club. His fractious relationship with a number of the players is likely to rule him out.
Chris Hughton: Very unfortunate to get sacked by Newcastle but very inexperienced and more likely to return to management at level below Villa.
Bob Bradley: Mentioned last year due to his nationality, but never seriously considered then and hardly likely to be considered this time.
Sven Goran Eriksson: Has been linked with the club on numerous occasions before, but was interviewed last time around and did not do enough to convince Lerner. Unlikely to be given another opportunity.