Premier League - Cuellar: Villa politics forced me out
EXCLUSIVE: Former Aston Villa defender Carlos Cuellar is worried that the club's austerity drive could harm the club in the long term after they slipped from the top six to a relegation battle in two seasons.
Fan favourite Cuellar, released by Villa on Wednesday after his contract ran down, was a key player under former boss Martin O’Neill as Villa challenged for silverware and competed in Europe.
O’Neill quit two years ago when the club’s American owner Randy Lerner embarked on a cost-cutting drive, selling the likes of James Milner and Ashley Young, and Cuellar feels this strategy left him isolated too.
"I’ve been on holiday for the past week as I needed to relax and clear my head after a stressful couple of years," Cuellar told Eurosport from Madrid, where he is visiting family.
"My first two years at Villa were brilliant as I was playing regularly and we were challenging for the top four. We were a really strong team, and I still love the club.
"But in the last two years something changed, both for the club and me – we lost many of our top players, and had constant problems with managers.
"We had no stability, and we became weaker because of the change in economic direction. Also, I was not in the first XI. So a combination of the club’s troubles and my own lack of playing time made me quite stressed, professionally."
Lerner’s cost-cutting measures saw Milner, Young and Stewart Downing among the major departures from the club as he sought to reduce a high wage bill.
That had a major impact on the American’s last managerial appointment, with ex-Birmingham boss Alex McLeish only lasting one season as Villa finished just above the relegation zone.
Cuellar, 30, does not blame McLeish for the troubles, insisting that internal politics was the overriding negative factor at Villa Park.
"I don’t think the manager wasn’t giving me a fair chance. Obviously as a player you want to play, but I had more of a problem with the way the board were dealing with me and others.
"Had the board come to me and said ‘listen, we are not going to offer you a new contract because of your wages, or because you are not playing well enough’, I would have accepted that and looked for another solution.
"But they said nothing. And yet in the past I had turned down offers to leave because I was told I would be given a new contract and would play!
"The problems at Villa are political – you can’t blame the coaches because they have to deal with the same things too."
Despite his negative experience in the last few years, Cuellar is keen to stay in the Premier League. As an experienced free agent who can play as a full-back as well as a centre-half, the Spaniard should not be short of offers, although none have come in yet.
"I haven’t got any strong ideas about my future because I went away and forgot about football for a few days," he admitted. "The plan is to spend a few more days in Madrid then go back and speak with my agent. But the first option is to stay in the Premier League.
"As a youngster it was always my dream to play in England because of the style of play. I had the opportunity and I want to keep it.
"Of course after five years abroad I miss my family and friends, so sometimes when I go back for holidays my heart tells me maybe I should return. But my head tells me to stay in England, and I know this is the best for me.
"Obviously it depends on if I get any offers, but this is my priority. I enjoy my sporting life in England."
Cuellar came into English football via a season at Rangers, who he joined from Osasuna in 2007. He was linked with a return to the Glasgow club last summer but an injury scuppered the transfer.
Rangers’ problems since then have been well-documented and, while Cuellar has gone on record as saying he would gladly play for the club again, he is not holding out any hope at the moment.
"Rangers will always be in my heart even though it was just one year of my life. But it was probably the biggest year in my life and I have a close emotional contact with the fans.
"I would love to play there again but there are a lot of problems and I believe they can’t sign senior players. But that year was amazing and all my memories of Rangers are good memories.
"They haven’t called me to express their interest though so I can’t say. Even if things clear up for them I don’t even know if they are interested, as things change from year to year, coach to coach."