Paul Parker

Something amiss at Villa

Paul Parker

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In rejecting Aston Villa Roberto Martinez realised where his bread was buttered and that football can change very quickly.

Roberto is a decent, honourable man and when Villa made a formal proposal to him he would have heard them out through politeness and professionalism, whether he was genuinely interested in the job or not.

I think he was initially tempted but realised that Dave Whelan is man of his word, that he backed him up when Wigan were in trouble earlier in the season - Roberto will have seen that managers are sacked for far less but that Whelan stood up for him through thick and thin, a loyalty you can't buy in football.

Roberto is a smart man and he will also be aware that, since Martin O'Neill left Villa in fairly acrimonious circumstances despite an excellent record, that the job has become a bit horrible.

The owner does his job quietly but the flipside is that no-one really knows what his intentions are - not in a negative way, but in terms of how much he is willing to spend and what he expects from that.

O'Neill reportedly left because he was asked to cut wages and sell-to-buy, when the Northern Irishman would have insisted that you need to buy merely to maintain your status in the current climate.

Darren Bent may have come in mid-season but that was with the club in a desperate situation: Randy Lerner needed to protect his investment. But what are the terms of engagement now? Who knows what Martinez would have been told in terms of budget and expectation.

I think managers are a bit wary of what is going on at Villa Park and whoever takes it now will know they are well down the pecking order - even if a relatively smaller club like Fulham appear to be able to pull bigger names.

Speaking of Fulham, coaches - and fans - will be wondering why on earth Mark Hughes hasn't been named Villa boss, given that he appeared to leave Craven Cottage for that reason. What happened? Are we really expected to believe that Sparky was shunned because Lerner was put off by the manner in which he left Fulham? And if that's the case then surely the American wouldn't go near Alex McLeish, who has left bitter rivals Birmingham in even more acrimonious circumstances - lest we forget, Hughes had a get-out clause written into his contract; McLeish, Cup win aside, was backed by the board even though he took Blues down!

The talk of McLeish going there is causing all kinds of problems: Villa fans are worried their team will become negative and boring, and Blues fans are up in arms at the potential of a Judas situation from the man who won them the League Cup but got them relegated.

Throw into the equation the players situation - you've got Ashley Young definitely off and Stewart Downing probably on his bike - and whoever comes in will have to work the transfer market, which would be a nightmare if there is a restriction on spending.


All this talk of Villa and Birmingham and you could forget that the highest-profile, available British manager bar O'Neill and McLeish has just taken a job - with Championship also-rans Nottingham Forest.

I find it a bit strange that Steve McClaren has taken that job to be honest. Maybe he looked at the history and potential of the club, but no manager has had an easy ride since Brian Clough.

The fans liked Billy Davies, they trusted him, so they are pretty miffed at losing him - not to mention McClaren being an ex-Derby man, although I honestly think any suspicion from Forest supporters is more out of loyalty to Davies than any aggro towards McClaren.

It did not work out for him at England and Wolfsburg, probably because his ego and personality does not help him with big-name players, or under intense media scrutiny.

But he is a good coach, particularly with young players and so-called has-beens, and lest we forget he won the Dutch league with little Twente, made Middlesbrough a solid mid-table team and took them to a UEFA Cup final.

While he did well with the Rams in that division, the Championship has changed since then and become the most competitive division in British football - so there are no guarantees of promotion here at all.

But maybe he wants that challenge, to rebuild a reputation that is perhaps unfairly bad here - he wants respect and thinks he can do it with Forest.

That division is going to be a very competitive too, given who came down and how many points they had, and who didn't go up.

Blackpool and Birmingham could - and did - beat anyone on their day; West Ham will be an entirely different prospect under Sam Allardyce; Cardiff and Reading are wounded animals with good players. And let's not forget an improving Leeds United who have high expectations, and a Leicester City side with a bit of cash and a top manager.

It may be tough for Birmingham though - losing McLeish is a blow, and whoever comes in has a boardroom minefield to deal with it seems.

There has been chit-chat of Billy Davies and he could be a good call on the pitch but he's a volatile man and will probably have chatted to McLeish about the financial mess at Brum.

To take that job I reckon you'd need to be desperate as there is something wrong there, something big that could blow up very soon...

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