Martin O’Neill departed Villa days before the start of the 2010/11 season and the club failed to recover. The upheaval caused by the departure is now repeated as Gerard Houllier 1 year on leaves on health grounds. It was almost a year in limbo for Aston Villa a wasted year in which they finished 9th in the Premier League much to the dismay of fans.
In the last week, Villa have stirred up a hornets’ nest with the appointment of Alex McLeish from bitter rivals Birmingham. The appointment adds to the hostility between the 2 sides although with the relegation of City; Mcleish will not have to face his old club for this season at least. Aston Villa’s owner Randy Lerner ignored fan protests on the appointment. His reputation and legacy at Villa now rest on the success of McLeish. If the team progress the decision will be seen as inspirational but if Villa drop down the table Villa fans will be quick to condemn.
A 9th place finish in the EPL table was actually quite flattering considering the roller coaster ride under Gerard Houllier. The new manager failed to gel with the team and had to battle with a number of disciplinary problems most notably with defenders Dunne and Collins making their feelings clear in the public domain.
Houllier did himself no favours with the fans in declaring his affection towards Liverpool on a night when Villa lost 3-0 at Anfield. He was further alienated when he played a 2nd string side against Man City during the FA Cup a match that they inevitably lost. Despite this alternative approach to management there were signs that Houllier was beginning to turn the club around. Discipline was improving and results followed. The manager had the full backing of Lerner breaking the club record with a bank-busting £24m fee to acquire Darren Bent from Sunderland.
Gerrard Houllier was admitted to hospital in Birmingham mid-April and from that moment the end result was widely speculated. Houllier steadied the ship during his final months at the club but will be frustrated that he was unable to push through his longer-term plans. Alex McLeish now faces a struggle to hold onto the Villains stars while picking up new signings to bolster the team.