Written by Mick Bates.
It was wholly understandable why Aston Villa’s American Chairman, Randy Lerner, would want to appoint Paul Lambert as the new manager at Villa Park. After all, the Scot had guided Norwich City into the Premier League and consolidated the Canaries position in the top flight with a very impressive season which saw them finish in 12th place.
Lambert achieved this without any big names in the side at the outset of the season but by its conclusion, players such as striker, Grant Holt and goalkeeper, John Ruddy, were both on the fringes of the England team.
Achievements on a modest budget is likely the biggest appeal to Lerner, whose spending since taking over at Villa Park in 2006 has not been anywhere near what many of the Villa faithful would have hoped for following his arrival. The chances are that Lambert won’t have a massive budget to bring in new players, with the likes of Holt and Ruddy already rumoured to be the example of players Lambert and the club are targeting. Once Lambert has established himself at Villa, who at the same time should be more than capable of making a massive improvement on their exceptionally poor season last term, then Lerner may throw more money at it but equally, he may be unable to resist the temptation of cashing in on any player that shows signs of moving on for a profit, which is what happened when Martin O’Neill was in charge.
It took O’Neill three years to produce a team capable of competing for a place in the top six. However, the stars of O’Neill’s team were soon subject to interest from other clubs with Lerner cashing in. Gareth Barry and James Milner moved to Man City while Liverpool snapped up Stewart Downing and Manchester United made an offer for Ashley Young that was too good for the American owner to turn down.
These outgoing transfers halted the progress of a Villa side that had improved under O’Neill, however, the manner in which O’Neill walked out of his job in 2010 suggested that he was unhappy with the sell for profit philosophy of the club’s owner. The net outcome was that Lerner became wealthier, the team were lucky to survive in the Premier League last season and the man they brought in to replace Gerard Houllier, who had been appointed O’Neill’s successor but had to step down for health reasons, Alex McLeish was subsequently dismissed after just one season in charge.
It is said that Lambert spoke to O’Neill before taking the Villa job, seeking whatever reassurances were on offer from his former boss at Celtic about Lerner and his method of operating. It is doubtful whether he received anything too complimentary from O’Neill, other than to ensure that his contract had plenty of escape clauses!
In terms of the existing playing squad at Villa Park, it is difficult to assess exactly what attitudes Lambert will find. There are a number of unhappy players and there is a definite shortfall in quality. Darren Bent who was out for much of last season should be back in the fold and ready to resume his partnership with Gabi Agbonlahor up front. However, should Lambert sign Holt then this partnership might well have to be broken up and one or both may be wanting away from the club.
By the standards he set at his previous club, Wigan, Charles N’Zogbia had a poor first season at Villa but there is no doubting his ability should he decide to stay or indeed should Lambert decide to retain him. Richard Dunne and goalkeeper, Shay Given are both good players as too are defender James Collins and the young midfield players, Marc Albrighton and and Barry Bannan.
All in all, it is likely to be a tough induction for Lambert and a season of transition is likely to await Villa fans. The team will not be challenging anywhere near the top of the league anytime soon but they should be more than capable of improving on last season, if they don’t, it would be relegation and Lambert would fast be a member of the Sack Race! Long term however, Lambert should be the man capable of bringing some form of pride and achievement back to Aston Villa and the former Norwich boss should be the perfect manager for the resourceful Randy Lerner.
Written by Mick Bates.