Situation Still Vacant

Dave Woodhall on (the lack of) events at Villa Park.

It’s been two weeks since Alex McLeish was sacked as Villa manager, and since then speculation has been mounting as to who will be named as his successor. Well, when I say ‘mounting’, there’s been a lot of idle gossip and not much in the way of hard evidence.

Last week Villa were apparently on the verge of appointing Ole Gunnar Solskjær after Randy Lerner’s jet was seen in Norway and the Molde manager gave several comments which seemed to hint that he was on the verge of making the step up from the club he took to the Norwegian title last year. Solskjær then did a prompt U-turn, reportedly after pressure from Molde’s billionaire backer Kjell Inge Rokke, who threatened to end his financial support for the club should the manager leave. Villa then said that Solskjær had not been offered the job, but there seems little doubt that he was Lerner and CEO Paul Faulkner’s number one choice for the position.

And since then, silence. Lerner has been his usual uncommunicative self, while Faulkner has stated on several occasions that the club will take its time to bring in the right man, describing the ideal target from the outset as “young and vibrant.” This in itself is as limiting as the desire for Premier League experience the club insisted on last summer and which helped to bring McLeish to Villa Park. Most of the frontrunners for the job fit into the category, although it does seem to rule out such potentials as Rafael Benitez (hardly young) and Norwich boss Paul Lambert (not exactly vibrant). Lambert though, remains short-priced favourite for the job despite saying a few days ago that he remains happy at Carrow Road.

Villa aren’t helped by the twin handicaps of being just one of four Premier League clubs searching for a manager at the moment, as well as the forthcoming Euro 2012 championships, which may be preventing many people within football from sorting their futures until the tournament is over. The current situation is reminiscent of happenings during the transfer window, when clubs who want to do business tend to wait until the first one blinks and completes a deal, after which everything else falls into place.

At the moment Villa are reacting with a calm assurance that all is well, the situation’s under control and nobody should be worried. Maybe that’s true and they will soon be unveiling a new manager who will both be a surprise and of such high quality that he will bring back the air of expectation seen when Randy first arrived six summers ago. But they have to do something soon. Winking and tapping their finger against their nose will only quieten the doubters for so long. The events of Summer 2011, when weeks of expectation were followed by the underwhelming arrival of Alex McLeish, still cast a long shadow over Villa Park. The board’s credibility, and the long-term direction of the club itself, is at stake.