With the announcement that Gerard Houllier will officially take control of Aston Villa’s managerial role after the match against Bolton Wanderers on Saturday, the club can now look forward to a period of stability – no-one quite knows how Houllier’s tenure at Villa will pan out but club captain Stiliyan Petrov’s comments will have ruminated round the heads of all associated with Villa: “It is complicated…but we will see the new manager soon. We wait to see how we can improve and we look forward to stability.”
Over a month has passed since the departure of Martin O’Neill and Villa have seen their form drift between the excellent (see West Ham) and the not so excellent (see Newcastle United). None of this is indicative of what will come because of its close proximity to the beginning of a new regime yet with a glass half full approach, Villa fans should be able to see the positives over the negatives. Houllier is fortunate to be joining a big club with a good team. What will worry him, as has been troubling Villa fans for the last four years, is the dearth of back-up talent. Villa’s squad has grown notoriety for its size – indeed Villa only registered 22 players for their allocated 25 man squad. Promisingly, Villa can call on young players like Marc Albrighton and Ciaran Clark but it is almost a certainty that one of Houllier’s first tactics to bring stability will be under the guise of strengthening a threadbare squad.
A name that has been linked with Aston Villa in recent seasons has reappeared. Michael Owen, whose career is inextricably linked to Houllier, fits the goalscoring player that Villa need on paper. The merits of whether he can still do that are questionable but were Villa to sign Owen, it would show that Houllier may be better at spotting Villa’s evident deficiencies and short-comings than O’Neill – whilst at Villa Park, O’Neill signed Emile Heskey who, for all of his efforts, was not the player the club needed at a time when the coveted fourth place was in sight. Like the relationship between Heskey and O’Neill, Owen enjoyed his most successful period of football under the tutelage of Houllier – for that reason, the transfer would make sense. This is not mere speculation, either. Comments attributed to both Houllier and Owen have intimated that a move may be in the pipeline. Owen’s frustration of Manchester United seems to be growing: “At a club like this, you never know when the manager is going to use you.” Owen’s time at United has been blighted by injury but his best moment came against Villa in the League Cup final when he equalised, in the process helping United to the trophy. Houllier clearly has admiration for the 30-year-old and recently spoke of his wishes: “He has always been in my thoughts. I like him as a player and a man.”
Whilst on a personal level the Owen transfer seems to make perfect sense, it too seems like a good idea for Villa’s attack – although their scoring statistics last season do not reflect it, Villa are an incredibly dangerous team and one that would benefit from a ‘poacher’, a bill that Owen, with 213 goals to his name, fits. Gabriel Agbonlahor and John Carew work perfectly well on certain occasions but the longing for a third striker that can score goals is evident. Emile Heskey (through no fault of his own) is berated for his inability to score often and Nathan Delfouneso is not yet ready to play the role that Villa are looking for. The upcoming game on Saturday against Bolton may be the perfect example of what Villa need – Bolton are not blessed with a quick back line (particularly in the absence of Gary Cahill) and a midfield of Ashley Young, Stewart Downing et al could expose that. As mentioned earlier this season on A Different League, Villa often lack a killer ball but since the acquisition of Stephen Ireland, this may become a more frequent occurrence. Speculation it may be but with quotes backing up such a move, and a new manager at the club, now might be the time for Villa to sign a striker that has been the missing link in an otherwise accomplished team.