WIGAN ENGLAND - JANUARY 25: Villa manager Gerard Houllier salutes the fans after winning the Barclays Premier League match between Wigan Athletic and Aston Villa at the DW Stadium on January 25 2011 in Wigan England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
We've all seen the banners, and we've all heard the arguments. He's out of touch, he doesn't care about the club, and he's thrown away the faith of the supporters. Gerard Houllier has been vilified since the moment he took the job, and Aston Villa's floundering form has increased the weight on his shoulders exponentially. It could well be that this season will prove to be Houllier's last, but I'm willing to say that he can still have a future at Villa Park.
Looking back now, it's clear to see that the job Houllier ended up with a poisoned chalice. The situation was such where whoever took the job was set up to fail. The season was about to start when Martin O'Neill took his ball and went home, and the club had just sold their most important player (getting a notable headcase in return.) The club stalled on hiring a new manager until after the transfer window had slammed shut, with Kevin MacDonald having clearly proven that he was unfit to handle the job (I refer you to the 6-0 against Newcastle United, where K-Mac looked completely out of his depth.) If it wasn't for the out-and-out crisis happening at Liverpool at the same time, I think people would have noticed how the managerial situation at Villa was fraught with peril.
Houllier inherited a squad built by Martin O'Neill, but it should be mentioned that there had been tension and division building in the dressing room for a long time. Near the end of his tenure, it began to get out that O'Neill had had fractured relationships with many of his players, including a notable falling-out with Nigel Reo-Coker. Now those tensions have spilled over into Houllier's hands, who has not only had to adjust to a squad accustomed to playing a very different style, but to players who were clearly still sympathetic to O'Neill. The best example of that is Richard Dunne, who excelled under O'Neill, but since Houllier's arrival has fallen out of shape and out of form. That's not even mentioning the frequent stories that Dunne doesn't like Houllier, who should (and probably would) have dropped him long ago if Villa's defence wasn't already sorely lacking.
So we find ourselves here, at the precipice of the drop zone, trying to work out a way that Villa will be able to survive what is clearly a difficult run of fixtures at the season's end. And although I wish I had a way to reassure you that Villa won't go down, no way, no how, I don't. But neither does anyone else. A new manager doesn't have that answer. I feel like I've harped on about Newcastle United's recent relegation so much that some of you are starting to question whether or not I'm secretly a Toon supporter in disguise, but we can clearly see that their managerial upheaval at the end of the 2009-09 season did absolutely nothing to help the club that was "too big to go down." There is no manager out there who is guaranteed to keep Aston Villa up. As far as I can see, all we supporters can do is hope for the best. In a year where any club in the bottom half of the table might see themselves starting the 2011-12 season in the Championship, there is just enough of a possibility that three clubs will contrive to find themselves below Aston Villa in the table.
Where do we go from there? Regardless of what division we find ourselves in next season, this summer will be a big one for Aston Villa. Stay up, and a whole bunch of players will be on their way out the door as a broken squad gets pieced back together. Go down, and a whole bunch of players who are too good for the Championship will leave Villa Park in the interest of what's best for their own careers. And so I'm going to say that, provided Villa stay up, I would like to see Gerard Houllier stay on as manager. I've had faith in him since the start, and the board seems to have faith in him now, and I'm interested in seeing how he wants to reshape the club. When I consider who's against Houllier staying, I see a whole bunch of dislikeable players who don't belong at Villa anyways. I would be thrilled to see the back of players like Richard Dunne and John Carew, because quite frankly, I don't think they're any good. Regardless of how this season ends, the next year will be a pivotal one in the history of Aston Villa Football Club, and although I'm incredibly nervous, I'm excited to see where we're going.