Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner has quickly learned that mistakes in football aren’t cheap, but he had little choice in dismissing Alex McLeish as he continues to look for a long term successor to Martin O’Neill. Lerner paid in the region of £3m to hire the Scot from rivals Birmingham and, having given him a three year deal, would have had to pay McLeish another seven figure sum to remove him. Throw in the reported £5m paid to Gerard Houllier after his unsuccessful nine month tenure and the couple of million Villa reportedly paid for current manager Paul Lambert and Villa have spent upwards of £10m hiring and firing managers since O’Neill resigned in 2010.
What this does show is that Villa’s American owner recognises the importance of the manager at a football club. The fact that they were looking for somebody young to ‘bring the vibrancy back to the club’ suggests they wanted a long-term option, a manager that will rebuild the club following two disappointing campaigns. Lambert seems a fine choice following a successful spell with Norwich that has taken them from League One to the Premier League in three years. Lambert has excelled at getting players of moderate ability to excel in various roles within a variety of tactical systems. Despite being a bigger club Villa’s current squad is hardly blessed with talent and Lambert may continue to adapt his tactic game-by-game rather than find a settled system.
Lambert’s biggest difficulty may be converting Villa to his style of play. During his time at Norwich his success came from scoring more goals than the opposition. Norwich were the seventh top scorers in the Premier League last season despite finishing twelfth, but the only three teams to concede more than Lambert’s side were all relegated. The season before Norwich scored the most goals in the Championship yet only had the eighth best defensive record despite finishing second. Following McLeish’s tenure Villa are a side set up to defend first and attack second. With the exception of Darren Bent it is difficult to see where Villa’s goals will come from, so Lambert will hope he can maintain Villa’s defensive solidity whilst breathing life into the careers of Stephen Ireland, Charles N’Zogbia and Gabriel Agbonlahor.
In theory Lambert could be exactly the man to re-establish Villa in the Premier League. He has already spoken of his satisfaction with the squad, meaning the club’s group of promising youngsters could continue to be introduced to first-team football. But Villa fans may have to be careful what they wish for. Should Lambert have the same impact at Villa as he did at Norwich his tenure may not last long enough to complete the much needed rejuvenation of the Midlands club. Lambert is nothing if not ambitious and a successful stint at an established Premier League club, allied to a Champions League winner’s medal as a player, would make him an attractive option for a top-six side.