Next Aston Villa Boss – The Candidates

Maybe… just maybe… I’m jumping the gun on this one a little bit but what the heck, it’s certainly worth checking out whose out there on the market, which gaffers are attainable or perhaps a little unrealistic and so forth.

It’s getting close to that time after all.

Before we’d even kicked a ball this season I did state that with Steve Bruce running the ship that Villa would struggle to finish any higher than ninth place this term – and that’s an assertion that I’m still willing to stick by.

Having staved off the administrators over the summer months thanks to the fortunes of Edens and Sawiris, I felt that a fresh approach from the dugout was the missing piece of the jigsaw. A full-throttle rejuvination of the club. But it just wasn’t to be.

After the harrowing 4-1 defeat at Sheffield United I thought that this would be the perfect time to act – again no dice. And now after drawing at home to bottom of the league last night the batton has once again been passed up to board room level to make that call.

My fear now is that Bruce stays and goes on a little bit of a run – further papering over the cracks before December happens: Boro, Albion, Stoke, Stoke, Leeds and Swansea. We really don’t want to be in a position where we’re frantically scratching around trying to find a suitable replacement just before the January transfer window. With little-to-no time to get to know his players and identify any notable areas of improvement and targets to move for in order to ensure that we’re “there or thereabouts” come May.

The Candidates

Dean Smith (Brentford manager)

Dean Smith

Since being relegated to the second tier Villa are yet to beat Dean Smith’s Brentford in five outings (3 draws and 2 defeats). No mean feat when taking into account the budget that the West London club operates from. In theory, this ought to be a club battling to beat the drop year-on-year and not remaining competitive and talked-up as outside promotion candidates.

It’s not just the results against us for which Smith has gained notoriety but perhaps more so the way in which his team pass and move and best expose our vulnerabilities time-and-time again.

And from speaking with people very much in the know at Brentford I’ve been told on more than one occasion about the methodical scouting system that they have in place down there. A system that helps them pick up bargains and turn them into multi-million pound assets which they can then sell to help fund further purchases: Andre Gray, Scott Hogan and Jota are names that immediately spring to mind. In an article published by The Guardian over the summer it is estimated that The Bees have made a profit of £50m by selling 11 players since 2014.

This in-depth approach to signing players isn’t solely about the on-pitch qualities that said targets are able to bring but it also takes into account their persona and whether or not they’ll fit in with other characters in the dressing room. Buying into the club philosophy is an important factor too. You can’t help but feel that Villa should take note (Lescott, Richards and McCormack to name but a few over recent years).

As I’ve written previously, I’m certainly pro a much more self-sustainable approach here at Villa as opposed to doing what we have been doing and splashing the cash with seemingly little thought or due diligence. Would Smith’s way of doing things be a little too shrewd for us? Or might he be able to apply this same methodology to bigger names and fees? It’s a really tough one to call.

If this appointment were to ever be sanctioned and what with promotion still being our only objective, then this move would signal that the new majority share-holders would prefer a more independent way of operating if we were to get back into the Premier League rather than shelling out tens of millions willy-nilly as some supporters believe will happen.

Oh – and what with Smith being one of us that certainly helps.

Rafa Benitez (Newcastle manager)

Rafa Benitez

Personally I’m inclined to think that this move is wholly unrealistic but on more than one occasion have I seen Villans on social media claiming that we should go in for the experienced Spaniard.

With a dozen major honours to his name including two UEFA Cup/Europa League titles and a Champions League crown won whilst managing some of the biggest clubs in European football, many a Geordie have been left baffled as to why Benitez stuck by them when they were relegated as well as through the austerity measures imposed by club chief Mike Ashley.

Do I think that Rafa would step back down to the Championship? Nope. But let’s just entertain that thought for a moment; if it were to ever happen then the contract would need to be a lucrative one and it’d certainly be on a promise that he’d have a sizeable kitty to work from once promoted.

With little money to spend I sense that Benitez’ time at Newcastle has been a sobering one – and not many folk up in the North East can boast of that.

This is polar opposite of his time with Liverpool where he was renown for how many players he brought in and churned out of the ever-revolving Melwood training ground doors. I sense that if a club were to hand him a huge wad of cash then we’d see a relapse into his former way of working. An approach that I’d hope Villa steered clear.

Although he brought in the occasional gem whilst at Liverpool he didn’t half sign his fair share of rubbish too. Wastage that any Championship/newly promoted club could certainly do without.

Thierry Henry (Belgium assistant)

Thierry Henry

A move that nobody had ever envisaged and yet over the summer the Arsenal legend was rather inexplicably linked with the Villa hotseat. It really did come from nowhere.

Off the back of a hugely successful World Cup as part of the Belgian coaching staff the former Sky Sports pundit was odds on favourite to replace Bruce. In fact at the back-end of July the price was 1/6 at Coral bookmakers and they were no longer taking bets on his impending appointment.

At the time I recall not being totally put-off the idea despite the Frenchman’s non-existent experience of the cut-throat world of football management. Perhaps that might just be a measure of my distain towards watching Bruce-ball.

It’s extremely simple to apply the logic that just because Henry has played in some of the best footballing sides in world football and under some of the greatest managers and coaches the game has to offer then we could only but expect to see more of the same if he were head honcho here at Villa. But that’s not always the case.

In hindsight it was probably best that this appointment never came to fruition as the action in this league comes thick and fast and takes no prisoners. It could’ve been the undoing of Henry before he’d even had a chance to cut his teeth.

When his time does eventually come I’ll now at least be an interested observer and it could even turn out to be a case of what might have been.

Claudio Ranieri (Unattached)

Claudio Ranieri

Another name that has been thrown into the melting pot by some supporters is that of the Italian eccentric Claudio Ranieri.

A man whose earned respect from anyone who follows the English game by breaking up the Premier League monopoly when guiding massive underdogs Leicester City to the crown back in 2015-16. A quite remarkable accomplishment that I don’t believe I will ever see again in my lifetime.

For as much as I rate Ranieri’s honest approach and personable nature, I feel that he’s coming of age of now and it won’t be long until he gives up the game full-stop. I for one would want a younger approach and someone I foresee being at the club for a long period.

In 30 years of management Ranieri has never held a position for more than four years, in fact he’s been in a post for less than 2 years in a dozen of the 15 managerial jobs that he’s ever had. That tells you something isn’t quite right there.

David Moyes (Unattached)

David Moyes

I long admired what Moyes accomplished at Everton in his 11 years at the club. Consistently knocking on the door of the elite members club whilst operating a tight ship is some going. His net spend being next to nothing.

Although I wouldn’t completely rule out a move for the Scot it can’t just be me that feels that his name in football has been tainted somewhat following uninspiring spells at all of his clubs ever since: Manchester United, Real Sociedad, Sunderland and West Ham. It’s almost as if all that good work has been undone.

I used to enjoy watching Everton on the box under his stewardship. The football was often played at a raucous pace and there was always a tenacity about them, but that never stopped them from getting the ball down and playing some scintillating football.

Yet as Moyes gets older his teams appear to be much more defensive-minded. It’s almost as if what happened to him at United zapped any remaining gusto from him and it wouldn’t be of any surprise to me if he saw out his management days north of the border and back in his homeland.

Sam Allardyce (Unattached)

Sam Allardyce

Absolute non-starter for me. In fact I’m not even sure how his name dare grace this list.

He’s great at what he does in terms of keeping clubs afloat in the top division but he’s just another Bruce from a quality control perspective. It wouldn’t ever be easy on the eye.

I’m sure that we’ll see Big Sam about someday soon playing out his real-life Football Manager on the mode where you come in half-way through a season to a club stone bottom of the league and a in utter turmoil with the sole challenge of miraculously staying up.

Perhaps we could’ve done with his Mission Impossible wizardy back in late 2015…

Frank de Boer (Unattached)

Frank de Boer

A little bit of a wild card but one worth throwing into the mix.

Admittedly his most recent tenures have left a lot to be desired having lasted just 85 days at Inter Milan in 2016 and then sacked 10 weeks into his three year deal at Crystal Palace at the start of the 2017-18 season. Exluding a little bit of punditry we haven’t heard much from him since.

Time is a rare commodity in football today but if de Boer was afforded some then I believe that there is a good manager in there somewhere. Over the course of 15 years as a player at Ajax and Barcelona he was a key component in some of the finest examples of possession-based teams we’ve ever seen and that’s a tact he wishes to implement on the teams he goes on to manage.

With the right amount of backing there’s no reason to suggest he couldn’t build a team to make this work. Although possession of the football doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to win a match; it’s a proven theory that the more you have of the ball the chances of you winning the match increases. It really isn’t rocket-science.

I’m also a big fan of Frank’s preferred 3-4-3 formation.

Quique Flores (Unattached)

Quique Sanchez Flores

Harshly despatched with as Watford manager in the summer of 2016 on the back of a commendable season attaining a respectable mid-table position and an FA Cup semi-final, you can’t help but feel that Flores has unfinished business in the English game.

The 53-year-old would undoubtedly have Villa playing quick free-flowing brand of football and will likely have some good knowledge of players across Europe especially those plying their trade in his native Spain. In his short stint as Watford boss he brought in no less than 16 players in two transfer windows, most notably Abdoulaye Doucouré who for me is one of the most underated central midfield players around.

I think that Villa would be an exciting project for Flores and we could certainly do much worse than having him at the helm.

Carlos Carvalhal (Unattached)

Carlos Carvalhal

It’s fair to say that the enigmatic Portuguese manager is considered a journeyman gaffer having bossed 16 different clubs (including two spells at Vitoria Setubal) in twenty years.  At the tender age of 52 he’s going to be around long enough yet to chalk off plenty more.

Carvalhal is perhaps best known for his whacky analogies…

“We have money for sardines and I’m thinking lobster. I will do my best to try and bring in the best players. I will look to the lobsters and sea bass, but if not we must buy sardines. But sometimes the sardines can win games.”

“If you have an orchestra with pianos and violins, it’s not good music. You need good drums as well. You can’t have an orchestra that is just 11 people playing piano or all playing the drums.”

Referring to Swansea as a struggling patient in hospital…

“We are close to going out of the hospital, we are not far away from the doctors telling us we can go home and still we can work but we can work at home so we are in the process.

There’s no denying that it would be an immensely entertaining ride with ‘King Carlos’ at the helm but he’s not ever achieved anything of real note at any of his previous clubs.

I think we can safely put this one to bed.

Óscar García (Unattached)

Oscar Garcia

Another that has been talked up by a few on social media and yet wouldn’t make my shortlist of potential replacements.

Bar winning the Austrian league title with Red Bull Salzburg, García’s managerial record isn’t one that stands out for the right reasons. 

Brighton supremo Tony Bloom once claimed that the Spaniard was “difficult to communicate with” and most recently in his short chaotic spell over in Greece with Olympiacos he was held partially responsible for the lack of dressing-room, training and match discipline. As if we haven’t had our own issues with this in recent times!

Whittling it down… Ryan Pitcher’s verdict

Of the potential candidates there are three that would be on particular interest and in no particular order they are: Dean Smith, Frank de Boer and Quique Flores. All of which offer something completely different.

On the back of this article I’ll be posting a survey on the @HeartOfTheHolte Twitter account and I’d be interested in hearing some of your thoughts…


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