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Next Aston Villa Manager: A fan’s perspective on Steven Gerrard, Roberto Martinez, John Terry and wild cards

Steven Gerrard currently leads the betting
Steven Gerrard currently leads the betting

Sunday was an inevitable day for Aston Villa fans but that never makes it any easier to stomach. Following a 1,124 day reign, Dean Smith, boyhood Villa fan and the man who restored pride and success into a damaged club, was relieved of his duties as head coach.

The announcement came as a surprise to many - despite media murmurs - considering a number of factors that could be attributed to his and Villa’s poor start to the new campaign. Ultimately, the calendar year’s downward trend and the shared lofty ambitions of the CEO and joint-owners cost the man his job.

Thankfully, Smith’s tenure is one that will always be remembered fondly, regardless of where things go from here. The board made a decision before the 50-year-old’s AVFC legacy was in any way tainted in the eyes of supporters, with the West Bromwich-born able to leave with his head held high, having rejuvenated the life and soul of the club that means so much to him and his family. 

However, given the reasons cited in the club’s statement, his successor comes with a certain weight of expectation and it’s likely that between Purslow, Lange, Sawiris and Edens, a star-studded name will be appointed under the vision that has been outlined numerous times since the club’s takeover.

Here are the top candidates being linked with the vacancy, as well as some outside names, accompanied by the likelihood of each and how the appointment may go down with the Villa faithful...

Would Steven Gerrard be a good fit?

The Rangers boss is the odds-on favourite to take over at B6 and it’s plain to see why. The Liverpool legend ticks just about all of the boxes: young, successful, a household name, and keen for a challenge. 

Furthermore, he and Christian Purslow - Villa CEO - have worked together previously at Liverpool, when the latter helped secure Fenway Sports Group’s takeover from the maligned ownership before it. Gerrard was even quoted at the time as praising Purslow for his hard work on getting the deal over the line.

It’s also public record that the former Liverpool CEO gave Stevie G a personal endorsement for the Rangers job which he would eventually land in mid 2018.

His time north of the border has undoubtedly been a success, delivering the Glaswegian outfit their first league title for a decade last year. His 38-game unbeaten campaign in the league was a particularly stylish way to do it, scoring 92 and conceding only 13 during this time.

The uncertainties lie with whether the 41-year-old would uproot himself mid-season, especially since more silverware beckons in Scotland. This and debates over whether the former Liverpool skipper will make the direct step from Rangers to manage his beloved Reds once Jurgen Klopp leaves the post whenever that may be.

The feeling among Villans appears that this job would merely be a stepping stone for the job he really wants, and while this may be true, it’s more or less the case for any manager Villa will employ to take them to the next level. If he can deliver the West Midlands side European football, he’s therefore fulfilled his promise and leaves us in a far more attractive position for the next gaffer. Whether he’s at that stage in his managerial career is the big unanswered question.

Could Villa turn to Roberto Martinez?

Closest to Gerrard in the betting markets is Belgium’s Roberto Martinez.

Villa fans will be all but familiar with the Spaniard, not just from his time managing Wigan Athletic and Everton in the Premier League, but because the national team boss previously rejected their advances back in 2011.

Randy Lerner, then owner of Aston Villa, wasted very little time approaching Martinez to replace the departure of Gerard Houllier. He declined the offer, committing his immediate future to his current club at the time and their Chairman Dave Whelan.

The Catalonian’s managerial career has been on a constant upward trajectory so far, starting out with Swansea in League One, then to two Premier League jobs - the latter from which he was sacked - before finally landing on his feet as the man in charge of the Belgium national side.

This one is a bit more conclusive with how it would be received. I can’t imagine many would be overly excited at the prospect of Martinez being Smith’s replacement. Rightly or wrongly, there is an aura surrounding him, namely due to his underachievements with the Red Devils’ “golden generation”.

On the flip side, I’m sure he’d feel that some credit is due. In their last World Cup outing, he steered them to a third place finish - their best ever in the competition. He’s also maintained first place in the FIFA World Rankings since 2018.

However, criticism from a pair of his current stars in Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku about not being attacking enough, coupled with Everton fans’ claims of poor game management and defensive struggles remain stumbling blocks over enthusiasm towards his potential appointment.

Roberto Martinez rejected Villa 10 years ago
Roberto Martinez rejected Villa 10 years ago

Will Villa be the club to finally take a chance on Paulo Fonseca?

Linked most recently with the Newcastle job now occupied by Eddie Howe, Paulo Fonseca is a name that’s been floated around the inner circle of Premier League vacancies for a number of years now.

The current 9/1 shot was believed to have held three separate interviews with the Toon army following the dismissal of Steve Bruce and was even purported to be under the impression that he would become manager in the North East. He's also been linked with Tottenham, Everton, and Crystal Palace in the past.

Fonseca enjoyed the most success with Shakhtar Donetsk where he won the Ukrainian League and cup double, plus a Ukrainian Super Cup during his three-year stint there. Seven of his nine career trophies as a manager came from this tenure, where he boasted a 74% win ratio.

Worryingly, his track record doesn’t sit well for Villa’s long-term future. The Portuguese boss has held eight managerial positions in the last 10 years, with only one job lasting longer than two seasons.

Fonseca would certainly bring a bold brand of football with him to England but whether this Aston Villa squad have the capabilities - particularly in midfield - to dominate the ball and outgun and outmatch the majority of their counterparts in the division is yet to be seen.

There’s a fairly large shift that would have to occur to transform the current crop into the kind of players Fonseca would require and whether that aligns with the timeframe the Villa board have in mind is extremely doubtful.

What about Denmark manager Kasper Hjulmand?

Hjulmand has garnered many plaudits recently, no less due to his side’s fantastic display at this summer’s Euros. The togetherness, vigour and emphasis on youth development during his first major tournament saw his Danish national side make it all the way to the semi-finals, bowing out to eventual runners-up England through an extra-time penalty.

But it’s perhaps his links to Sporting Director Johan Lange that see his name linked to the current job. The two fellow Danes have former ties as colleagues at Lyngby back in their native country. Since it’s believed Lange will have a large input, if not the final say, on who will step out into the dugout to replace Smith, he may favour some familiarity along with the kind of pedigree that Hjulmand delivered against all odds.

I’d expect Villa fans to be more curious about this one than anything else. For most we only have Euro 2020 as our sample size for who he is and what he’s like. But the notion of continual progression and an array of academy products rising up through the ranks mean that his capabilities could well be suited to Villa’s situation.

Comments in the summer did suggest he was happy managing on the international stage for now, however, which leaves him as somewhat of an outsider.

John Terry had a successful spell as assistant to Dean Smith
John Terry had a successful spell as assistant to Dean Smith

Could John Terry return as manager?

This categorically falls into the sentimental field of appointments and one I can safely declare most, if not all, would be opposed to.

John Terry has only been out of the door for as little as just over three months, vacating his position as head coach at the club after promotion from the Championship and consolidating their Premier League status over two subsequent seasons.

The move was believed to be down to Terry’s own managerial desires, with the ex-Chelsea skipper linked with the recent Nottingham Forest job - another of his former clubs.

Not only could you throw the same “levelling up” criticisms of Steven Gerrard at John Terry, but JT has virtually none of the credentials that at least potentially mitigate those negatives.

Shifting from assistant to the main man is a massive step and there are arguments to be made that he has done things the right way, learning his trade as an understudy before taking the plunge, but you can’t help feel that the whole thing would be in bad taste, not to mention the likelihood of an undercooked appointment going horribly wrong.

Lucien Favre is still available?

A man with a knack for converting mid-table teams into European sides, challenging the very best in their respective domestic leagues. Favre’s CV speaks for itself in many respects, with stints at Monchengladbach, Nice and Dortmund all reaping success.

For those that don’t know or forgot, Favre almost became Roy Hodgson’s successor at Crystal Palace in the summer. Both manager and board seemed happy with developments until the Swiss 66-year-old ultimately pulled out, believing to want a longer break from football.

His managerial style offers a very attack-minded, possession-based approach to proceedings with his teams oriented towards promoting youth in his dynamic set-ups. He is seen as being an incredibly tactical and astute coach, who has a great tendency to predict and outthink his opponents.

Personally, there’s a lot to like about the prospect of this in my eyes. If you look at the next manager odds, he is 14/1 at the time of writing, which suggests he has an outside chance of becoming the next Villa boss.

In terms of stature, ambition and probability of success, I believe this is the one that stands the best chance of delivering that happily ever after ending all parties are hoping for.

AVB previously managed Chelsea and Spurs
AVB previously managed Chelsea and Spurs

Lastly, the forgotten man Andre Villas-Boas?

Here’s a real shot in the dark in the form of Andre Villas-Boas.

Again, to those reading, he is no stranger to the English game, having managed two different London clubs before then venturing to Russia, China and finally France.

AVB stepped into the Chelsea hotseat with the tag of his new club paying his former employees a world record compensation fee to acquire his services. After tarnishing a 39-league unbeaten run which stretched back to his days at Porto, things went from bad to worse for the young boss.

He never recovered with pressure mounting from Abramovich, culminating in senior players and officials questioning his tactical choices. His next role at Tottenham saw similar problems, but resulted in the club achieving a club record of 72 points which was also the highest points tally ever achieved by any club in the Premier League to consequently not finish in the top four.

His current unemployment status makes the appointment a lot easier to manoeuvre on board level. And while there’s the belief that he would offer a real upgrade in tactics and system to his predecessor, he comes with frequent issues. In his last role at Marseille he resigned over disputes about the recruitment policy which Villa’s structure of Sporting Director and Head Coach could also pose.

If you’re interested, Villas-Boas is available as a 33/1 shot.

Full odds below...

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