When Aston Villa chief executive Paul Faulkner issued a club statement Sunday afternoon announcing that the Midlands side had identified the two most important traits in the search for a new manager, US coach Bob Bradley was effectively ruled out of the running. The first trait was they wanted candidates with experience managing in the Premier League. The second trait was someone who could build on the existing strengths in their current squad.
I understand Aston Villa’s reluctance to hire Bradley, but I wholeheartedly disagree with their insistence that the manager must have Premier League experience. To me, the club was essentially repeating what many of the Villa supporters were saying. But instead of kowtowing to its supporters, Villa needed to make a bold decision by hiring Bradley. Instead they have now narrowed their choices significantly by insisting that Premier League experience is a necessity. But is it that important? Football managers don’t necessarily need Premier League management to be successful at Villa Park. Times have changed a lot, but none of the following managers had Premier League management experience (or First Division experience) before becoming English top flight managers: Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, Carlo Ancelotti, Roberto Mancini, Roberto Di Matteo, David Moyes, Roberto Martinez and Tony Pulis.
By ruling out managers who don’t have prior Premier League experience, Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner has put himself in a corner. Either he hires a manager who is not qualified for the position or he has to convince another Premier League club to let go of their manager.
Consider for a few seconds the list of managers who have Premier League experience and who are out of work looking for opportunities:
- Gary Megson,
- Paul Jewell,
- Sven-Goran Eriksson,
- Gareth Southgate,
- Gerard Houllier,
- Alan Curbishley,
- Graeme Souness,
- Alan Pardew,
- Paul Ince,
- Ricky Sbragia,
- Joe Kinnear,
- Iain Dowie,
- Lawrie Sanchez,
- Steve Clarke,
- Glenn Roeder
Except for one or two of the above managers, the vast majority of them fail to fill me with any confidence that they can do a decent job at Aston Villa. So unless Lerner goes back against their decision, they will effectively be forced into nicking a manager from another Premier League club. The challenge with that is that no league club is going to let their manager go easy. And even if Villa can convince a fellow Premier League to let go of their manager, it’ll cost Villa an excessive amount of money to end the manager’s contract and sign him on at Villa Park.
There’s always a chance that Kevin MacDonald may be given a chance to stay on the club for a longer period of time, but he doesn’t seem cut out for the job for the long haul. As a caretaker manager, he’s been fortunate that Villa hasn’t lost three of the four games with him in charge. After beating West Ham United in convincing fashion on opening day but then losing against Newcastle United and Rapid Vienna, Villa held on to grasp a fortunate 1-0 victory against Everton on Sunday thanks largely to the heroic saves of Villa goalkeeper Brad Friedel.
After Villa’s home victory against Everton, the statement was published on its club website which effectively ended any hope of Bradley becoming manager. But I believe the decision to rule out Bradley was more of a public relations exercise by Villa who feared that its supporters would be upset at such a risky move to bring in an American who is untested on the European stage. I believe the executives behind Aston Villa are trying to play it safe in their search for an O’Neill replacement. Too safe, in fact. And now the bookies in England are favoring David Moyes as the next manager of Villa. But that’s just fueled by press speculation. I fully expect Everton to issue a statement indicating that Moyes is not interested in the Villa manager position.
The sad aspect of this whole story is that I really believed Bob Bradley would have exceeded expectations at Aston Villa. Bradley would have worked harder than anyone to make the position a success. As someone who has been a success on the national and international stage, it’s a ridiculous notion to say that a manager with Premier League experience would automatically be better than a coach who managed a national squad in the World Cup. Could a Gary Megson really do better than Bradley? I doubt it. Sure, Bradley would have a lot to learn in a short amount of time, but now that Bradley will continue being the coach of the US men’s national team, we will never find out. And out through the window goes the best chance an American manager would get to coach at the highest level in England.
Expect the drama of a search for a replacement for O’Neill to drag on into the end of next week. In the meantime, Bradley has signed a four-year contract extension which will ensure that he’s the coach of the US men’s national team through the World Cup in 2014. The opportunity for Aston Villa to capture him has been lost, and it’s now, sadly, back to the drawing board for Villa. Let’s hope they make the correct decision this time.