They say it never rains but it pours. If last nights events at Villa Park are anything to go by, Gerard Houlier must be a strict advocate of this belief. In fact, it’s probably quickly become his own personalised mantra, and the paltry 32,627 souls brave or misguided enough to make it through the turnstiles last night are probably fellow converts to this way of thinking.
And as if to reinforce this feeling, Villa fans will have woken up this morning to stories of the board restating their ‘firm support’ for Houllier and his ability to guide the team back up the table. It’s admirable of the club to do this of course, but you can’t help but wonder whether this statement is truly helpful or not. Surely everyone knows that any outpouring of this kind is going to be categorised as the so-called ‘dreaded vote of confidence’, and more often than not comments of this kind dauntingly hang over a manager, like the mythical Sword of Damocles, before inevitably culminating in the chop.
For all his faults, this doesn’t strike me as particularly fair on Houllier. The squad he has inherited is very much Martin O’Neill’s, with Robert Pires being Houllier’s only addition to a team that has been, as is almost unanimously agreed, punching considerably above its weight for several seasons now. If the board are truly confident in Houllier and his abilities why not just make these assurances in private, since any comments that are made public will almost certainly be interpreted negatively, as is becoming the case here? Particularly given that Houllier himself told the press after last nights game that he had received just such an assurance from Randy Lerner. Why then release a statement to this effect the next day? As far as I can see, this just undermines Houllier’s position.
And in Houliers defence, and as has been the case with quite a few Villa games this season, last night could have played out very differently for the Frenchman. Had the, until then, resurgent Emile Heskey converted the simplest of chances in the opening period, a half in which Villa enjoyed some notable spells of possession it must be said, then whose to say that the home side would not have held on to those precious three points? Had referee Peter Walton shown the same player some leniency when dealing with a spot of handbags with just a shade over twenty minutes to go, whose to say that Villa could not have eeked out a point?
The January transfer window represents a chance for Houllier to turn things around. Part of the reason for his appointment was that Houllier brought with him a wealth of experience in identifying and developing some of Europe’s finest young players. To his credit Houllier had already singled out just such a target in French under-19s captain Gueida Fofana, but was unable to ratify the deal as the board objected to the players wage demands. To have been unable to sign his man because the club is trying to cut away the excess from his predecessor’s opulent reign represents a real slap in the face to Houllier. Sadly this is just one of many he insults he is now having to deal with. As they say Gerard, it never rains but it pours.