Monday, 17 January 2011

Bent buy backs Houllier, belittles O'Neill

Five months after Martin O'Neill quit Aston Villa on the eve of the season, jilted ex-boss Randy Lerner's issued him with an almighty £18m swipe by signing Darren Bent.

Inspector Clueless: but Houll have the last laugh?
Villa's owner has shown just what he thinks of O'Neill sensationally walking out five days to the start of the campaign. Whether witting or unwitting, Randy's demonstrated how he takes no prisoners in business.

While backing Gerard Houllier to the hilt this transfer window, O'Neill, known to be a fan of Bent, quit alleging a lack of funds.

Some in the media suggest the Villa board have made a huge financial plunge against their instincts. Staring an unexpected relegation battle in the face, they see Bent's arrival as an act of desperation.

I don't see it like that. Randy and Chief Executive Paul Faulkner get top marks for the additions they've made to the squad this transfer window.

Villa's frantic but crafty dealings show how fractious and dysfunctional the relationship between boardroom and manager's office had become - and sheds light on the near malicious departure date O'Neill elected to make. He left scant chance for Villa to sign anyone after his departure. The team dropped like a stone.

Though Houllier's first four months have been hair-raising for Villa's faithful, The Frenchman's been brave enough to blood youngsters by the half-dozen - adding to the squad very successfully in the window.

Bent: Darren's a model
Marc Albrighton, Ciaran Clark, Barry Bannan and Chris Herd are forging first-team berths as Houllier assembles a squad of depth and experience. That's a first at Villa for over a decade.

Kyle Walker's been very impressive since his loan arrival from Tottenham, while Lyon's Jean Il Makoun is a player of Chelsea or Manchester United calibre.

Now Darren Bent's arrived from Sunderland in a sensational record breaking £18m transfer, rising to £24m.

Thoughts of going down are eradicated in an instant. The season's not over until May and Villa have one of English football's proven goal poachers to call on. The prospect of partnerships with Ashley Young, Gabriel Agbonlahor - even Emile Heskey, set Holte Enders drooling.

Avram Grant: West Ham history sooner or later
So as Avram Grant's issued a stay of execution at West Ham, just how can mute O'Neill feel? Silenced by the terms of his severance at Villa, he can't even comment on the fact that Mr. Lerner had huge reserves all along.

Tainted O'Neill is outed as a man that football's ruling class can't work with, while life carries on as normal at Villa Park.

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Saturday, 15 January 2011

Never Go Back: Kenny Dalglish as Liverpool's caretaker

Watching Kenny Dalglish face the media ahead of Liverpool's derby with Everton, I wondered how closely he's really watched football since he last managed in the nineties? Has he just been a casual observer?

Here, didn't you used to be Kenny Dalglish?
His instincts honed by playing and managing great players seem blunted after years of swannying through boardrooms and sponsor meetings.

Liverpool are languishing below midtable: send for the Messiah!

Apart from the obvious platitudes on the urgency of winning matches, the Reds legend/caretaker boss declared that getting sent off these days was easier than it used to be.

"Nowadays if you say 'Good morning' to someone you've got a chance of getting a red card. It's a wee bit different to a few years ago. You can't blame players for being passionate and committed. They've been highly criticised for not being passionate and committed. If there is a bit of understanding from the officials I'm sure it would ease things along a wee bit."

That's almost an accidental "back in my day" reference - and the game's moved on in light years since he was in the box seat.

It was after a classic four-all draw with Everton one month off twenty years ago that Dalglish sensationally quit Anfield.

King Kenny in his famous I Quit News Conference: 1991
Dalglish just couldn't take the strain of Heysel and Hillsborough anymore, but kept his feelings private until two days after that unforgettable game.

But twenty years on, amid fan cries for him to step into the breach to replace Roy Hodgson, he faces upto the same club who prompted his resignation. The Kop urged his return to the manager's office as Hodgson foundered through defeat after defeat. But at what cost to his status as Liverpool's number one legend?

The late Malcolm McLaren was invited to be part of "I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here" only last year. Agent and old friend, Mark Borkowski successfully persuaded the punk impresario not to do it. McLaren pulled out just a day before filming was to start.

Borkowski told McLaren that all he had was his credibility and it would be shot if he took part in the reality TV show.

Dalglish has no hope of galvanising the team into any decent shape as caretaker boss, let alone as manager in his second spell.

Clearly a diminished figure in his Liverpool tracksuit to the one who so gracefully donned the colours and patrolled the line decades ago, even the most ardent Kopite must wonder what statement the club is really putting out by bringing him back - even in the interim.

Yesterday's man for yesterday's club?

"Be careful what you wish for, it might just come true" is the old saying most befitting of the Kop's wishes to see Dalglish back. Where next for this famous club?