Houllier’s big changes at Villa

It has been a difficult start for Houllier. No, it really has.

Gérard Houllier has certainly ruffled a few feathers since taking the helm at Aston Villa at the start of this season.

Young academy graduates have been given an increasingly important role in the first team, with the likes of Marc Albrighton, Ciaran Clark and Barry Bannan establishing themselves as regulars.

The trio are joined by a hoard of other starlets making a mark on the squad, which has seemingly paved a way for several big-name players to exit Villa Park.

John Carew and Richard Dunne have become visibly frustrated at a lack of opportunities, while the eccentric Stephen Ireland looks set to bow out of the club less than six months after joining.

While Houllier’s ideals would rightly be lauded should Villa be impressing in the Barclays Premier League, his decisions are instead being derided in some quarters as Villa teeter dangerously over the precipice, although the signing of Darren Bent for £18million this week sends out a clear message of intent.

“We are all desperate for the club to move forward. That is very clear. There has been a lot of change,” said Gary McAllister, the former Liverpool manager’s right-hand man at Villa.

“This group of players have had three managers this season. They started with Martin O’Neill in pre-season, then Kevin MacDonald and then Gerard Houllier came.

“There has been a lot of change, loads of different ideas, training schedules, training times et cetera. The players have been asked to change.”

While the change has seen the likes of Nigel Reo-Coker come back in from the cold to play a major part, it has had the opposite effect on several regulars under O’Neill.

Dunne, for example, was one of the best players not just for Villa but in the Premier League as a whole last season.

Up until recently, though, the Republic of Ireland international found himself fourth in the pecking order, behind former defensive partner James Collins, Carlos Cuellar and the aforementioned Clark.

However, the dropping has emoted a positive response from the jilted defender, who was recalled for the 3-3 draw against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge at the start of the month.

“He has done exactly what we thought he would do,” added McAllister. “He was left out of the team, we were conceding goals and we had to make change.

“He has done what every top professional would do. He has responded.

“He came back into the team and he is a big player for this club and he will continue to be a big player. We need everybody.

“It was not a personal thing when he was left out. It was performance-related.

“We were conceding goals and losing games and we felt we had to make some changes.”

With Villa still struggling, McAllister also stressed that out-of-favour midfielder Ireland and striker Carew could also have futures at Villa.

“Is there a way back for Ireland and Carew? Absolutely,” he continued. “We are very much about people coming in and performing in training.

“We want people to come in here and be competitive during the week. They’ve got to train like winners as well.”

And McAllister stressed the need for Houllier to be given time to stamp his mark, although he believes Villa already have an abundance of quality.

“The manager has got to be given time,” said the former Leeds midfielder. “Everyone needs a bit of time.

“He needs to bring his own people in but, I’ve got to say, there is not a great deal that needs to be added to this club.

“It is a few little tickles here and there. There are a lot of quality players here.

“We just feel in certain positions we might need a bit more experience and in other positions we might need a bit more quality.

“But it doesn’t need a great deal. It just needs a little bit of tinkering.”

Monaco striker Dieumerci Mbokani, Paris-Saint Germain playmaker Stéphane Sessegnon and unhappy Blackburn skipper Christopher Samba have all been linked with moves in recent days, while Tottenham defender Kyle Walker has joined on loan for the remainder of the campaign.

If Houllier can strike a balance with his squad while making his own mark, Villa should be safe.

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