Can Martinez satisfy Villa’s delusions of grandeur?
The Birmingham club see themselves as European contenders, but can’t attact a big-name boss
As Aston Villa continue their search for a permanent manager after Gerard Houllier's departure, they appear to be stuck in a curious predicament: the club is too small to attract the best managers, but too big to risk an inexperienced coach.
Rafa Benitez – Champions League winner and former manager of Valencia, Liverpool and Inter Milan – is known to be keen for a Premier League return, but has ruled himself out of the Villa role according to Metro. The apparent disinterest of Mark Hughes, who resigned from Fulham last week with what his agent called "ambitions to really compete at the top level", would suggest he doesn't think the Birmingham side are worthy of his talents. As for Carlo Ancelotti, one wonders whether the Villa post even crossed his mind when deciding to take a year's sabbatical from management.
Yet at Villa Park, quite a different image of the club's status appears to be held. The services of Steve McClaren – former England coach who won Middleborough a League Cup and a place in the Uefa Cup final – are said to not even be under consideration. The news this morning that Villa have approached Roberto Martinez, the man who only kept Wigan in the top flight on the last day of the season, has all the hallmarks of a club who couldn't find anyone else.
This apparent gulf between how big a club Aston Villa think they are, and how a big a club top managers perceive them to be, begs the question: just how deluded are the Claret and Blues?
When American sports tycoon Randy Lerner blazed onto the Birmingham football scene with his takeover in 2006, he hailed Villa's potential to challenge at the top of the Premier League. Five years later, with over £200m spent on the club, Villa finished ninth in the league - two places higher than when Lerner arrived.
Under Martin O'Neil, it is true to say that Aston Villa showed admirable consistency near the top of the league, registering a hat-trick of sixth-place Premiership finishes. But the club appear to have mistaken these respectable performances for a presumption that Villa are now a desirable destination for managers with the finest pedigree.
History would suggest otherwise. With the exception of Houllier - a manager who was tempted out of a cushy French FA role by a lucrative contract – Villa have not attracted a manager from a club beyond the British Isles for over 20 years. This doesn't seem likely to change any time soon: it is hard to imagine Europe's top brass jumping at the chance to coach Luke Young, Emile Heskey and co.
In December 2010, Villa's chief executive Paul Faulkner insisted that "the ambition now is the same as it has always been - to be competing at the very highest level in England and Europe." Today, with the expected sale of Ashley Young and the Roberto Martinez reportedly admired for his ability to manage with a low budget, that ambition seems as far away as ever.