Aston Villa are finalising their shortlist of candidates to replace Gerard Houllier – with former England boss Steve McClaren, Wigan manager Roberto Martinez and Ex Fulham manager Mark Hughes all understood to be among their targets.
Villa were understood to have made initial contact with Rafa Benitez, with a view to appointing the Spaniard as Gerard Houllier’s successor, which left Benitez as favourite with the bookmakers amid claims the 51-year-old is keen to return to work in the Premier League. But Benitez, who succeeded Houllier at Liverpool in 2004 and whose six-year reign at Anfield ended last summer, was said to have ruled himself out of this latest opportunity.
Current favourite for the job, Wigan boss Roberto Martinez is thought to have impressed Lerner after helping the Latics avoid relegation and he has still to sign a new three-year contract. Ironically Martinez’s first game in charge of Wigan came at Villa Park, where his side brushed away a lack-lustier Villa with solid 2-0 victory. Martinez, who was given permission by Wigan chairman Dave Whelan to talk to Villa, ticks all the boxes as far as owner Randy Lerner is concerned, especially when it comes to working on a tight budget and is set to hold discussions about the vacancy over the next 48 hours.
The midlands club are believed to have sounded out several other contenders to see if they are available and interested in the post – including McClaren, who is known to be keen to return to the Barclays Premier League. McClaren’s managerial career is always looked upon as tarnished after his 17 months spell in charge of England after the 2006 World Cup. But his impeccable record at club level speaks for itself, winning the League Cup and reaching the UEFA Cup final with Middlesbrough and guiding FC Twente to the Dutch title.
Ex Fulham manager Mark Hughes on the other hand appears to have taken a back seat role in the Aston Villa managerial sager but still would remain high on Randy Lerner’s shortlist. Hughes nearly became Aston Villa manager after being identified by Lerner last summer as the ideal replacement for Martin O’Neill when the Irishman resigned five days before the start of the season. At that time Hughes had just joined Fulham but the former Manchester City manager, having now left Fulham, is free to talk to potential new clubs.
Lerner would ideally like to have Houllier’s successor in place by mid-June. That would give him time to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the current squad and potential transfer targets before Villa report back for pre-season training on July 7.
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